Beginning with a modest shop in 1996, Shrestha and her company have taken flight in the ensuing years.
The famous American musician, Ciara once said, “Education is everything – education is your power, education is your way in life for whatever you want to do”. Mahalaxmi Shrestha, managing director of The Beekeeping Shop, also believes that education has given her the courage to stand on her own and work in her area of interest.
An extrovert from childhood, she always had the conviction to stand on her own and be financially stable. She used to listen to neighbours who used to tell her mother that they had to suffer as they were not financially stable. Hearing such stories further built her desire to study and be independent.
After completing her post-graduate in Botany, she started working on a project related to beekeeping. In the process, she got to learn about different bees, ways to produce qualitative honey and all the processes of beekeeping and honey-making. Born and brought up in Kathmandu, she had a chance to visit remote areas of the country through the project. She decided that she would work further in the same field and to better learn about the quality and benefits of honey, she went to Holland to train in beekeeping.
Being a graduate, the business field she chose was socially unacceptable during those times. Teaching was the only respectable job for women then, and her parents also wanted her to become a teacher. As a child, she also wanted to become a teacher, and later a banker. However, contrary to those early ambitions, she decided to start her own business after working on the project. “Being personally involved in the field, I developed an affection towards this work”, she shares.
She started her honey business with a small shop in Kumaripati in 1996, where she used to check the quality of the honey and sell it. “During that time, only a few people knew the benefits of honey. So the customers were few”, she says. Started on a small scale, she had no idea if the business would sustain itself or not. She believes that her patience helped her to sustain her business. Today, the company has eight different types of honey, namely, Mixed Flower Honey, Mustard Honey, Rudilo Honey, Chiuri Honey, Buckwheat Honey, Litchi Honey, Citrus Honey, and Sisoo Honey. They use honey that is produced by small farmers in different parts of the country with traditional technology. They are further processed, quality checked and sold.
Besides honey, products like pollen, beeswax candles and beeswax cream are currently available at The Beekeeping Shop. Along with this, they also train people on beekeeping.
People who are health-conscious and are aware of the benefits of honey are her customers. Though her customer reach is small, she is happy that she has repetitive customers. “Customers who visited my shop 25 years ago are still coming to me”, expresses Shrestha with joy. Besides, she also exports it to Japan in small quantities and European as well as people from other nationalities purchase products from her shop.
The items sold at The Beekeping Shop are genuine Nepali products produced from materials sourced across the country. “All raw materials, including packaging and labeling, are also done in Nepal”, she says.
Shrestha started her business with the savings she had while she worked with the project. While starting her business, she says that she never expected support from her family in any way. Moreover, there was the stereotypical thought that a girl should only learn to do household work properly. “My parents also might have thought that I was doing business as a hobby and so they did not take my work seriously”, she says. One of the reasons why her business growth was slow, she points out. “I had only one thought in my mind –to sustain the business”, she adds.
Moreover, she says that women are hesitant to invest much money in any business. Their doubts over whether they could sustain it or not affects their business growth. “I too was afraid to invest huge amounts in my business as us women are not taught to do business nor do we have that environment”, she shares.
Shrestha’s motto has always been to work and break the stereotype that a woman should only be confined to the four walls of a house.
Since 2011, she has been a part of the Federation of Women’s Entrepreneur Association of Nepal (FWEAN). FWEAN is a focal point for interaction, not only with the government but also various national and international organisations and stakeholders which aims to redefine the perspective of women entrepreneurship – from economic growth and poverty alleviation to the participation of women at all levels in socio-economic sectors.
Currently, she is a board member of FWEAN.
Moreover, being involved with FWEAN has helped her to grow in business. She believes that if she hadn’t been involved with the organisation, she would not have become as happy and successful as she is today. Her engagement in different trainings inside as well as outside the country has also developed her confidence level. As learning is a never-ending process, she says that she has been learning from each member of the organisation and they have helped her grow and maintain her business as well.
She thinks that every woman entrepreneur should become a part of the organisation. Shrestha, who believes that the organisation has helped her to learn and understand more about the business, says, “All of us are in the same boat. Our work is similar and so are our problems. So this organisation has given us a platform to share our difficulties and help bring solutions”. Besides, she considers exposure as an essential means for women entrepreneurs to grow.
Initially, the major challenge she faced was that there was no market and people also did not believe in the work of women. “Society had separate business sectors such as beauty parlours and tailoring for women. People still do not believe in the ability of women. So, women should be more educated, knowledgeable and only then they can compete”, she says. In addition, she says that social responsibility and access to finance are other challenges.
Shrestha says that while the government’s policies to support women entrepreneurs is a step in the right direction, their implementation should be monitored. Moreover, some critical plans should be made as soon as possible. “The Residue Monitoring Plan that should be made by the government has not been made. So without this, it is difficult for Nepali honey to enter into the European market though it is qualitative,” she says.
According to Shrestha, balancing personal and professional life is difficult for a woman entrepreneur. “In this context, I find myself very lucky to have such a supportive and understanding family”, she shares.
She thinks that it is vital for Nepali women to embrace a profession now. “During my 25 years of business, I have realised how important it is for a woman to be financially stable. Also, over half of the population is comprised of women, and if half of the population is idle, the country cannot develop”, she adds.
Frivolous as a child, she now likes to utilise her free time by reading books, travelling, watching movies, and cooking.
She believes that giving continuity to work and in-depth knowledge in the sector as her strengths. However, she feels that learning and improving oneself is essential. Shrestha thinks that she has still not utilised her capacity to the fullest. Hence, she plans to scale her business by exploring more of her capabilities.