Some people find their calling later in life, while others get a particular “bee in their bonnet” from a very young age. “I’ve always been fascinated by insects,” says Drew Burnett, founder of Drew’s Honeybees. “As a child, I would spend hours observing ant colonies and chasing butterflies and watching bees humbly going about the vital task of pollination.”
Despite his fascination with insects, Burnett chose a career as a teacher until he finally couldn’t ignore the nagging feeling he’d missed out on fulfilling his passion. In 2008, Burnett began keeping honeybees during his summers off as a teacher, although he didn’t know anything about bee husbandry.
Eventually, he learned enough to become quite proficient at keeping bees healthy and productive. “I had lots of honey, beeswax, and propolis (a resinous material honeybees produce to seal and disinfect their hive),” says Burnett. He knew honey is easy to gift or sell, but he had more difficulty finding an end user for the beeswax. In turn, Burnett began experimenting making lip and body balms.
The Path to Success
Not surprisingly, interest in Burnett’s personal care products grew. “Several brides requested I make their wedding favors,” recalls Burnett. “Then, an attendee of one of the weddings asked to retail my products in her store. And so it began.”
However passionate Burnett was, he’d entered an industry in which he was wholly self-taught and had no connections. Furthermore, says Burnett, “the natural skincare subset is dominated by certain corporate titans and consumers are generally satisfied, if unknowledgeable, about their offerings. This makes securing retail footing an uphill trek.”
Burnett knew he wanted to create a business with a kinder, more responsible ethic, but there was a hitch. “I knew next to nothing about business,” he says.
How SCORE Helped
Burnett met SCORE mentors Alan Mayer and John Oliva in June 2016, and mentor Margo Weitekamp in May 2017. “Our relationship is friendly and encouraging. I always look forward to spending time with them,” says Burnett. “However, they are still very much mentors in that we also address difficult subjects surrounding the viability of the business.”
One invaluable lesson came from Mayer in the very first mentoring session. “I was not aware of contract manufacturing before SCORE,” explains Burnett. “Contract manufacturing lessened the barrier to entry by allowing me to produce top-quality, standardized skincare goods efficiently without investment in a factory, which would be cost prohibitive.”
Burnett’s mentors also encouraged him to initiate good business practices, from business planning to recordkeeping and funding. Mayer and Oliva even introduced Burnett to Weitekamp, who has more than 30 years’ experience in the skincare industry. “Margo’s tutelage and insight into the skincare market have been invaluable and enabled me to produce more desirable products,” Burnett says of Weitekamp.
“SCORE has enabled me to take a cottage industry craft to a budding small business with strong growth prospects,” says Burnett.
Drew’s Honeybees Today
Burnett now works with a contract manufacturer to produce his products which has introduced efficiencies, standardization and regulatory approval (USDA Organic, cruelty-free). “I have also located a distributor for my products, which is a huge coup,” says Burnett.
With a receptive local market, Drew’s Honeybees is in the process of expanding its product line. “Our revenue and market penetration are growing, and this success has garnered interest from several large regional grocery retailers,” says Burnett. The company now employs three part-time consultants and two part-time beekeepers.
Mayer acknowledges how hard Burnett has worked, saying, “He’s shown tremendous success in getting the product placed in both retail stores, and he’s developed an online retail presence.”
Drew's Honeybees is also the 2018 SCORE Award winner for Outstanding Agriculture Small Business, presented by the Panther Group.
Paying it Forward
“The best advice I can give [to a new small business owner] is to find mentors and meet with them regularly,” says Burnett. “Mentors can introduce solutions you didn’t know existed and they help you conceptualize overwhelming challenges into a series of manageable tasks.” Burnett also advises new business owners not to do everything yourself. He says mentors “help you realize the limitations of your skill set and help you begin the search for individuals and firms that have the skills you lack.”
Like most startup entrepreneurs, Burnett suffers his share of self-doubt. “Working with my mentors has been the most powerful way to allay doubt. My mentors are all very successful business people,” explains Burnett. “That they are willing to donate their precious time to this undertaking is a powerful confirmation that I am able and worthy. They give me their best advice and time, which is intensely meaningful.”