To learn a little bit more about behind the scenes at Sandy Bee Mine, we sat down for an interview with Dave the beekeeper.
Q: First things first: how and why did you get started in this business?
Well, I got started a little over five years ago as I was looking for a new hobby… something interesting to to occupy my time and mind. I wanted something more physical after three decades in an office. A friend of mine was into bees so I went to a meeting, made friends with the bee people. It was really the community that brought into the hobby, it’s a very welcoming community. The community is very education-focused and willing to share, which makes it enjoyable to be a part of and satisfying to continue to learn.
I like that it’s a type of farming… and it’s a high stakes game. The bees die if you screw up. And there’s a natural attrition rate that dies anyway, regardless of how good you are at beekeeping. So it’s a little more demanding. The days I’m successful, I like it; the days I’m not successful, not so much.
Q: You mentioned that you started SBM after a much more traditional career. What is your background? How does your background help you run SBM?
My background helps me make good business decisions based on good data. For instance, there are a lot of variables -- sales, web, bees -- and you have to look at all of them to make sure the business is taking off.
As for my family background, my immediate biological family consists of a wife and two daughters. Being surrounded and stung by women, for no apparent reason, seemed to fit. Also, being short means I don't have to bend over as far to work the hives. Having a sweet tooth helps motivate me to produce lots of honey.
Q: What are the most important things that you had to learn in order to run SBM? How did you get those skills?
The most important thing that I learned is that SBM is a business, not a hobby. Everything we do have to be focused on helping to attain our mission and business objectives. In order to be self-sustaining, we need to focus on the business aspect. But don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t necessarily equate to making the most money or dominating the industry. Sometimes working with family and supporting local business is better than making money. It’s in line with the saying: some of the nicest things in life aren’t things.
Q: What do you like about small business ownership?
I get to call the shots… when my partner lets me. I also like that everything is on me… success and failure, and mediocrity too. My partner blames me for everything...
Q: How do the social, economic, environmental, technological, legal, and political environments impact your business?
The bee population is under serious stress. Bees are under a tremendous amount of environmental pressure from mites, habitat loss, pesticides/insecticides/fungicides, and more. Folks don’t realize how serious it is. We need to win this ‘war’ or we will lose ⅓ of our food supply due to a lack of pollination.
Q: Do you see the business as part of the save the bees movement?
Sure, I want to save the bees so I can make honey and money. As you get bigger and start to put more and more money on the table you need to be more business focused and be self sustaining at a minimum.
Q: Where do you see your business in the next year? In the next five years? The next ten years?
SBM is investing in expansion for honey and products of the hive. That will consume us for the next year, along with double digit growth.
In 5 years we will be a dominant regional player. The formula is simple: partner with the best-in-class businesses and suppliers, provide excellent service, treat your customers with respect, and leave enough for everyone to get a taste.
We will always be a relatively small, regional player focused on delivering quality products. SBM customers want a quality product that is good for their health and well being - and are willing to pay for that level of quality.
Q: What’s your favorite part about running and owning this business?
Working with family... I get to be the boss and tell them what to do, when they let me. And being responsible for everything that goes on, which is good and bad.
Q: Whom do you seek advice from for your business?
A lot of people have given me great advice. I always have an ear to the ground for how people succeed in any aspect of a business like this. I have a few friends who have been down this very road… they’ve given me great advice. Stewart and Dave have given me great insights in the beekeeping arena, helping and answering questions.
Q: Why do your customers select you over your competitors?
We deliver the best products - pure, natural, healthy - and the best customer service! It is a winning combination for all involved.
Q: What is your advice to a person getting into entrepreneurship?
The same old adage people have been saying for a long time: find something you enjoy. If you enjoy what you do, it’s not nearly as much work. It’s true. As far as going into business goes, there are lots of organizations to help you get started. For instance, there are great small business groups at the community college level here in WNC that can help people get started. Take the leap and go one day at a time.
Q: What has been your hardest moment so far?
Dead bees, bear attacks, and pig attacks -- those are the hardest. I have had apiaries wiped out by pigs, which is very unique. And by bears, which is not unique. To go to the apiary and see all your hives destroyed… the boxes all chewed to pieces… it is not a good sight. The pigs will eat anything, but the bears are really after the bee larvae -- not the honey. The protein in the larvae sustains them. It’s a common myth that they are there for the honey like Winnie the Pooh.
Sows and their babies enjoying the destroyed hives.
The remnants of a hive after a bear attack, see the footprints in the snow.