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Archive for the ‘Soapbox’ Category

Is it called a “job” when you do something that you absolutely, passionately, heart and soul LOVE every day?

Do you call it a job when you work with people you genuinely like and other people that you genuinely like call you up, pop in or send you emails wanting some of what you’ve created with your bare hands?

Surely there isn’t a job in the world where you get emails like this…

Thank you for the fastest delivery I ever experienced.

When I opened the boxes I felt as if I was opening up a box of the most delicious fine chocolates without the calories, just the pure delight of the fragrant beeswax, and as for the furniture polish, well my first thought  was that the furniture was going to receive a treatment I wish my own chemical sensitive skin was in desperate need of (especially in winter). 

Bit quirky, maybe, but there you go.  I thought you might be interested in my experience. Any chance of a good chemical free effective skin moisturiser in the future?

Oh and the Bee Lights gift are just awesome. Thank you so much.

A happy (if somewhat dry) customer. :)

N”

Or how about this one from one of another beautiful soul using our bee created light to send light where it is needed most

“Thank you, lovely Bees, for my amazing tea lights and Bee Lights. They make winter so pleasant.
I use your lovely gift, the jam jars -how adorable small are they, thank you! – to think of the ones – children, women and other victims – being killed in wars. Sending some light to war zones is the least I can do.
We hope you are well, Cate and team! 
Kindest regards, Y”
Sometimes we have to pull out all stops when light is needed fast, but we are rewarded tenfold with emails like this one last week
“Hello, 

I just wanted to say thank you so much for getting the candles to me so quickly.  They are absolutely beautiful and the personalised candle is already much loved.

When I opened the front door this morning it was there waiting for me. I was not expecting it to arrive until later today. Consequently my mum and I were able to take it this morning to the place where my Nan was being cremated at 8am and we lit it for her there. 
Nan’s candle and the tapers will then be taken to the wake tomorrow where I will light it again. All the guests will then be lighting their tapers off Nan’s candle. 

Again, thank you so much for the effort you put in to make sure I had the candles I wanted in time for the remembrance.

With much appreciation, 
E”

And then there are the customers that are wonderful storytellers in their emails and we’re transported to their side like this one a couple of days ago
“Hi Queen B,
Many thanks for my recent order of beautiful bee glassware and tea lights, what a beautiful gift to myself!!!   It is burning loveliness beside me as I make myself comfortable in my special chair and relax at the end of the day.
Just love your beeswax candles and all that Queen B and the little workers stand for, just pure goodness and great quality products.
Best wishes,
S”
It’s pretty hard not to be passionate about what you do when you get to play a role in supporting bees and beekeepers and sending out light every day AND you get emails like these in return.  When I saw it advertised in heaven I applied for the job immediately.  And people wonder why I love working so much?!
Thanks for allowing us all to do what we love.
Cate xx

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I absolutely love reading and I love learning.  Occasionally I come across something that makes me stop mid stride.  It could be something really mind bending or poignant.  Or writings so raw you sometimes feel like you’re reading their diary.  I subscribe to my fair share of food blogs (try the Life Changing Bread… you won’t look back!) and often I’m reading about people who are creating their dream life (her backstory, which seems to have been removed from the blog, is fabulous), following their dreams or writers who tell a great yarn.

This morning I was reading a blog I love.  Sophie from Local is Lovely interviewed Hannah from The Perthville Pantry.  Reading her 5 lessons/insights for people thinking about starting a branded meat or small agribusiness  how they want to live each day summed up EXACTLY what I would tell people (although I have struggled in the past to put it so succinctly).  Read and ponder.  It’s worth the few moments of your life.  It is also a manifesto for the Queen B story.

What are five lessons/resources/insights you’d share with young farmers like yourself, who are thinking about starting a branded meat or small agribusiness themselves?

  1. Determine your passion and build an enterprise around that.  It’s a joy to work if you love what you do.
  2. Think big and question mainstream wisdom.  Do your own research.
  3. Back yourself.  Forget about what you think others think of you.  You can stand tall if you stay true to your own values.
  4. Write down your dreams and aspirations.  You’ll be amazed at what comes to fruition.
  5. Continue to learn. Read, attend courses and network.
Perthville Pantry post from Local is Lovely blog

Hannah from Perthville Pantry

I emailed Sophie this morning to see if she would mind me sharing and, being the sweet soul she is she said go right ahead.  She also gave me permission to share the Gummy Pigs recipe (with raw honey)!

Gummy Pigs

3 tablespoons grassfed gelatine
1/3 cup lemon and lime juice
2 to 3 tablespoons raw honey
1 to 2 slices of fresh beetroot for the pink piggy colour

Whisk lemon and lime juice, honey and gelatine in a sauce pan until there are no lumps.  Heat over low heat until melted.  Add the fresh beetroot and remove once the desired colour is obtained.  Pour mixture into silicone piggy moulds and pop in the freezer for 10 minutes.  Remove from the moulds and enjoy.

Here are the gummy pigs

Gummy pig recipe from Perthville Pantry on Local is Lovely blog

Gummy Pigs – Perthville Pantry

I’m going to see if I can find me bee moulds and perhaps try pineapple? or turmeric!!

Happy reading (and cooking if you’re so inclined)!

Cate xx

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We are the recipients of a huge volume of really extra-ordinary mail here at Queen B.  Emails.  Letters/cards.  Facebook posts.  They’re the pep in our step.  The wind in our sails.  The hand holding us up.

Given the big difference it makes to us, I thought we’d pay it forward.  So, each week we’re going to pick a “Letter of the week”.  We’ll publish it and send the lovely writer a little extra Queen B bee-created light.  In some ways its trifling to pick 52 bits of feedback from the hundreds that we received, but I figure we’re better doing something that nothing at all.

Seriously, lovely letters are what make the world go around.  I don’t think that I am unique in small business in completely doing my head in (!!) over-thinking everything, and making sure that every decision I make it ethical and sustainable etc.  So it’s really lovely to be reminded to lift your head to the light and to remember what we’re doing here and the difference we’re making.

Today was a really special day which is perhaps why it finally struck me that I needed to do this!  We received several really lovely emails, but one in particular really touched me.  She wrote about an issue that has long concerned me and never written about because I was sick of negativity!  I share her email here:

Dear Cate and Sarah,

You truly spoil me.  You cannot imagine my surprise to find my beautiful candles waiting for me so soon after I ordered when I got back home this morning after a trip to the shop.  It wasn’t until I opened the box and got a glorious waft of honey that I knew who my parcel was from.

I expressed how much I loved your products yesterday but I had only sample the jam jar tea lights. As I unwrapped each item I grew more and more excited. And the lollipops! How novel! I cannot wait to try them!

I have to say it again. You’re products are AMAZING and you should be so proud.

Thank you again,
K”

Thank you K.  Your email really touched all of us.  I’m not sure that I am particularly deft at negotiating great marketing with running an ethical business.  But I do know that all 3 of us turn up at Queen B every day and give it everything that we have to give (and sometimes more).  And it’s lovely when that is appreciated.

Thank you to all of you who communicate with us – be it in comments, Facebook posts, emails, letters or on the phone.  May you be the recipient of a random gift of light (be it from us or from someone else) in return.

Cate xx

 

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A few months ago I was contacted by Kirsten McCulloch of Sustainable Suburbia fame to see if I would be willing to contribute to a book she was writing about reducing and eliminating the toxins we take in.  That was a complete no brainer.  I said yes!

Well, Kirsten’s dream has come true and Less Toxic Living: How to Reduce Your Everyday Exposure to Toxic Chemicals – An Introduction For Families goes on sale today.  In an extraordinary act of generosity, the eBook is completely free.  Printed copies are also for sale at US$12.99.  There is bonus content available for anyone who buys the book or downloads the free version prior to Tuesday, 3rd December 2013.  Please use the code QUEENB for the special bonuses.  Yes, free and bonuses.  Who’s your mamma?!

Less Toxic Living, Sustainable Suburbia, eliminate chemicals

Yep… co-author! Going to have tickets on myself soon!

As I planned this blog post, I asked Kirsten with two questions.  Following are her responses:

1. We all lead busy lives, if you had to prioritise 10 things that someone can do for maximum impact to reduce everyday exposure to toxic chemicals, what would they be?

1. Avoid the most pesticide laden food.

Get to know the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” and the Australian version released by the Friends of the Earth last year (though it’s not based on as much research as the US version, but useful as a guide). For the worst offenders, grow your own or buy organic.

2. Remember that your skin is your largest organ and think about what you are putting on it.

Anything you wear daily, or that you use over a large area (like body lotion or sunscreen) those are your first cosmetics to consider. There are lots of safer brands (check out www.safecosmeticsaustralia.com.au for some options), or if you really want to know what you are putting on your skin, you can make your own. If you want to try that, the book contains a few easy products to start you off.

3. Open the window

Unless you live in a really polluted area, open your doors and windows. For more Australians, the build-up of toxic chemicals in your house, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like formaldehyde, is much higher than that outdoors. You can also grow houseplants to help reduce VOCS.

4. Vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter.

Again, the typical build-up of toxic chemicals in the dust, including brominated fire retardants from your mattress, couch and carpet, is fairly scary.

5. Take off your shoes

Along those same lines, take of your outdoor shoes when you enter your home. You’ll be amazed how much less dust comes in.

6. Switch to non-toxic cleaning products.

Start with one: whichever cleaning product you use the most, switch it out for something non-toxic. An all-purpose spray cleaner is really easy to make, for instance. Almost everything in the house can be cleaned with baking soda, washing soda, vinegar and soap, and again there are some easy recipes in the book to start you off.

But again, if you don’t want to make your own, there are some commercial brands that are quite good. I would choose one product and find out what the typical nasties in that one are (I cover this for a selection of products in the book, but The Chemical Maze is great for this – it even has an app now, which I have on my phone), then check your chosen “safe” brand and make sure those ingredients aren’t in it.

7. Stop eating processed “foods”

Look, I am not a purist and I don’t pretend to do everything “right” even close to all the time. The occasional processed food isn’t going to kill you. But make it occasional, not part of your daily diet. If you eat a lot of processed food right now, then choose one meal a day to cut it out.

8. Choose plastics with the recycling symbols #4 & #5.

Avoid phthalates and BPA leaching into your food and skin by avoiding those plastics. There is more detail about this in the book. Some other plastics can be okay, but those are the safest.

9. Get rid of synthetic fragrances.

That means in cleaning products, air fresheners, candles and cosmetics. Fragrances are considered “proprietary knowledge” and therefore the individual chemical components don’t need to be listed. But there are thousands of chemicals that can be included, and when the US National Institute of
Occupational Health and Safety evaluated 2983 fragrance chemicals they found that 884 were toxic.

10. Switch out your candles!

Of course, if you use a lot of candles, you must stop using paraffin-based, scented or coloured candles now! Go with 100% pure beeswax for a healthier glow!

I’m not sure why candle come in 10th given every home has them and most people use them, but that’s beside the point (and I may be just a smidgen biased in thinking that this is a BIG issue and we need to be having the conversation loud and fast given the explosion in toxic, scented, paraffin and soy sludge candles that are being sold).

and, the next most obvious question:

2. What is your background and what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve been on a journey to reduce the toxins in my life, and my family’s, for a while now. Part of how that started was when I was trying to get pregnant and had been told I might miscarry a few times. I figured whatever I could do to decrease that risk would be good, and I started to really focus on what I was putting in my body.

Then having kids of course you start to think about more than just what you are putting in your body. What are they being exposed to through their toys, the water, the air they’re breathing?

Added to that, a little over 12 months ago, my cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I suddenly had another motivation to take this journey a step further. She’s three week’s younger than me, and we’d both recently turned forty, and joked about how it’s all downhill from here. When my sister, and then step-father, were both diagnosed with bowel cancer a matter of months later, it was time to take action.

Did you know that 75% of the chemicals in everyday use in Australia have never been tested for human or environmental toxicity? Well, of course you do if you have read my book! And it’s just astounding to realise how many of the products on our supermarket shelves contain known and suspected carcinogens. They may be in small doses, but when they are all added together, and combined with other chemicals, how small is the dose then? And how do those chemicals interact in our bodies? The answer is, we just don’t know.

I was prompted to write this book partly by how overwhelming I found it when I started doing some solid research. I wanted to provide a way for people to start making changes without needing to feel overwhelmed. That’s why I called it Less Toxic Living, not non-toxic. There’s no such thing as non-toxic living in Australia today. But there are plenty of ways to reduce our exposure to nasty chemicals, and some of them are quite simple.

And at the same time, there’s a mass of information out there, in in-depth books, blogs and magazines. So I wanted to bring some of that together to give people some easy ways to change their lives, and some resources for where to go if they want to get more in-depth.”

 

I hope you  find the book interesting reading… certainly food for thought.

Cheers

Cate xx

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I’ve just had my third phone call for the month by a concerned customer who had been on another beeswax candle company website and was asking about whether there was chlorine in our beeswax.  She directed me to the site.  Apart from the fact that the information on the website is misleading and deceptive, the claims are fear-mongering and causes panic where there is no need for alarm.  There are enough genuine concerns for us to worry about in terms of chemicals in our lives without someone intentionally misleading people.

Amongst many other ridiculous, grandiose claims and lies, the (misleading and deceptive) website claims:

Chlorine in beeswax

Almost all candle manufacturers overlook or ignore this very crucial point when attempting to manufacture a clean fume candle.

If a candle manufacturer {beeswax or other} is not mentioning that their wax is free from chlorinated water for example, it is most probable that their wax is melted in and absorbing chlorine through chlorinated {town/city/potable} water.

“Chlorine must be avoided as the chlorine is absorbed by the wax and will be released as a toxic gas if burned in a candle” [ p69].
THE ABC AND XYZ OF BEE CULTURE, Morse & Flottum, 1990

A quick fact check reveals that the paragraph that he quotes from The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, Morse & Flottum, 1990 is taken completely out of context.  This particular part of the book (which is an invaluable beekeeping reference guide) is discussing options for chemically bleaching beeswax.  The relevant paragraph reads as follows:

“We cannot emphasize too strongly that there are several dangers and precautions to be taken when processing beeswax.  For example, bleaches using chlorine, which is an excellent bleaching agent, must be avoided as the chlorine is absorbed by the wax and will be released as a toxic gas if burned in a candle.” [emphasis added]

cleaning beeswax

The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture, Morse & Flottum, 1990 (pg 69)

I couldn’t agree more.  They are talking about pouring raw chlorine into the wax to bleach it.

I can only speak for Queen B when I say that there is no chlorine (or any other chemical) used in our cleaning process.  Nor that of our beekeepers, all of whom we’ve audited prior to buying wax, and whom we’ve had relationships going on for a decade now.  In fact, I don’t know a single beekeeper who uses chlorine (or any chemicals) to clean their wax.  [The book, now in its 40th edition,  was first published in 1877.  It's age old wisdom has been standard practice in the industry for over 100 years.]  At Queen B we use the age-old process of purifying and cleaning our beeswax with water, time (to allow impurities to settle) and filters.  The filtration we use would certainly not be industry standard and is the result of a decade of trial (& error) and thorough testing.  We’ve ‘kissed a lot of frogs’ learning what we’ve learned.  We’ve also read all the literature and learned from our forefathers… both in beekeeping and in candlemaking.

I guess this is another reminder that unfortunately, even on the side of “good” there is the occasional evil person.  If you have bought in to any of the claims on this website, can I suggest that you ask to see the claimed organic certification for their wax.  Can I also suggest that you read our post about the pigments we use for our, world-renowned, rolled pillar range.  And, can I respectfully suggest, that if a company is a proven liar, who has no compunction in misleading and deceiving potential (and actual) customers and who actively seeks to cause fear where there is no cause for alarm, that you should not buy their products.  This is a company that claims on their home page to have been manufacturing pure beeswax candles since 1975 (although they claim on another page that they made their first tealight in 1993) and yet made all of their beeswax candles from a blend of beeswax and macadamia nut oil until Queen B launched pure beeswax tealight, votive and pillar candles… all the while ranting on their website about the fume dangers of burning an oil!  And those are statements of fact… and in context!

It is challenging enough to run a manufacturing business in Australia, hand-making natural products, without having to spend time countering bogus claims.  I am always grateful when misled consumers call because I can give them the facts… do the research… find the evidence.  What really horrifies me is all those customers who believe the claims and don’t call.  Who don’t know me and hence don’t know that the integrity of a Queen B candle is unimpeachable.  Who don’t have the opportunity to experience the beauty of a Queen B candle because they bought the lies.  Who are misled and deceived.  It is enough to make a grown bee cry..  And the greatest shame is that they are sullying an industry that has so much goodness in it.

… I’m off to light more (Queen B!) candles and a smudge stick just to remove their energy from our hive.

Yours in truth, facts and light,

Cate xx

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So we all know that I bang on constantly about not all waxes (paraffin, soy, palm and beeswax) being equal… well, that applies to beeswaxes too.

A few weeks ago a customer bought a ‘pure beeswax candle’ for me from Dusk.  It is sold at a discount to a the smallest Queen B hand-rolled honeycomb candle (theirs is about 20% narrower and would have less labour as it is not finished properly).  A part of me was thrilled that this purveyor of paraffin (petrochemical wax) candles now had a natural beeswax candle as part of their range, but I was a little disappointed to see that they were using what appeared to me to be very dirty beeswax, using the wrong wick and that the candles were messily made and unfinished.

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - pre lighting

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – pre lighting

 

Aesthetics first (because that is how you get a customer to notice your product in the first place): by not finishing the candle top and bottom it doesn’t actually sit straight and, in addition, most house proud people don’t want candles that look dirty.

And now on to the performance – which is really driven by the wax and the wick.  When bees make beeswax it is white, so any colour in beeswax is impurities.  A little of that is great… a little honey residue is what gives beeswax candles their natural honey aroma.  But a lot of impurities are a disaster waiting to happen in terms of a candle doing what a candle is supposed to do… ie provide light with a lovely, large flame.

It’s one thing to have a theory (and a decade of pounding your head against a brick wall to learn what you’ve learned :-0) and quite another to see that play out.  So we fired them up.  Notice the respective sizes of the flame upon being lit (and that the Dusk candle doesn’t sit straight).

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - just lit

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – just lit

 

After 30 minutes… wick used in the Dusk beeswax candle is beginning to drown… (the clean beeswax and cotton wick in the Queen B candle are performing well… happy queen).

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - 30 minutes

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – 30 minutes

 

An hour and a half in, the difference is even more noticeable.  If I were the Dusk customer I would now be thinking that beeswax candles are cr*p and don’t burn properly.  I’d be very disappointed.  I’d be thinking twice and thrice before forking out my hard earned money on beeswax candles again.

Queen B vs Dusk pure 100 pure bee wax candle - 90 minutes

Queen B vs Dusk pure beeswax candle – 90 minutes

 

2 hours in…

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - 120 minutes

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – 120 minutes

 

Two and a half hours…

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - 150 minutes

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – 150 minutes

 

Three hours… You really have to wonder how rigorous their testing procedures are… or do they just not care?

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle- 180 minutes

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle- 180 minutes

 

Three and a half hours…

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - 210 minutes

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – 210 minutes

 

Five hours burning now.  Dusk have a very disappointed customer and beeswax candles are now unfortunately tarred with the same brush…

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - 5 hours

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – 5 hours

 

And after seven and a half hours I’d seen everything that I needed to see.

Queen B vs Dusk 100 pure bee wax candle - 7.5 hours

Queen B vs Dusk beeswax candle – 7.5 hours

 

Anyone who knows me knows that anything that I say, I will say to someone’s face.  Brutally honest?  Yes.  Two faced?  No.  Three days ago, armed with my tests and photographs I called Dusk to try to speak to their product development people or the relevant buyer.  I was told by the Help Desk that they couldn’t give me those details for “privacy reasons” and to rather send an email.  I sent an email the same day – firstly alerting them to the problem (selling a product that didn’t perform, destroying their own brand and damaging the reputation of beeswax candles) and secondly offering to make their beeswax candles for them.  “Don’t just give me problems, give me solutions”!  I received a response telling me that my email had been sent on “to the appropriate persons who will be in touch should they wish to discuss further”.  The “appropriate persons” haven’t been in touch yet.

What’s not to discuss?

And that brings me to price.  Yes, there are beeswax candles on the market that are cheaper than Queen B candles, BUT I can say hand on heart (and having not increased our prices in over 6 years despite all of our costs increasing every year) that if they are cheaper they just aren’t the same quality.  Now, that is a BOLD statement.  It may even seem arrogant.  I genuinely don’t mean to be, I just know the cost of making pure beeswax candles.  Here’s what makes Queen B candles different:

1. we only buy 100% pure Australian beeswax (which is the most expensive beeswax in the world because it is free from the chemical residues that other beeswaxes have as we are free of the varroa mite)

2. we only buy beeswax from specific honey flows, from specific beekeepers and we have searched far and wide over the past decade to find those beekeepers who are producing the best beeswax available… and we pay well above the market rate so that they earn a premium for the premium product that they sell.

3. we then clean that wax (which beekeepers consider clean) properly ourselves over a period of 48 hours (using water and filtration)

4. we spend literally months on wick testing before we launch a candle on to the market.  With literally hundreds of pure cotton wicks at our fingertips there is a lot of testing to be done.  The difference between the wrong wick and the right wick is often only evident several hours into burning… or in certain weather conditions… or on a particular surface.  It’s not a craft, it’s a science.

5. we hand make every Queen B candle.  Sure you can churn them out of a machine faster (and cheaper) but you forgo quality and you forgo the ‘je ne sais quoi’ that makes a hand made product special.  Not sure how hippy you want to be about these things but I can be a bit out there and to me there is a certain magic in a candle that has been made by a person.  Sure it costs a little more.  Many a well intentioned person has advised me to look at mechanising our process or moving production off shore.  But to me it is untenable.  We have focused on being outrageously efficient and every single person who has ever worked at Queen B has understood very early on that if we aren’t all efficient we are out of business.

Designing and hand-making pure beeswax candles is a craft.  Ensuring they burn properly is a science.  At Queen B we try to do both with excellence, and THAT is the difference between a Queen B pure Australian beeswax candle and any other beeswax candle on the market.  Being a complete perfectionist has many, many drawbacks and one very obvious benefit.  The drawbacks are primarily mine to deal with, the single benefit is the greatest gift that I can give our customers and the bees that make the beautiful wax that goes into Queen B candles.

Thanks to you for your support.  Ultimately it doesn’t matter how good our wax is, how comprehensive our wick testing is or how much perfectionism we bring to the job, if no one is prepared to buy your wares you don’t have a business.  Thank you for letting me run this business.  I consider it a great privilege to do what I am passionate about every single day.

Cate xx

 

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It’s been an exciting week at the hive – a flurry of activity in the lead up to TEDxSydney  AND we’ve negotiated new international shipping rates which finally make shipping Queen B candles around the world affordable.

As I didn’t want to crash the site, my clever web guy loaded the rates in a week ago and we’ve been doing testing for the past week… and reweighing every product so we can ship them as cheaply as possible.  Interestingly, in the 5 days following the new rates being loaded we did as many international online sales as we did in the previous 12 months… just in case you were wondering whether we are genuinely impacted by shipping charges.  In order to get these rates I’ve had to commit to spending $5,000 on international shipping (which is a fraction of what we spend domestically).  So, it is a considered roll of the dice.  If you have friends or family living overseas who you think may be interested, please pass on to them that our shipping rates are now about 1/3 of what they were.

So, with no further ado, I declare Queen B open for business internationally… at far more appealing and competitive rates than we’ve ever been able to offer.  The rates embedded in the website are exactly what we get charged.  Best of all, in all those parcels already making their way across the world is a bulk box of our tealights to light up a wedding in Canada.  You’ve seriously got to love that.

Open for Business

 

___________________________________________________________________

Queen B beeswax candles are made with 100% pure Australian beeswax, a pure cotton wick and copious amounts of hand made love. We stock beautiful and stylish candle holderspersonalised candlesvotive candlestealight candles and pillar candles that nourish the human spirit and our environment.

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According to the Digital Media Research Report done in 2012 by PwC and Frost & Sullivan, total online expenditure in Australia in 2012 was forecast to be $16 billion of which $7.2 billion (or 45%) was on international websites.  OK, I get that.  I shop on overseas website myself where the goods are not available in Australia or completely overpriced or where the cost of shipping is ridiculous.  So, this my rant is not about saying we shouldn’t be shopping on international websites.  My rant is that overseas people aren’t shopping on Australian websites because our cost of shipping to them is so high.

According to one comment on my last post about this, for a business in Hong Kong to ship a 500g parcel to Australia it would cost $0.60.  For an Australian business to ship a 500g parcel in a Parcel Post satchel would be $8.25 (that’s 15 times the price) and for the Australian business to ship the same parcel to Hong Kong would be $11.90 (that’s 20 times the price).  No wonder we’re shipping overseas.  The Australian small business selling that item has the choice of either absorbing the $8.25, or charging for it.  Why would you shop locally?  That. Is. Insane.  That is killing small business.

A friend who runs Daylesford & Heburn Mineral Springs Co. called me from the Post Office yesterday.  He was mailing online orders to WA.  The cost to the customer for a case of beautiful, Australian mineral water or Organic Brewed Ginger Beer? $50 – $65.  The cost of mailing EACH CASE to WA? $69.  Yes, the postage cost was more that what he earned on the sale.  Seriously.  He doesn’t even bother with trying to export his mineral water… and yet, the most popular mineral water in Australia is imported from Italy.  Yes, it is cheaper to bottle and ship mineral water 15,000km’s across the world than it is to bottle and freight it from the other side of Melbourne.

This morning I received an email from a small US company that I have purchased from before.  They are now offering US$4 postage for up to 10 pounds of product to Australia sent by DHL Parcel Delivery Express.  I’ve emailed DHL in Australia to see if they will offer me the same rate for our shipments.  I’ll keep you posted on their response.  You’ll be relieved to know that I’m not holding my breath.  Just as the recent Cabinet inquiry into software pricing revealed Aussies are paying as much as 170% more, so we do on shipping.  Our monopoly, government owned, postal service leading the way on overcharging.

A few other things to consider:

  • According to a report by ANZ, small business sales are down 5% (year on year) to the end of February.
  • Australia’s trade deficit has widened by eight per cent to $2.6 billion in November last year, the largest recorded since the Global Financial Crisis, according to new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  This represents the 11th consecutive month of deficit.
  • According to the Digital Media Report, 55% of people surveyed said the most important reason they shopped online was lower prices.  We can be pretty confident this is the case the world over.  Well, given our high Aussie dollar and the fact that our minimum wage is the highest in the OECD we’re already behind the 8 ball.  Add to that the rort that is Australia Post’s shipping charges and we may as well raise the white flag.

There aren’t many times in my life where I have felt completely powerless, but this is one of them.  It is like seeing a train wreck before it actually happens.  Or knowing that that moron who just overtook you at double the speed limit is going to hurt someone.  If we don’t fix this, it is going to hurt.  2 out of every 3 jobs in Australia is in the small business sector.  If we can’t compete with our global competitors to ship at competitive prices, we’ll have more businesses failing (insolvencies were at record high’s in the September 2012 quarter) and more people looking for jobs.

As you know I am pretty passionate about Australia.  We are wonderful innovators.  We make world class products.  Let’s stand up and tell the Federal Government that they need to do something about making it possible for us to level the playing field and ship at competitive prices (both domestically and internationally).  You can sign the petition here.  If you’re feeling a little blue after this post, you can buy Queen B pure beeswax candles here (made in Australia and shipped for “free” on orders over $100). You may also now have a better understanding on why we have a minimum order for “free shipping”.  Don’t get mad when an Australian retailer charges for shipping, get even – send an email to the Minister for Small Business telling him that our shipping costs are killing sales.  Take those 2 minutes to stand up for something you believe in.  It’s the only way we’ll get the change we need.

If you want to live in a world where we are more than a giant quarry (and they’re getting better at mechanising that and importing workers) or a dumping ground for cheap imports, then you need to stand up and do something about it.  We want manufacturers.  We want vibrant regional communities.  We want artists and craftspeople and designers.  And given we’re part of the global economy, we need them to be able to ship their goods domestically and internationally at competitive rates, otherwise there will be no market for their product and they will close.

I’ll finish with a few statistics from the 2012 Australia Post Annual Report (just in case you think I’m being unreasonable… or hysterical :-0).  Mail volumes were down 14 per cent from 2008 to 2012, and yet overall revenue was up 4 per cent.  Wow – those 3 price increases last year really delivered for them.  Profit before interest and income tax expense from Parcels & Express Post was up 17% (2011 to 2012).  So, are they investing in their network to improve their service (and justify all the price increases)?  Well, no, their capital expenditure was at a five year low in 2012 (on par with the five year low in 2011). However, they did declare a $213.7 million dollar dividend (a 23 per cent increase on the dividend paid in 2011) – paid, of course, to the Federal Government.

Oh, someone powerful, can you PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do something about this before we all realise too late that we had to act now?

Update

This article appeared in the SunHerald on 14th April 2013.

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I did a facebook post on this earlier today but realised that I had so much to say that it really warranted a blog post!

Today (with no prior warning), Australia Post put up their shipping charges by an average of 30%.  It is a short-sighted attempt to cash in on online shopping but actually just puts another nail in the coffin of Australian small business.  Small business is Australia’s largest employer with approximately 2.7 million small businesses in Australia employing over 5 million people.  That’s around 2/3rd’s of the labour force.  This price gouge will be a direct hit on many of them.

You will very rarely find me whinging about running Queen B.  I love it passionately.  I consider it a privilege to do what I love 80 hours a week.  I still have to pinch myself that I get to ship our ‘light’ every day and at the same time to make a difference in so many lives.

Yes, the Australian dollar is high… we’ll deal with it.  I understand that it is complicated and our dollar was floated several decades ago.  Our product is world class.  I still think we can compete.

Yes, people can buy stuff overseas and not pay GST on orders under $1,000… I understand that it would be expensive to administer.  We’ll deal with that too.

Yes, our manufacturing labour costs are the most expensive in the OECD (all interesting reading but in particular read page 19 and on)… I understand our cost of living is ridiculously high in Australia.  We can even struggle through that (although we are understaffed because we can’t afford to hire the staff we need).

But the rort that is Australia Post’s shipping charges is incomprehensible to me.  It is just plain stupid and I am gob-smacked that a small beeswax candlemaker in Brookvale has more economic ability and common sense than the entire senior management team of Australia Post combined and our Federal Government. [that may be an exaggeration but on the surface of this decision appears to be true]

As I mentioned in my Facebook post, I have a friend who runs an online business in the UK selling natural skincare and cosmetics (including many well known Australian brands).  A few Christmas’ ago we shipped a 2kg hamper to the UK on behalf of a client and it cost us over $90 to send.  I was so shocked that I asked my friend what it would have cost him to send.  Turn out that what cost us $90 to ship from Sydney to UK would have cost him £4.62 (less than AUD$6.00) to ship from the UK to Sydney.  I thought he was exaggerating, so I asked for a copy of his contract with Royal Mail.  Turns out it was true.  In fact, it is cheaper for him to send a parcel from London to Manly Beach (16,700 km’s) than it is for us to send a parcel from Brookvale to Manly Beach (less than 5kms).

Which goes a long way to explaining why so many international businesses are able to offer free or extremely cheap shipping to Australia (and why Australian businesses can’t do the same… and even struggle to ship cheaply within Australia).  We recently shipped a $140 parcel to WA and paid $26 in postage alone… which does leave a lot of room for the cost to hand make, pure Australian beeswax candles, package them ethically, use only Australian made boxes, sealed with water activated gum paper tape (it’s non-toxic) and the labour to process the order, create the invoice, pick the goods, pack the goodies, handwrite a lovely note and pay for a 250 square metre building, electricity, wages, website and the like.  Yes, we are rorted on domestic shipping charges too.

The saddest part about it is that so many Australian companies are setting up their dispatch operations overseas.  Yes, Australian website, but all goods are shipped from overseas.  So Australia Post get only a very small % of the delivery fee charged by the international operator rather than 100% of the fee if that business had been able to base themselves locally.

And what really gets me is that rorting small business on shipping charges is a job killer.  Looking at our Google Analytics, we get as many hits from the UK and USA as we do in Australia, but we ship .0001% of the parcels to those destinations.  If we were able to get shipping rates comparative to what businesses of our size in those countries can get, we would need to employ a minimum of 2 additional people to handle those orders and the Government would have their hand in my pocket for company tax and in the pockets of those employees for income tax.  I am sure that the tax they would reap would more than compensate for any losses suffered by Australia Post.  And, yes, it is the Federal Government who own Australia Post and who could fix this immediately.

Now, just before you think this is one big whinge and that I’ve done nothing to try to fix it myself, think again.  I have raised this on 4 occasions with our “Relationship Manager” at Australia Post (and provided copies of my friend’s contract with Royal Mail so that they have hard, factual information).  Nothing has been done.  I raised it almost 2 years ago with the NSW Small Business Commissioner and again provided factual proof of the rates being offered by national carriers overseas and again nothing has been done (in fact Australia Post have had 3 massive price increases since then).  I’ve raised it with the Federal Small Business Minister (Brendan O’Connor at the time).  As you can see his response (which took 6 weeks to send) doesn’t actually address the problem or provide a solution. 20120814 Letter from Small Business Minister.  My email back to him along those lines was not answered.

So, what can you do?

Firstly, there is now a petition you can sign.  It says it is being sent to Australia Post. I sincerely hope that it is also sent to the Federal Small Business Minister and the Chamber of Commerce.

You could also write to the Minister for Small Business asking him to intervene personally in this decision made by a wholly owned Federal Government Enterprise that is killing the ability of Australian small business to compete internationally.

While you’re at it, why not write to Julia Gillard?  She claims to be the people’s Prime Minister, championing small business as “the engine room of the economy”.  Why then does she bend over backwards for big business and the mining sector and allow a government Business Enterprise to kill Australian small business.

Please feel free to share our facebook post.  This is something that affects EVERY Australian.  Whether you’re in mining, banking, fundraising, lawyering, small business, being a parent or any of the myriad of jobs we have, if we keep allowing money to flow out of the Australian economy (which is what happens when you order stuff from overseas) and we don’t have corresponding inflows (because our shipping charges are a joke… witness our current account deficit) then businesses fail which means less employment which means less money in the economy and that affects everyone.

This has to stop.  Not only must this decision be reversed, but Australian small businesses need to be offered globally competitive domestic and international shipping rates.  Fine, they may not want to offer those rates to everyone, but any small business shipping a reasonable number of parcels needs to be given rates that will allow them to compete.

Thank you for your time.  I implore you to please take action.  Whilst you may not think that this impacts on you, it does.  Regardless of what your job is, your future prosperity depends on a vibrant Australian economy and that means a vibrant, internationally competitive small business sector.

Cate

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Even though I absolutely love what I do, usually after a holiday I question whether I am up for what is required to keep Queen B going.  Today I found an ‘existential crisis’ booster shot.  An enthusiam steroid.  I think I may have found my manifesto… “Think Different” was the advertising slogan for Apple in 1997.  Too young to appreciate it then, I came across is today in a new magazine, Messenger Collective.

 

“Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They invent.
They imagine.
They heal.
They explore.
They create.
They inspire.
They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

I have a lot to do now.  Happy first day back from the long weekend.  Take 5 minutes today to think, or be, crazy.  And if you feel so inclined, write and tell me about it.

Cate xx

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