What does your business do?
We raise honeybees for honey production. We also sell queen bees in the spring and summer. We are the only licensed honey wholesaler/retailer in Jasper County as far as we know. We offer liquid honey in various size containers and we sell a product called spun honey or creamed honey. Our creamed honey comes in various flavors including cinnamon, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, pumpkin spice (seasonal) and many others.
What was the reason for opening?
I’ve been a beekeeper since 1981; just a hobby. Lately, l have decided to grow the business and increase the number of hives we run. This decision to get bigger was predicated on my other business called Apis Engineering, LLC. This business manufactures queen bee insemination instruments and it demands a large number of active colonies for research. So one business drives the other and now we have a full-on wholesale/retail honey production business.
What is the biggest challenge?
Finding reliable help when the business demands it. Honey is easy to sell but hard to make. It takes many years’ experience to raise bees that will survive with all of the stressors against them. Thirty years ago, it was as easy as putting bees in a box, checking them for a few common diseases and then collecting honey in the fall. Those days are over with the arrival of a parasite called Varroa Destructor. This mite attacks the bees and carries with it over 30 known viruses.
When is the busiest time of year?
There are two busy times of the year. The spring is when we are making splits (new colonies), making sure the hives are queen right, inspecting brood patterns, cleaning up dead colonies etc. The fall is equally busy with the pulling, extracting and bottling of the honey. The fall is also when we get our colonies ready for winter so it can be extremely busy, too.
What is the most popular thing you sell or service?
Liquid honey continues to be our most successful item. People are used to it and they expect quality from us. We are trying to inform the public about the benefits of creamed honey, too, and we are seeing repeat sales. Creamed honey (which contains nothing but honey) does not run, spreads easily, is tastier than liquid honey and can be used exactly as liquid honey. Creamed honey can be made in many flavors, too.
What is the less popular item?
Probably our beeswax items. We have just started making beeswax candles and blocks, and our customers don’t know we are offering these yet.
What is the thing you like the most?
Having my head in a colony of bees and watching the seemingly chaotic activity function as one intelligent organism. A healthy colony of honeybees may have 60,000 individuals. Each individual has a specific function based on its age. A wonder every time I think about it.
What is the best thing about owning your own business?
Setting the overall direction for the company. I really enjoy trying to figure out the next move we need to make and how we are going to accomplish it.
What is the biggest downside?
When it’s time to work the bees, it’s time to work the bees. This is an absolute in beekeeping and if it is once not obeyed, your bees will suffer. I can only plan time away from the bee yards after I am sure that they are going to be fine for the time I need to be gone.
What is the biggest misconception of your business?
The biggest misconception that most people hold is that belief that honeybees are on the endangered species list. THEY ARE NOT! They are stressed due to pesticides, parasites, industrial farming and diseases, but knowledge of these stressors has led to greater public awareness of the plight of the honeybee and things are starting to change. I now get calls from aerial applicators (it’s the law) before any spraying near my apiaries can take place. This year, one applicator convinced the farmer to delete the pesticide in the spray because of the proximity to my bees.
How would you describe your business philosophy?
The bees pay the bills so treat the bees accordingly.
When it comes time to retire, is there a family member who will be taking over for you?
Too early to tell but I certainly hope so.
How has your business changed?
It changed for the better in that I’ve decided to get much bigger into bees and bee products.
What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business?
There are two rules I think apply:
1. Only start a business that you are passionate about the products or service you would provide.
2. Find a need and fill that need.