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Heavenly hives

This month Tina Mettam is celebrating 4 years at the helm of West Coast Honey, the shop front honey business she has run since Gingin’s queen bee of honey Kerry Fewster retired in 2016.

West Coast Honey sells the liquid gold produced by Kuyan Apiaries – fifth generation Fewster-family beekeepers with over 1800 hives, many located in state forests and conservation reserves across the state. They specialise in monofloral varieties including Blackbutt, Redgum, Karri, Banksia, Whitegum, Wildflower and the sought-after Jarrah honey. As is demanded by consumers these days, the honey is raw and unprocessed. It is also quality assured and delicious!

Although taking on a business was not on her radar at the time, a casual conversation with a friend alerted Tina to the chance to run West Coast Honey.

“I was looking around for work and my friend Stacey was working casually at West Coast Honey. It just so happened that she mentioned, ‘My Aunty Kerry wants to close the shop and retire’.

“I initially thought I could just manage the shop, but Kerry wanted out. So, I went ‘Let’s do this!’”

Despite no business experience Tina had a clear plan of how to move West Coast Honey forward and was fortunate to have mentors in her brother and sister, both experienced business owners, who were generous with their advice.

A first port of call was to revitalise the brand with new packaging and labels and to renovate the shop, which has a unique feature of being able to view the honey extraction process, plus a live bee display. It is also where you can taste test the honey varieties. The number of products now on offer has increased, with a popular addition being confectionery made by Walkers using West Coast Honey, and Tina’s homemade honey ice cream. From there it was a matter of letting as many people as possible know about West Coast Honey.

“It was — and still is — just about pushing our name out there and also increasing our online presence,” explains Tina. “We went from 100 to nearly 1600 likes on Facebook (with five-star reviews) and now have over 60 reviews on Trip Advisor with a 4.5-star rating.”

“My sister helped me set up and one great piece of advice she gave me was do not get a bookkeeper – you want to know where your money is going; you want to be in control of that.”

Tina took that advice and applied it to every aspect of running West Coast Honey. From prepping food for the café and making a great flat white, down to the cleaning, she is completely hands-on in the shop as well as behind the scenes. However, she leaves the beekeeping to the experts.

“I am classified as a honey packer – the apiarists do all the beekeeping and extraction side of things. They pour the honey into a drum in the plant room and I take it from there. Everything in terms of packaging, marketing and the retail side of things is all me.”

Tina’s efforts in rebranding and marketing West Coast Honey have had a great result on sales growth and her slow and steady business model have served her well.

“I’ve always been conscious not to build too quickly – I didn’t want to build to a point where I couldn’t maintain it myself,” she says.

This sensible approach has helped Tina weather the ups and downs of running a business and is particularly pertinent at the moment. Unforeseen flow on effects from eastern states bushfires, plus the still unfolding effects from the COVID-19 outbreak are something no business plan could predict. While the number of national and international tourists visiting the shop may be lower than usual, online sales are strong and the custom from locals is unwavering.

“Most of my customers are incredibly loyal,” says Tina. “I have ones that come in every week for a coffee and to pick up their honey, others that will call and make sure I’m here so they can have a coffee with me. It’s really lovely.”
Honey is no longer just viewed as a simple pantry staple, with consumers aware of the health benefits of good quality, unadulterated honey. Full of antioxidants, antibacterial and antifungal properties it’s a case of a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down! West Coast Honey offers their products in a range of sizes up to 3 kilogram tubs — with an indefinite shelf life it’s a good product to keep on hand in these uncertain times of panic buying and ‘social distancing’.

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