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How It All Began, Part III

Today’s post is the final post in a three-part series that reflects upon the winding and adventurous path that led us to become involved in the bath & body industry, establish our first business (Tehacha-Bee Farm), and become inspired to tart Handcrafted Honey Bee. It’s part of looking at the larger picture: our recent decision to shut down Tehacha-Bee Farm and fold some of its products into a collection with Handcrafted Honey Bee.

Yesterday, I left off at a turning point in our story. We were coming off of a very successful year of growth and profit with Tehacha-Bee Farm, and had decided to test market DIY skin care kits through our reach with Tehacha-Bee. The kits were a hit in our test markets, but just when we had begun to gain momentum with Tehacha-Bee and our new DIY subdivision, we found out we had miscarried at the end of my first trimester. And as soon as the Christmas rush was over, I took a self-imposed hiatus from making product. I needed to spend some time away from the business. I needed to hold my two babies.

HEALING & STARTING ANEW

To say we were crushed was an understatement. There was so much that suddenly didn’t seem to matter much anymore. It was hard to think about the future. And yet–the one thing that I found gave me a brief respite from my grief was imagining what I could do with this new sister business, Handcrafted Honey Bee. The opportunity for creativity–imagining new recipes for kits, taking photographs of ingredients, designing a website–was a way for me to bring something to life when I felt consumed by the weight of death. It was fresh, and new, and full of potential.

It was exactly what my heart needed.

Just after the first of the year in 2014, I registered a website specifically for Handcrafted Honey Bee, making the decision to sell the kits independently from Tehacha-Bee Farm. The idea of creating a website from scratch excited me. I found myself thinking a lot about how this business could help people–about how people could be better educated with the contents of their skin care, and about how it could bring together families and friends as they did the projects together. I thought about how it might help a woman feel a little more empowered as she tried something she had never tried before. About how it had the possibility of helping someone feel better about themselves and what they were able to do.

The truth was, it was already doing just that…for me.

The more I poured my creative energy into building my vision for Handcrafted Honey Bee, the more I began to feel joy again. In fact, I was so excited about the possibilities for Handcrafted Honey Bee that I wanted the website to go live as soon as possible. I set a goal for myself to make the website live by mid-January–but the only trouble was that we were flying across the country to visit my in-laws in New Jersey, and I had no product photos for the website.

Not a problem, I thought. I shipped a large box of raw materials to my in-laws and took pictures there. I made a rudimentary lighting setup on their dining room table with several desk lamps and white poster board. Some of the pictures turned out quite nicely!

…and then there was some product photography that left something to be desired. I’d learn a lot more in the coming year about how to effectively photograph the kits–I’d only really done product photography for products with props, like soaps and lip balms–but for now, a simple shot on my mother-in-law’s kitchen table would have to do. You always have to start where you are at, right?

On January 14, 2014, the Handcrafted Honey Bee website went live. It was a simple website to begin with. But I sure was proud of it.

I sat back proudly and waited. But no orders came. And by the time the website had been live for a couple of months, I barely had a handful of orders to fill.

Still, every time I mentioned the idea to someone, people loved it. I knew I had to do a better job at getting the word out, and I had to convey how much potential was contained in these little boxes. I was quickly falling in love with this business, and I knew in my heart that it had the power to do really good things in this world. It wouldn’t be until almost a year later that I really would hone in on what that exactly meant, but the seed was planted in my heart, and I trusted where I was being led.

A TURNING POINT

In March, with the encouragement of my dear maker friend Rachel Najera of Rachel’s Plan Bee, I decided to enter an online contest on a whim. The company Inuit was awarding fifteen $5000 grants to small businesses that showed potential, and once I heard about it, I figured it didn’t hurt to at least fill out the application profile. I did so, thought about it a few times, and then forgot about it.

Until I got a phone call at the end of the month. (I took a re-enactment of the reaction for my Facebook page, shown below.)

I was informed that we had won one of the $5,000 grants–and it truly changed everything.

I invested the money in a complete website redesign. We were going to have a website built from the ground up–a process that would take a few months at minimum. We planned on launching the new website in July.

In the meantime, an old knee injury re-surfaced, and I found out that I would need to have two surgeries during the course of the year: one in June that would involve a bone graft from my hip, and a second in December where part of a ligament in my knee would be reconstructed. We planned to have the first surgery right after two big Tehacha-Bee shows at the end of May and beginning of June.

THE JUGGLE

By the time May came around, Tehacha-Bee Farm was in full production for the season and Handcrafted Honey Bee was gaining a bit of momentum. We attended our third Bishop fair, only this time our table had a split display between Tehacha-Bee and Handcrafted Honey Bee.

The time leading up to this particular fair was a challenging one. There seemed to be an endless stream of production that was necessary to have all of the soap, lotion bars, deodorants and lip balms that were being bought online and at our fairs–but I was struggling.

I struggled with the amount of time that the manufacturing demanded. I struggled with the fact that I wasn’t spending as much time with my kids as I wanted. I struggled with the feeling like Tehacha-Bee was much more “work” and much less “joy” these days. I struggled with the fact that I had realized that my prices for my Tehacha-Bee products were too low to make much of profit–but I feared that my customer base would balk if I raised them. I struggled with being very, very tired…working so much for very little monetary return. And I struggled with the fact that I simply knew Handcrafted Honey Bee was supposed to grow. I just didn’t know how.

FORCED REST & REFLECTION

The surgery in June ended up having a longer recovery time than anticipated because of an unexpected complication that left me on crutches for two weeks longer than the doctor had planned.

The surgery was painful, but more than anything I was frustrated. Any time I can’t move around and feel “productive,” I am frustrated. And this surgery definitely gave me plenty of time when I was forced to sit down and think rather than do.

Sometimes, though, thinking is what you need to do the most.

It was in those moments when I was forced to wind down, step back, and really look at my businesses that I considered: Am I happy? Am I doing what I want to do?

And I felt a quiet voice say within me, almost reluctantly: Not really.

I knew something had to change. I had a heart to heart with my husband. “I really want to go forward with Handcrafted Honey Bee,” I told him. “I’m not sure what it will become, but I believe in it. And I love Tehacha-Bee, but I’m not making much money and I’m just working so hard for very littleThe very job that has allowed me to stay at home with the kids is taking more time away from them than I want. I’m not sure what to do.”

My husband encouraged me to consider: what took up the most time? What was making me so frustrated? What had the lowest profit margin?

I didn’t have to think twice about it. It was soap, hands down.

So we made the decision to pull soap from the Tehacha-Bee product lineup for the time being and see if that helped at all. Lots of customers were disappointed (my grandmother still says that she wishes I sold soap practically every time I see her–even though I assure her that I will make her soap any time she wants). And I felt a weight lift from my shoulders almost immediately.

A CRUCIAL DECISION

And then one night, while still on crutches and pain meds and wondering what would happen with this incredible and scary and wonderful and windy path, I decided to do something kind of crazy on a whim. I decided to enter into the Martha Stewart American Made competition.

I had no idea of the impact that this competition would have on my business–but that wouldn’t happen until later in the year. The judges would have the whole summer to pick finalists, and then anyone who made it to the finalist stage would have a month to garner votes from the public. For now, all I had to do was submit the application and wait.

THE NEW LOOK

In July, our new website for Handcrafted Honey Bee launched, and it was absolutely beautiful. I was so grateful to Sharon from Ink + Mortar for helping my dream of a new, professional website become a reality. As you can see below, it made such a difference.

The other thing that made an incredible difference was our investment in new product photography. I enlisted a local photographer, Courtney Sacket, to help me out. To date, this has been one of the single best investments and choices I have made for my business.

Sales for Handcrafted Honey Bee immediately jumped with the new website and photos. I was on to something! The product was a great one–but the way the story of the product was being told was the key. And being able to tell the story was something that ignited and inspired my creative heart more than any other aspect in business to this point.

Actually, it still is the number one thing that lights my heart on fire in the world of business. Telling the story of the product–weaving the story of what the product could be in someone’s hands–is one of the most fun, most challenging, and most creative processes I know.

FANNING THE FLAME

Throughout this time I was also being sought out to speak at various conferences and workshops. I attended a conference as a speaker in Bakersfield put on by Mommy Matters, talking about the importance of knowing the ingredients in our skin care and teaching the attendees how to make a customized herbal salve.

I was also invited up to Hawthorne, Nevada, to present a local workshop on natural skin care. I taught that group how to make clay masks, and we had a blast.

These opportunities solidified even further the passion that I felt for teaching and passing on my knowledge to others. I came away from each of these events ignited. Once again, the surprised grins (“I didn’t know I could even do something like this!”) and the proud looks as my attendees walked out with their skin care gave my heart a deeper joy than I’d ever felt in any job before.

I was doing something important with Handcrafted Honey Bee, but it was also doing something important for me. It was healing my heart.

DIVIDING ENERGY

August came and so did several large shows. As you could see from this shot of the back of our SUV, we would clearly pack enough for two different businesses!

We continued to split our booth, with Tehacha-Bee products on one side and Handcrafted Honey Bee products on the other. We were getting a little more savvy about how to display the kits, too. Just like with Tehacha-Bee Farm, figuring out what display style worked the best was a process.

HOW THE AMERICAN MADE COMPETITION CHANGED EVERYTHING

But September was a month that changed everything. It was the month that we found out that we had made it to the finalist stage for the Martha Stewart competition. We would have exactly one month to try to get as many public votes as possible. I had no idea how to even consider doing that!

I was fortunate by this time to have nourished a network with other small business owners across the country. One of these business owners, Danielle Vincent of Outlaw Soaps, encouraged me to start an email list of interested people to help remind people to vote on a daily basis.

Once I pulled an email list together, I realize I wanted to go all in. Within a few days (yes, once I get an idea I move quickly), I had recorded, shot, and edited a little music video to help encourage people in our local community and beyond to vote. Even now, I smile when I watch it.

I began to write to local papers and magazines to help us get the word out. I talked to anyone who would listen! And what do you know…it worked.

We were in the newspaper.

I was interviewed for the wonderful Indie Business Podcast by Donna Maria of the Indie Business Network.

 

We were on the radio.

We were even on TV!

It was an amazing, whirlwind of a time. We were getting a ton of new customers from all over the country, and things were very busy! As you can see from the screen shot above, we had moved all production and raw materials into our home-adjacent studio by this time.

We also moved all of our packing materials into the garage.

(By the way, I don’t have a current picture, but our packing materials currently take up 2/3 of the garage space instead of what you see in this picture. We’re growing quickly!)

When all was said and done with the Martha Stewart competition, we ended up placing second–yes, second!–in the entire nation with over 32,000 votes. And while second place didn’t get a prize, you can bet that I was sure proud of that accomplishment. With almost 4,000 original entrants into the competition, placing second was nothing to sneeze at. Plus, we had gained many new customers and lots of incredible press experiences.

It felt like anything was possible after that.

THINGS RAMP UP

Soon after, the holiday season was in full swing. I made a special exception for Tehacha-Bee Farm and decided to make a few batches of soap for our local holiday show (which quickly sold out). For some of our holiday shows, we still split our energy between two businesses. We had a corner table at our local booth, and one side was devoted to Tehacha-Bee Farm while the other side was devoted to Handcrafted Honey Bee.

Gearing up for this holiday season was our most exhausting time yet. We ended up being contacted by a big show in LA about three weeks before it happened–they found us through the Martha Stewart  and wanted Handcrafted Honey Bee to have a booth at their show.

We went into overdrive, making over 500 kits in three weeks. We couldn’t have done it without the help of our interns Hailey and Sierra, my family, and a handful of local friends who pitched in and volunteered time and energy. The show was our most successful show to date–and it was the first one that Handcrafted Honey Bee did on its own.

But I finished this show season utterly exhausted. It had become very clear over the course of the last six months that although there was some overlap, the audiences for Tehacha-Bee Farm and Handcrafted Honey Bee were actually quite different. Both audiences loved natural skin care, but the feel of the two brands were very different, and so the customers ended up being very different.

Running two businesses directed at two different audiences, especially as we were experiencing so much growth for Handcrafted Honey Bee, was taking a lot of extra time and energy. And yet…I still loved both businesses. I loved making the products for Tehacha-Bee Farm, even though Handcrafted Honey Bee had captured my heart. I wanted to figure out if there could be a way to make things a little easier without sacrificing the core of what I valued most in each of the businesses.

CHANGE IS IN THE AIR

When I had my big knee surgery in mid-December, my husband and I decided to take the opportunity of the “down time” to think very seriously about the future of both businesses–about how they impacted our lives in both good and challenging ways, about what we wanted to stand for, and about where we wanted the businesses to go.

We made some very important decisions during the month of my recovery. And those decisions have shaped where we are today.

If 2014 ignited a spark in my heart for Handcrafted Honey Bee, 2015 has been the year that it has burst into flames. And I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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