Bee Joyful’s journey to sustainability
Jessica Thompson was a single mother who was focused on raising her five kids. When her kids came home from school angry about plastic straws (“because they hurt sea turtles,” Thompson recalls), the Michigan mom started looking at the ecological impact of plastic.
What she learned inspired her to take action — and ultimately launch a business selling reusable and eco-friendly products.
“I started talking to my kids about it and I was like, what can we do at our house? Because we’re using a lot of zip-top bags and plastic wrap kind of stuff,” Thompson says. “We did a little inventory at our house and figured out that we were going through about 5,000 plastic bags just in the school year for school lunches.”
She looked for eco-friendly alternatives but realized she couldn’t afford most of them, and decided to start making her own.
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“I saw this company in Australia making food wraps. And I was like, oh my gosh, like, I think I could make those, I’m a scrappy gal. I picked up some fabric, some beeswax, a little bottle of oil, and I came and made the wraps. My kids thought they were the best thing because I customized them. My swimmer got a mermaid print and my son got a space-themed one, so they had their own little sets.”
The sustainable, reusable alternative to plastic wrap that Thompson made was a hit with her kids, and with colleagues at work, friends, and friends of friends – which convinced her to start selling her beeswax food wraps. She opened up an online store on a maker marketplace and did over $7,000 in sales her first month.
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That was April 2017. Thompson expanded to selling wholesale to stores and grew her inventory to include eco-friendly household items like dryer balls and bamboo brushes. She started selling in-person once a month in a shared space — and she sold out every time.
Thompson was inspired to create a plan for her own brick and mortar, which would allow her to grow her eco-conscious offerings.
“On social media, I saw these refill shops in France and in Italy and Spain. And I was like, oh my gosh, a refill spot where you could come and refill your laundry [detergent] and your shampoo? There’s nothing like that here. I want to make this happen!”
One night, in January 2020, she was walking around downtown Kalamazoo and spotted a small storefront in a building from the 1800s. Thompson saw a “for lease” sign, peeked in the window, and thought it would be perfect for her business. Thompson signed the lease two days later, and her eco-friendly, zero-waste shop Bee Joyful was born.
She had no idea that just two months later, the pandemic would change everything.
How TikTok turned into sales
“TikTok basically saved our business,” says Thompson.
“When the lockdown happened, I was just crying. Like, how am I gonna pay the rent? I just put all of my money into the business and I didn’t take loans,” she recalls. “Then my daughter suggested I try TikTok. I started looking at all the trends, and I was like, okay, I can do some of the trending things that are ridiculous and just get a good laugh at myself. And then I can do some educational videos, trying to get information out to people.”
Thompson quickly moved her inventory to her Square Online site and promoted her products and shop on TikTok via @Beejoyfuljess. When her videos started going viral, she saw an immediate impact on her sales.
“We saw a huge spike! We got enough sales just from TikTok to pay rent.”
Now, Thompson has three brick-and-mortar Bee Joyful locations as well as her online shop, and TikTok is still an important part of her retail strategy.
How Bee Joyful found TikTok success
Thompson was on the hunt for some viral opportunities, and when she turned a famous socialite-turned-reality-star’s catchphrase into one that referenced her eco-friendly shop, her video went gangbusters. The aforementioned celebrity even commented twice on the video, in a nod of approval, helping Bee Joyful gain even more followers.
Thompson has gotten continued traction on TikTok in part because she is fearless in her approach, and now with eight kids, she jokes that she has her own PR squad at home. She quickly hops on trends and uses them as opportunities to educate viewers about being more eco-conscious.
“Give me a ridiculous trending sound and I will make it eco-friendly,” she laughs. In 2021, TikTok helped contribute to a 300% increase in Bee Joyful’s Square Online sales.
Her advice for businesses that haven’t explored TikTok?
“Don’t worry about looking silly. If you’re nervous, you don’t have to put your face out there. You can do so many behind the scenes videos with just your product or just your business,” she says.
“You have to take away any preconceived notions that you have about what TikTok is. After all, it is the number-one most downloaded app, so if you’re not in some way jumping on that, you’re missing out.”