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Close Up: In Bees-Ness

A closer look at bees and business
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the October 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Bee Hall Of Fame
  • Burt's Bees
  • Killer bees
  • Cheerios bee
  • Spelling bee
  • The Bee Gees

Name: Roxanne Quimby, co-founder and president of natural personal care products manufacturer, Burt's Bees Inc.

Age: 50

Sixty-five-year-old Burt Shavitz might still be selling honey in peanut butter jars from his Datsun had then-waitress Roxanne Quimby not pulled to the side of a rural Maine road one day in 1989 to talk collaboration. The result: a Raleigh, North Carolina, company that has made a transition from honey and hand-dipped beeswax candles to its famous lip balm, perfumed body oil and pet-care products. The secret behind Quimby and Shavitz' climb from wholesale craft fair to sales of $20 million this year? In a word, buzz. Burt's Bees has been the subject of articles in numerous magazines, from Family Circle to Forbes and most things in between.

Buzz of 1999: virtual Buzz of 2000: reality

Lack Thereof: "There was a certain frenzy around the product because it wasn't that available. For one, we were sort of unknown, but also, when we did have orders, we had difficulty filling them."

Big Buzz To Big Hit
  • Pet rock
  • Model T
  • The iMac

Guerrilla Marketing: "We did a thing where Burt made per-sonal appearances at some New York [City] stores. We hired an actor dressed as a bee to give out free lip balm, we gave out free smoothies, and Burt signed posters and gave away T-shirts. But we can get away with that, whereas it would be ridiculous for Clinique. We have a personality that is 'for the people'-anything goes."

Big Buzz To Big Flop
  • New Coke
  • Betamax VCR
  • The Edsel

Webster's defines "buzz" as "to whisper; to communicate, as tales, in an undertone; to spread, as report, by whispers, or secretly." The word originated as an imitation of the sound a bee makes.

Burt Shavitz was a beekeeper who just happened to become famous. Some famous people who just happened to keep bees are Martha Stewart, Aristotle and fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

Should any of the 100,000 other beekeepers in the United States decide to start businesses, they have a variety of product lines to choose from-besides honey, candles and skin care, beeswax is used in crayons, floor polish, protective car polishes and threadmaking.

"The saying "mind your own beeswax" comes from old-fashioned makeup. Women used to use wax to fill in scars left by smallpox. When the weather was warm, the wax would melt."

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