In this episode of the eCommerce Insights Podcast by Reach Realm, Dean Butt, the founder of Apple and Bears, shares the story of how his family-run business came to be. After being approached by a company outside of the UK to sell cosmetic products, Dean quickly realized that the products were not as they were labeled, and this was a wake-up call. Determined to do better, Dean set out to create a range of luxury organic cosmetics made entirely in the UK, sourcing ingredients locally and even manufacturing the bottles locally. Throughout the episode, Dean emphasizes the importance of perseverance, optimism, and protecting your brand.
Zan: [00:00:00] Welcome to the eCommerce Insights Podcast by Reach Realm. Today I have with me Dean Butt from Apple and Bears. Apple and Bears is a family operated company producing a range of organic cosmetics that are very luxury and manufactured in their entirety in the UK.
Dean: Thank you very much Zan nice to be with you and looking forward to making this work.
Zan: So just to get us started would you start by telling us a bit about yourself, your story, and how did that lead to founding the business, which I believe is coming up to a very special anniversary in just a few weeks.
Dean: Yes. Hi, I’m Dean Butt from Apple and Bears, and it’s a family run business. We manufacture organic cosmetics made in the [00:01:00] UK. And the reason we started Apple and Bears was in fact a challenge. And I’m sure a lot of people out there have a similar story to tell. My actual introduction in the cosmetic business was by default. We started because I was approached by a company outside of the UK to sell cosmetic products here, which I’d never done, but it was a challenge and I thought, Okay, let me try and market their products,
and see if we could grow another business. Unfortunately, when I received the products, the response was, what was written on the label was not what was actually in, in the product itself. People were telling me, Well, it’s saying organic, it’s saying natural, but really it’s all synthetic and the fragrance is synthetic,
and some of the [00:02:00] items are banned. So that really was a wake up call for me because you think on a product where you read the label, it’s all meant to be correct and true. But unfortunately it was a rude awakening and I went back to my prospective partners and said: “Well, the feedback is that the product is not saying what it says, you know, on the label.
It, it’s a lot of ingredients are actually banned.” So, so that was a wake up call for me, but not being dissuaded, I thought, well, let’s try and do something that actually works. Something that says the ingredients that are in the container is actually what you put on your skin and it was more of a challenge to me, and I’m sure a lot of people in the cosmetic business who started off probably had the same experience or similar. That they think: [00:03:00] “Well, we can do better, or, Why don’t we put what’s in the bottle or container genuine?” And then you think to yourself: You start off with a challenge, but then you’ve gotta make the challenge into a reality.”
And that’s where now you know, you think to yourself, How do I start? And you’re starting from a blank canvas. There’s nothing on the canvas, there’s no experience, there’s nothing. So then you’re saying to yourself, Well, you must be crazy to start. And most people will think to themselves. I can’t be bothered.
But I sat down and I said to, to my wife, Kay and the other shareholders or my children, I said, Well, this is a project that I think I’d like to try and give it her go. And everyone was behind, behind me on this. So the question was now to come up with a [00:04:00] logo, a name, and to actually approach people who actually
could formulate a product that was genuine. And when I say genuine, even the people that I approached said to me, Well, you know there’s nothing really a hundred percent organic? And that took me by surprise because thinking, well, what’s in the bottle? It has to have a shelf life of nearly three years. So it has to have some form of antibacterial, something that actually can protect the ingredients to keep it for a shelf life for that long.
It’s just common sense. If you put an apple or any fruit on the table for seven days, it’ll start deteriorating. And the same process goes with with anything that’s organic. So there’s gotta be an element or percentage in there that makes it [00:05:00] sustainable as a product. So it took me about a year fact finding, finding the right people who could actually formulate and to be honest, if you look back and you think to yourself as time goes by, you must have been crazy to start.
But the more, the longer it goes and the more challenges you face. You keep passing one hurdle after another and you get a buzz when it goes well and you get deflated when it doesn’t go well. But I think the most important thing is if you believe in what you’re doing,
your product and yourself and doubt comes in and out a lot of times, but perseverance, and you’ve gotta be optimistic. That’s what keeps us going with Apple and Bears. [00:06:00] So when we finally got the name, we registered it, we wanted to protect our trademark. So that was important. I think if you, if you got a brand, the first thing to do is protect the brand’s name and register it, so you’ve got cover there. The other thing was the formulation. We wanted it to be formulated in England and the product made in England.
And we tried to source all of the local ingredients locally. Even the bottles were manufactured locally. The only component that comes out of the UK is the silver top because it’s not manufactured here, sadly, everything else is made in England.
When it says made in England, it should be made in England, including the ingredients or the manufacturing process. And so we started off [00:07:00] getting our first products out into the market and the world was a different place 10 years ago. The market was a different place. There was confidence in the market and it was more brick and mortar.
So for us trying to get the products into the stores, which we had good success. The funny thing was we, found our growing market was more in Europe than it was in the UK. But for us, it didn’t matter because being a part of the bigger European family was important for us. It, gave us confidence because we could stretch out, and the German market loved the product and embraced us first.
That was reassuring because you’ve got one of the biggest markets in Germany coming on board and the German appreciation of organic products was a [00:08:00] hate office in the UK. I think that was the reason why it took off first there then here. It was exciting for us to get calls and people wanting to have our products in the stores.
So we had a lot of buzz and the question was you’ve got to have a product, but then you’ve gotta reach an audience. And to reach an audience takes a lot of money and marketing. And as I said, the world 10 years ago was different from today. If you look back and you think to yourself, can I really carry on because I need X amount for a budget, I need production, I need everything that goes with it, packaging and, so forth.
Some people might get dissuaded. In fact for a startup that we were, I think we didn’t really look at all those in [00:09:00] things into account. If you did, then it would be very difficult to go forward. It was a question of more emotional more wanting and the drive to get this product out there more than the cost.
So I think for where we are, I think we, we did extremely well. But then moving on, we’ve had a lot of things the UK leaving Europe, right or wrong. We lost our biggest market 350 million people, including ourselves. So we lost a big chunk of our market almost immediately when we exited Europe.
And Covid was another factor that came into play. But then we were trying to get into the marketplace for brick and mortar, the whole game changed. Overnight, more or less [00:10:00] with Covid people then started to buy online because of the virus. And to be honest, that also opened new avenues for us as, a small business, because initially we started
trying to get stocks into the brick and mortar side of the business, right? Covid actually made the process faster by, people buying online, and I think the buying online market jumped maybe 10 years ahead from where it was in a slow pace that everybody now was actually pushed into one direction.
It was by online. And as you know, in England, maybe other places of the world, it drove the brick and mortar business down [00:11:00] because they were not getting traffic into the stores. And they also had to change. A lot of businesses closed down. The high streets were abandoned, in many cases, and this is the new way of doing things now.
So that gave us an opportunity to say, Well, online, you’ve got to now compete with everyone.
People have got that drive enthusiasm to, build their own brands to get their own cosmetic products out there, whether it’s a soap bar or in any different field. But in the cosmetics it’s a growing business. Organic side of the business is really going big because in the last 10 years people have realized that I have to take care of my body cause this is the only thing
I’ve got, my own temple. And people are getting more aware of the [00:12:00] environment. It’s exciting because so many factors you have to look at now, packaging, is it good for the environment? The ingredients you use is sustainable?
So for us consciously, we thought, well, we’re putting our products in a recyclable bottle, but could we do more? And we teamed up with sponsoring a company called Big Blue Ocean Cleanup, and they do a tremendous job cleaning up the plastics on the beaches and in the ocean. So that gave us a bit of
relief in the sense that we’re doing something towards cleaning up the plastic as well. But then our products also carry an element where it’s organic, natural, which is plant based. But we wanted a consumer to also know that cruelty free to animals is very [00:13:00] important to us. And we teamed up with pet who does another tremendous job around promoting cruelty free animals.
And also with vegetarian society who understands the product saying, To the consumer, Yes, we vetted this company. What’s in the product is actually what it says. And, that gives us confidence that when we are in the market people can use our products with confidence. So that was coming back to where we originally started, where what was on the label was not what was in the bottle.
So we tried to address all these things that was concerned to us initially, and I think we have, and to be honest we find that new things will happen and [00:14:00] we will carry on sponsoring other causes that can make our products better. So that’s that’s how we started Apple and Bears.
Amazing story. If we spend a bit more time talking about your products themselves, because 10 years ago, you were essentially pioneering the organic space.
And you made quite a few decisions that not a lot of businesses have the courage to do. You went into this organic space very early on when it wasn’t as popular yet, and you’ve decided to stay in the UK with your manufacturing. Most brands would outsource their manufacturing to Asia and rely on whatever they can get from there when they’re getting started.
So if you would expand a bit more into what you’ve learned being a pioneer in the space and [00:15:00] sticking to your home market manufacturing in the UK before this was popular. What would be your advice for people that are weighing those options now. Do I go with Asia? Do I manufacture at home?
Dean: That’s a
very good question. In fact, that was another thing that really led us. It wasn’t a question of only made in England that you could be made in the us you could be made in China, you could be made anywhere. But I think what was important to us, the carbon footprint.
So what we found 10 years ago, we could import our PT bottles from China at a much reduced price. We could manufacture somewhere else in Europe or elsewhere at a far reduced price.
But what was it costing to the planet why should I buy something [00:16:00] so far away on the other side of the planet and a ship has got a transport dead weight all the way here, and then sell it in my market here?
For me, it didn’t make sense at all. Yes, our cost for production is higher, but then our carbon footprinting is almost zero. Because we’re not importing from the other part of the world. We’re giving jobs to our local market, creating employment locally. So we’re trying to sustain employment locally, manufacturing locally.
So keeping the industry at as close as home going. And I think that because of Covid and the breakdown in supplies of good s coming from China and the components were not in time [00:17:00] to manufacture.
Everyone now was rushing into trying manufacture locally and set up, but all the industries locally were broken up. Because everyone was buying from China or a cheaper source and the local industry was breaking down and closing up and finding it was not worth staying in business and there was a loss.
It causes a lot of local employment. Your goods are cheaper coming from far away, but it’s not environmentally friendly to the environment. And in hindsight now, I think we did the right thing because now countries are finding that we’ve lost our industry and now we’re scrambling to try and get that industry back locally.
And it’s costing more. We’ve lost the technology, we’ve lost the expertise, and, and, [00:18:00] and all the expertise and technology has gone one way out of the country. So now you are looking for employment as well, and the most important is the environment. Now with global warming, you know, we’ve had the highest record of heat waves in England.
So I think it, it’s coming home to roo. So I think on those fronts, yes I can’t say that we’ve got a crystal ball and we’ve got everything right. But I think to me it was common sense or less, it was common sense a good product.
And the environmentally friendly product and what does it cost? It does cost more. Yes, the consumer does pay more, but I’m sure if the consumer works it out, at the end of the day, it’s actually not that much more then actually buying it from the other [00:19:00] side of the world. Cause you put all that cost together.
Right? And think of what impact has it cost to the planet? where has the bottle come from? Where is it being manufactured? Because they’re looking at the cost at the end of the day and saying, Wow, I’m paying this for this much when I can buy two of this for the same, the same product.
It’s cheaper buying it. I can buy an item form this store and get two for the price I’m paying for this one, but they’re not seeing all the elements that have gone into this product and of thought on all the issues that are brought up now. In fact, to be honest, it would really work it out. It works out that our product in the long run is probably better and cheaper.
And the shortsightedness of buying product at the end of the [00:20:00] world because that impact, which you cannot see, is probably tenfold.
Zan: Right. And when it comes to conveying that master to your audience, because you obviously over the last 10 years, you have been in touch with your consumer, you know your consumer.
How has your messaging changed over the last 10 years and how have you leveraged the fact that your product is cleaner, is having a lesser impact on the environment? How have you communicated that to the consumer? And more importantly, how does the consumer react
to that when they know the entire story?
Dean: It’s very difficult in the scenario because you’ve got different parts of the world. Because now, everything is global. You can sell a product here and ship it to anywhere.[00:21:00]
So it’s difficult to try and understand everybody’s psychic , but at the end of the day I think you have to convince yourself first that, am I buying something that’s good for me? Some customers may not want to even think that far, you know, they just see the price and they say, Well, it does what it says. I can use it. I can clean myself. I can put a lotion on my body, but at the end of the day, each one is different.
It’s what you put in the, in ingredients you put in, which actually make the product the quality it is. For marketing, it’s different because with marketing you can almost say anything and everything, and it’s not facts, it’s not factual at all. You know, because you are walking on a thin, gray [00:22:00] area where you can say
it does this, this, this, this as good as the other ones, which are twice the price. But in actual fact, there probably twice the price in our instance, because the ingredients we use are actually
quality ingredients that have been vetted and are sustainable and organic. And also there’s a difference between grades of the ingredients in there compared to the less priced brands is definitely it’s like you are putting Washing up, soap liquid on your body and or you are using a body wash that actually is good for your skin.
And that’s the difference. And trying to make people understand that is a hard sell because you find people who do [00:23:00] understand and some people. Feel that they all do the same thing. And why is this company charging so much more? it’s very difficult because you’re going out into, into the global market and each one has got their own taste, their own fragrance preference.
And they look at the price and you think, Well, it’s not affordable.
Zan: It’s a very interesting discussion, especially when it comes to marketing, right? We always have the choice between buying premium or going cheap. At the end of the day, the consumer has to make their own decision.
And with eCommerce, which is a relatively new area for you. Considering the age of your company , you have now access to a larger pool of people and becomes easier to target people that actually align with your values. And on that topic, almost a decade into your business. You have started transitioning from being a, primarily a brick and mortar business, [00:24:00] selling to retailers, to now going direct to consumer.
And I’m wondering what has the experience been for you as a project manager of the company , and your team? How have you faced the challenges of going direct to consumer? And where do you see that going for Apple and Bears?
Dean: Interesting question because 10 years ago when we started, the thing was to get into a magazine and reach your audience through marketing with the popular magazines that were up there.
Vogue, Harpers Bizarre. And if you add your advert in there, you think, well, you are reaching the right target audience. And it was a source of pride getting your adverts in those magazines. And things have changed completely from where you are now in a [00:25:00] magazine to actually now getting your word out through e-marketing.
Getting your word out through the digital world and Facebook, Instagram, Google Ads. This is the new way forward and the new kid on the block, TikTok. So, it’s growing and it’s, and it’s changed completely.
Now we get a lot of people asking us we’d like to do SEO.
We’d like you to, to come to our agency and market through us. And it’s now we don’t get so many of the magazines calling up and saying, Can you advertise with this? So it’s changed. And for, for us as a company, 10 years ago and now it’s all down to budget for marketing.[00:26:00]
I think the most important thing is it’s money monetary that you’ve got to get the funding to do, whether it’s in a magazine or it’s getting your brand out there into the open market. And strategy. The world has changed. And everybody’s got their own idea or thoughts of how they should market and where should they put financial resources to get the best audience for your product.
And I think that was something that we had to look at as a small family business. Looking at the budget we had to get, and promote the brand. For us, e-marketing was a new challenge, but then we also found how do you identify the right company who we worked with was important because we get bombarded by so many companies.
You know, you can’t [00:27:00] go back to magazines, you’ve gotta go forward.
It’s an evolving world and e-marketing is the way forward now. So we, we are to now engage with e-marketing and also add, Facebook, Google. Because they, they’re comanding the market now. The marketplaces, if you want to advertise and get your message out there, those are the biggest platforms.
So as a company, we’ve diverted all our resources financially to towards those two platforms, e-marketing and digital ads. Now with Reach Realm, we found that e-marketing, in fact, to be honest it’s not a promotional video for you all. It’s just a factual video that I was impressed by because I could not [00:28:00] really see the depth of work that was being done by you all in the background when we first started.
And. When I was given a marketing manager, I thought, Okay, they’re pushing me off to someone else. But the fact was I was pleasantly surprised when I got the first report form on and really realizing how in depth, The behind work was actually being done by you all.
And you know I’m not, saying that other companies don’t do the same but for me personally, that was the first time I actually realized the amount of work that goes into the e-mail marketing side of it and reaching out to the consumer and where initially we started
as a family business, doing our MailChimp ourselves and get, because it’s all down for excitement in initially in the start. [00:29:00] And you’re keeping your cost as low as possible and you’re thinking to yourself, Well, I can do email marketing, I can do the posters, I can do the ads, I can do everything. And I’m my K used to tell me you’re a one man show.
And you realize that, yes, money is tight and I’ve gotta get the word out and I’ve gotta reach out, and it’s all down to money at the end of the day it’s a budget, and you’ve gotta put your money to production and to marketing and to packaging and everything that comes with it. And it’s just pay, pay, pay, pay until you get a return on sales.
And if you get a return on sales and you’ve gotta wait and be patient. And a lot of business go out because they don’t have the confidence. They go into an venture and then find because of the financial constraint and they’re not getting the sales or [00:30:00] the idea was fantastic in the start, but they, they burnt out and they close everything and say, Good riddance and are sick and tired of this and everything else.
We believed in our product, we believed in our brand. We have confidence even with all the problems that the world has faced in the last three to five years. and we are going forward. And the new way now is e-marketing. So when we came back to remarketing, we felt we had to spend a fortune of our budget,
our status resources and push it through someone who, who could actually do this professionally for us. And I think that was where it was, it came to a state where we’re now in a position that we need professional help to get the message out there. And coming [00:31:00] back to what I was initially saying, I was surprised.
And very pleasantly surprised, I’ll be honest. To learn that when I got the report, it was very detailed, which I wasn’t expecting, to be honest. And there was a strategy planned, right? You and your team and I could see now where we were going as a brand and, the world that we were heading to.
So where in that first month I felt there wasn’t much happening until I got that report. Then I realized how indepth the whole thing was, and it gave me a lot of confidence, I’ll be honest, because it was very professional. The advertising campaign on your side
met my expectation Plus. And K will tell [00:32:00] you I’m very hard to please. The other thing was on the other side, we engage with another company to take on the advertising. So pushing out the Facebook ads as well as Instagram but I think the two go hand in hand.
I think what you’ve gotta do is stick with someone, don’t chop and change. Give them a chance to develop as well as yourself because it’s, a partnership and you gotta go further, in my opinion. Because if you think to yourself, Well, I’ve done this,
and it’s not working and chop and change in, a short period. I don’t think you are going to go far. I think longevity, I think stick with it, let it carry on and build on it and let it [00:33:00] grow. I think that’s important. So I’m very, very happy and content with your side. And I think we’ve got more to do on the ad side, which we are working on.
So out of the tool, I’m happy at least one is being taken care of, in that side. The other side, I’ve gotta now concentrate more, but on the ad side, you’ve gotta try and get the message out, the visual message. And what you’re trying to promote to the consumer. And I think that is difficult as well because it’s down to funds
again. You don’t have enough funds to hire an agency that will charge you the earth to get your message out. And it might work and it may not work, but you’re paying [00:34:00] big money and you are waiting for a result. Or you pay nothing and you might get some result or no result, or you might get surprisingly better than what you thought, but I think you have to invest in both, and I think you’ve gotta start with a budget that you can afford.
And build on it. It’s a partnership that you build. The more you grow, the more you can reinvest. And if you’ve got the right partner, I think the world is your oyster. So now it’s down back to money again. So with us as a company that adds is now the crucial part. Getting the message out to your consumer.
And trying to convey what you are trying to do and [00:35:00] finding the right target audience that believes in you or in your product. And I think that’s the difficult part. The difficult part for everyone, not only us, everyone, except for the very, very big boys who’ve got the budget, who’ve got clientele.
Who’ve been in business for 50 years plus who’ve established themselves. For a new brand, and I consider us a new brand even though we approaching 10 years, and I know people say, Wow, 10 years, 10 years flies so fast, and you can’t believe it’s 10 years already that you are in business. So for us, the e-marketing side is crucial right now, and I think that’s the only way forward now for the foreseeable future until there’s another thing that comes out that takes over e-marketing.
But right now [00:36:00] I think we e-marketing.
Zan: Right. So it sounds like the silver lining of your success and what was one of the keys. Their success was from the first moment when you started designing the product all the way through the transition that covid and switch to directing consumer has always been finding the right partners, vetting the right partners, and working with them, and at the same time believing in your product and not giving up
even when hard times do come because that over time gives you more exposure to chances to grow. It sounds like that was as I said, one of the keys to your success so far.
How does the future look like? In other words, what’s your vision for, for Apple and Bears and for the next years?
When we first started Apple and Bears, and in the early days, we thought, Well, I would like to see this in every [00:37:00] store, our products in every store. I’d like to walk into a store and see our bottles on the, which we did initially get that buzz. What’s the future holding because of Brexit and Covid.
And it put such a damp on the planet, not only in the UK market, I think in the world market, you think to yourself, well, a lot of business sadly went under and we know a lot of company that went under in this period that couldn’t sustain very good brands. Brands that have been in the marketplace for longer than 10 years.
And you think to yourself, Well, do you hold back? Do you stop? You go forward because every day is a challenge. Today’s [00:38:00] market is the pound has dropped to the dollar. As of yesterday, it was $1. $1 to 1.07 pounds to a dollar. So you think to yourself, Well, for me, I thought to myself, Well, let’s go for export.
Because that means now from where we were looking at Brexit as losing a big marketing on one side, we have to look for new opportunities. If you don’t open new opportunities, then you are holding your growth. So our next market is America, and with the price of the pound and dollar, it’s more attractive now to export to America, although we don’t have a trade deal with America that we were promised, and we don’t know if there is one coming, but we’ve gotta look forward.[00:39:00]
So, Where are we going as a company now we’ve now started evaluating our new range, which is already coming into production in the next couple of months. So we’re coming out with new products. We’re engaging with the American market more aggressively than we have ever done because with Brexit, Anything that goes now into Europe
from our side, sadly, the consumer has to pay duty and sales tax, which is really stopped most of the business going to Europe. And we are now diverting from Europe into America, and hopefully we can go back into the European market. Sooner, the better for us as a company that we can start engaging with closest biggest market next to us instead of [00:40:00] looking or a market that’s further away.
But in one way, Brexit was brought at opportunity, right where we were lazy Brexit has pushed us now to, to venture out. But I would have preferred to have stayed in the European market and pushed to America and the world on our own pace. But this is actually made it now a faster process.
And we’re now looking at the far east selling goods to the far east. But having said that, people might say to ourselves, Well, it’s fine to say you are bringing, you are now shipping goods back out for the carbon footprint to the furthest part of the world, and you are contradicting yourself.
Well, [00:41:00] yes, what we are doing, our initial stages and growth plan is we’re actually manufacturing Apple and Bears in the UK and the reason was our biggest market was Europe and we were, and still are a part of Europe, so our manufacturing base in Europe, which England is a part of Europe was reaching out to our nearest neighbors, our plan is now that we actually manufacture Apple and Bears in the American market for the American market are manufactured in America.
So Apple and Bears will be Apple and Bears made in the US for actually the U US consumer, because we still believe in our carbon footprint. It doesn’t mean that we’re losing jobs in the uk. It means we are now keeping work [00:42:00] in England and also creating job opportunities in where we manufacture. And the same would be in the far East.
So our growth plan is wherever we actually try and sell into that market, we actually manufacture in that market or in a region around it. So it might mean that we manufacture in South Korea for the highest market. America, for North America and, England for Europe. So that’s our growth plan strategy.
So we’re engaging with partners in America, and I think if all goes to plan in the next two to three years, Apple and bears will be manufactured in the US for American market.
Zan: Awesome. So staying optimistic and [00:43:00] sticking with your strategy of always being adaptable is what’s in store for you, expanding into new markets or re-expanding into new markets is what the mission is for Apple and Bears. And I think we can leave it here. I think this was a perfect conclusion to the story as well.
Wish you a lot of luck expanding into these new markets and hopefully we continue working together as we have been for the last couple months as. Thank you, Dean.