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How It All Began, Part I

We made a big announcement yesterday–an announcement that we’ll be closing our other business, Tehacha-Bee Farm, and incorporating some of the finished body care products from that company over to a new Created Collection in the Handcrafted Honey Bee store.

But that’s just the latest chapter in our adventure.

I thought it might be fun to take a look at where we’ve come from in the last five years–how Tehacha-Bee Farm was formed, how it grew, and how my experience making Tehacha-Bee Farm products inspired me to create Handcrafted Honey Bee. So pour yourself a good cup of coffee or tea, and prepare yourself for some embarrassingly bad product photography and show set-ups, and read the first part of a little story about how selling a few lip balms evolved into something more.

HOW TEHACHA-BEE FARM WAS BORN

In 2010, I made my first lip balm. It wasn’t very good.

But since I don’t like settling for “not very good,” I decided to learn the fundamentals about what makes up a good lip balm. I studied about oils, butters, and waxes. I bought lots and lots of small amounts of different raw materials. I experimented. I wrote and tested dozens of recipes. I made my friends try heaps of lip balms. And when I finally found a recipe I liked, I shared it with our neighbor, who also happened to run a little farm stand down the road. Not too long after, our neighbor asked if she could sell the lip balms.

I was humbled and excited at the opportunity, and needed a name for our little “business.” We decided to piggyback on a very small local honey business we were running on the side, and named out microscopic lip balm company “Tehacha-Bee Honey,” a play on words based on the name of our hometown of Tehachapi. (Below is our original logo on the jars of honey we sold.)

I printed out labels on sticker paper, wrapped the labels in carefully-cut clear packing tape to make them look glossy, and set them up in the farm stand. This is what they looked like.

The lip balms were a hit, and I soon found myself wanting to dive deeper into the world of handmade skin care. I studied some more, and taught myself how to make beeswax-based, water-free products such as lotion bars and salves. People loved our lotion bars!

We soon had a nice hobby selling lip balms, lotion bars, and salves at the local farm store. I didn’t really feel the need to sell online, and didn’t dream of ever doing something as big as a craft fair–after all, it was summer of 2011 and I had a new baby–our firstborn, Elijah.

LEARNING AND GROWING

But I was still fascinated by body care and loved the idea of being able to make healthy products that our family could use. In September of 2011, I took my first soap class. It was my husbands’s birthday gift to me: a 90-minute class, 3 hours from our home–and because we had a nursing 8-month-old, my saint of a husband accompanied me down to the class location and then drove our baby around while I took the class.

There are only a few times in my life when I have felt as impressed with myself as I did walking out of that studio with my very first batch of soap in hand.

Soon, I added those to my offerings at the farm stand. But by November, I realized that I wanted to be able to sell to my friends and family across the country. I set up a small Etsy shop and took pictures of my products. I spent hours positioning props and playing with the photos. I had so much fun–and made almost $1000 that very first holiday season! It was the best feeling ever.

The following January, we found out we were pregnant with our second child. My firstborn hadn’t even turned one when we found out–and was in that phase where I had to follow him around everywhere as he crawled and tottered around, exploring and trying to put every conceivable thing in his mouth. When I coupled that with horrible morning sickness, I took a bit of a break from trying to grow my hobby (I have memories of literally lying on the kitchen floor, sick with nausea and begging my one-year-old to *please* just take a nap).

For the next 10 or 11 months, I took a break from trying to grow our hobby into anything more. We still filled Etsy orders that continued to come in a couple of times a week, but there was no real “business” strategy on my part. My main focus was on caring for my 1-year-old and growing a baby. And in September of 2012, we had my second son, Isaac.

Understandably, Tehacha-Bee Honey (as it was still called) took a back seat. But I did decide to expand my offerings a bit in November of 2012: I started teaching soap making and lip balm classes out of my home. I had about 6 students that winter. And I absolutely loved it.

NEEDING A CHANGE

In January of 2013, the situation at my husband’s work changed drastically. Unfortunately, our geographical location and his particular position made it very difficult for him to find a similar position without us relocating to a different part of the country; however, we were happy in Tehachapi and my husband wasn’t even sure if he wanted to stay in his industry. Something had to change.

I remember standing in my kitchen, thinking that if I could just grow my hobby to a business that could serve as partial income for my family, my husband might be able to take a job that paid less but brought him more joy. I didn’t have much of a plan, but considered doing as many local craft fairs and farmer’s markets as possible–hoping I could bring in enough income to help support my family.

I signed up immediately for a small table at a local swap meet. I was so nervous! I had a couple of weeks to prepare and had no idea how much I would need or how I would display. I did know one thing: I needed to change the name a bit. People liked the name “Tehacha-Bee,” but got confused when we were just called “Tehacha-Bee Honey,” figuring we just sold honey. Since our honey sales were very seasonal, I figured if I added “farm” to the end of the name, it would give the impression of a more well-rounded group of offerings. We also needed a new logo for various reasons, and not having the money to go to a graphic designer, I just did it myself.

It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great.

I was so nervous about the first show–I stayed up until 2am the night before folding soap boxes and printing labels. I felt underprepared and completely out of my comfort zone.

Our first little table was humble. I knew so little about what went into a successful set up!

After this show, I started signing up for more local shows. We got a show about an hour from our home, and we began to experiment with better booth setup–a little bit of height and some free samples of our lotion bar (a product that many customers had never seen before).

I even landed a show up in Bishop, CA for their big Mule Days craft fair! It was a four-day event, and certainly the biggest thing I could ever imagine doing.

We brought as much product as we could possibly imagine making (it was still not enough), learned tons, and had a great experience. We debuted our new deodorant and it practically sold out by the second day! We also spent most of the weekend with our younger son strapped to one of us.

It was a good enough experience to get us thinking about how to grow this into an honest-to-goodness business. And in the background, things were growing, too. I had taken over most of the laundry room with our raw materials and supplies.

I would often do packaging, labeling, and shipping with a baby strapped to me and another underfoot. It was an exciting time in our household!

Throughout this time, I also continued to teach private lessons in soap and lip balm making. My students were having so much fun, and I was really enjoying watching our local community grow in their interest and appreciation of handmade goods.

A BUSY SCHEDULE

We signed up for our local farmer’s market and also made commitments to several local fall shows as well. It was becoming evident to me that we’d need to have a better logo. Over the previous 6 months, I had been getting better and better at amateur graphic design, and so I tried my hand at designing a new logo–this time taking the “honey” entirely out of the name and going forward simply as “Tehacha-Bee Farm.” I also used the silhouette of our local Tehachapi Mountains to created the backdrop for our logo.

After only 6 months of doing fairs and markets, we were really beginning to get the hang of how to display items and talk to customers about the product. We had a schedule of daily production, selling product weekly at the farmers market, and at least one weekend show a month. I was also continuing to teach at least one or two private lessons a week.

We were having a lot of fun…but we were also working so, so hard to keep up with the grueling production/show schedule and two kids under three in our household. And I was realizing that as much as I liked making and selling the products, I was loving something else even more.

I was falling in love with teaching people how to make their own skin care. And I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was some untapped potential out there that could combine my love of creating new things, of providing healthy skin care for people, and teaching.

I felt like the answer was out there…but it was just beyond my reach. Until I got an idea.

Follow up tomorrow on the blog to read about how our first DIY lip balm kit was introduced into the Tehacha-Bee Farm lineup and later became the first product for Handcrafted Honey Bee!

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