It was 1999 when I wrote my first business plan ever. It was written in a workbook handed out at the Vancouver-hosted Apimondia–also known as the World Beekeeping Congress. It was a fill in the blank format and I distinctly remember thinking that I could do a retail store where I could sell rough and tumble clothing like overalls for beekeepers and racks of bee-themed cards like “Bee Here Now” or “I Want You To Bee Mine!” Of course, I would sell honey and beekeeping supplies in addition to beeswax candles, lip balms, polishes, and other hive-derived products. I chose the name Savannah Bee Company so I would not be limited in my offerings as I would be had I chosen a name like “Savannah Honey Company,” and I loved honeybees. I thought the name should reflect my passion for bees above all else.
In that old workbook was also what I envisioned as my mission statement (which is almost identical today). I filled those blank lines with the words, “To sell the best honey and beehive products while educating people about the fascinating world of the honeybees.” Eighteen years later I am opening my eighth retail location and will have our tenth store opening within approximately a month. I know this is all seemingly positive and certainly sounds great when reading it aloud, but I will be honest in saying I am feeling overwhelmed in wishing I had opened multiple retail stores in different locations and at this rate many years before.
I started my company selling wholesale to other independent retailers. Today, wholesale comprises more than half of my business. But the dream was always in retail. The first brick and mortar Savannah Bee Company store opened in October of 2008.
I know what you’re thinking. And yes, I did open our flagship store right in the middle of what most economists consider the worst financial crisis since the 1930s Great Depression. I didn’t know any better and I followed my dream, despite the overwhelming odds that I shouldn’t have.
However, I felt I beat the odds and I quickly (or what seemed rapid for me) opened three more retail stores. I liked the business model we had in place and it seemed logical that we should open many more. My reasoning was simple—why beg people to sell your product at a discount price when I can sell it for full price to the consumer and teach them about honeybees? Looking back, I want to blame Savannah Bee’s former CEO, whom I hired in January of 2012. He didn’t see the retail side of the company as scalable. He even said, “We don’t know what we are doing!” My response was typical of an entrepreneur. “We damn sure know more now than when we opened the first four stores. Furthermore, they are doing quite well.” It was not until the end of 2015 before we began opening more stores. Truth-be-told, those last three stores are fairly lackluster. We are working on getting solid leadership and teams in place, but despite their [sometimes] underperformance, they ultimately help the business by selling what they can and ultimately helping to spread our mission.
Although 2017 doesn’t find Savannah Bee Company selling overalls or much beekeeping equipment, we do sell a whole lot of exceptional honey, honey lotions, creams, shampoos, lip balms. Not to mention honey wines (mead), t-shirts, beekeeping books, and some local products like cheeses to pair with honeycombs and mugs to drink your daily tea and honey. More than anything, though, we strive to give each customer or person that happens to come across our store or product an educational experience. Even if someone doesn’t walk out with a bag, they walk out having learned and experienced something new. and wonderful.
In our retail store you are greeted first by our Honey Bar, which allows people to taste honey made from different species of flowers. In doing so, they learn that honey is much more like wine with different flavors, colors, and range of sweetness. By exploring our Health and Beauty section, the customer understands how honeybees produce many beneficial substances other than honey. These gifts from the hive include royal jelly, beeswax, propolis, pollen, and even bee venom. The third aspect of the Savannah Bee experience is the Mead Bar which has traditional mead (honey wine) made with honey, water, and yeast. Those ingredients create a 12% ABV wine to a 16% ABV sparkling mead infused with wild cherries and hot peppers, as an example. We even offer a beautifully packaged Sourwood Reserve Mead and a Tupelo Reserve Mead with private, Savannah Bee labels.
At the end of it all I hope people leave with a love for honey, some amazing bee facts, and a minimal understanding of how honey goes from honeybee, to hive, to table.
Above all, I want everyone’s Savannah Bee Company experience to be fun, educational, and even influential when it comes to advocating and protecting our world’s most altruistic species—the noble honeybee. The staff in each store are our Bee Educators and they are what makes the experience successful–and as anyone in business knows, unfortunately they don’t always make the experience successful. For the most part, our Bee Educators seem to truly want to be working the floor of their store and they somehow manage to enjoy the day-to-day endless and mundane task(s) of any retail employee. I venture to say it is because they have fun and leave their shift feeling like they are making a positive difference in the world.
For anyone unfamiliar with Savannah Bee Company or bees in general—it doesn’t take long to fall in love with honeybees if properly introduced. And we hope to offer that first, awe-inspiring introduction, whether you come to a retail store or call our customer experience department.
As I ruminate on Savannah Bee’s retail history, I find my thoughts shifting to the present with my immediate focus on the grand opening of our Westport Connecticut store. This is our first store outside of the South. Not to mention the first Savannah Bee retail store with a new face! We’ve worked really hard to elevate the brand by updating our store design in terms of aesthetic with each location in mind. We still have the same, outstanding products that are good for you and good for the bees, but we felt it time for a change. For me, these changes are quite the gamble and I hope they pay off big time. Our new retail model really necessitates that Westport does well.
With that said, it is with both excitement and trepidation that I await this opening. And why so much uncertainty you may ask. The transparent answer is because I have not seen nor have I played much of a part in the design and implementation. It has fallen on a very small, newly assembled team of three in-house employees, some architects, design firms, and many other contractors. I do trust my team to do the best that can be done, but in all my years in business, I’ve learned that you never really can know or predict in retail.
Many people have asked, “Why Westport?” The easy answer is this is the spot the realtor found after we decided against Georgetown, D.C. The longer answer is that it is a great town and we have an exceptional location. Further, it will be a great test to how Savannah Bee Company does outside of the Southeast.
Personally, I have two fond memories of Connecticut. The first is the summer of 1981 when I was in the 9th grade. I spent two weeks cycling all over the western side of the state with a group of 12 kids my age. I was so impressed with the beauty and distinct towns that peppered the area. To me, the Connecticut towns seemed like European villages from the old world. I was in awe of how uniquely different this part of the country was from what I was used to. My second memory was a five-year period between 1992 and 1997 when I spent my fall and winters traveling to private schools in an attempt to convince high school kids to join up with my wilderness adventures camp out west. The density of amazing schools was incredible and I traversed much of the same road and landscape I had while biking this great state.
Now I will be coming back to an area from my youth – on a business venture – that I hope is well received by the Westport community as well as neighboring towns. We hope Savannah Bee Company in Westport will take customers on a journey that is defined by the romantic and undeniably charming whims of the South. We hope our new customers love our products for their exceptional quality and beautiful packaging. We also hope everyone will come to recognize the thought and care that went into creating each Health and Beauty product and the love within every bottle we label and fill with honey sourced from sustainable and trustworthy beekeepers. It is truly liquid sunshine bottled with precision to remain raw, unadulterated honey that is never processed to the detriment of its natural benefits. All of our products are good for you and good for the bees. In short, we are offering everyone a chance to experience what I believe to be the best our noble bees have to offer, wrapped up in packaging that will be a great addition to your home as well as a great gift for others.
It is my hope that all Savannah Bee Company supporters and customers see the impact they have – not only on Savannah Bee’s longevity – but the greater impact they have just in buying a jar of honey or royal jelly body butter. By choosing Savannah Bee products you are supporting approximately 250 hardworking, bee loving employees. But it is pertinent that you always remember, you are also supporting the local, hardworking beekeepers, the often-overlooked honeybee, and ultimately–the environment. For, what we do in support of each other and this planet we call home has healing consequences for the whole of humanity.
Buzz on by Westport today or any of our other 7 retail locations. We would be honored to have you as a member of our hive.
Submitted By Founder and Favorite Beekeeper– Ted Dennard