Kitchen startup makes $6 million a year selling honey-based products.
By Chuck Green
At one time, the last thing – the absolute last thing – Ted Dennard considered himself was an entrepreneur.
In fact, the very idea practically made him cringe. Now, the, well, very busy bee, thinks very differently.
“From the beginning, I didn’t want to be a business person, but now I love it. I see it as a vehicle to do much greater good than I can do by myself,” said Dennard, owner of Savannah Bee Company, which packages and sells specialty honey and honey-based body care. “I was kind of a hippie and thought business people were all money-oriented jerks. That’s a false stereotype, but that’s what I had. Now I love business. I see it as a really creative route for me to use as a sort of platform. My passion in bees and beekeeping were really the basis of the whole company.
“I love teaching about it, sharing it, and honey. I was a Religion major, but had always been passionate about beekeeping and bees. A friend opened a store and I put a few jars of honey in it and then I went into another store and sold a few jars of honey there. It just started slowly snowballing. I never actually pursued it, it pursed me.”
Early on, Dennard worked out of his kitchen. “I poured honey out of a pitcher and put it into jars,” which he affixed with labels he made at Kinkos. He formed a production line with his brother, girlfriend, “whoever was hanging around,” said Dennard. “I thought I’d do it for a year and if it failed, it failed. But it wasn’t going to fail because I didn’t try. I gave it everything I had.”
Obviously, it was enough, because after a couple of years, Dennard relocated to a 400-square-foot space at a nature preserve, which he occupied in exchange for $90 worth of honey, which the preserve sold in its gift shop. He’s now in a 40,000-square-foot warehouse space.
Since being an entrepreneur was the last thing he thought he’d do, Dennard said, “It was trial by fire with everything; all the terminology, income statements, you name it.” One thing Dennard had was a passion for reading business books and magazines, lapping up everything he could about the stories of other business people. “That continues to inspire me. You need that, because even though I have it pretty good in many respects, you need to be reenergized by reading about different businesses and people. That’s been instrumental in keeping the fire going.”
Dennard also worked with the Small Business Development Center, where a counselor “forced me to look at the fundamentals of business. She probably saved me from screwing up.”
Dennard said that early on, armed with a price sheet he had printed out and a catalogue of his products, he attended a gift mart event. “I set up a booth and was surprised they let me in,” said Dennard, who also was toting a glass beehive. “I didn’t know any better, and I couldn’t believe they didn’t say anything – except when the bees got out. I was embarrassed to even sell the honey and (quote) a price.”
But he eventually got over it, especially when he rang up around $3,000 in sales in a weekend. When Williams Sonoma placed his product in its catalogue, “I think that really helped validate the company to the people I sold to and to myself. I realized this thing might really work.”
Besides his interest in reading, Dennard said he also has a knack for packaging. “I can dress up the honey, the brochures, everything that’s part of the presentation. That differentiated us in the honey world because no one had ever really done it and it’s helped drive us along.”
Ted Dennard launched his honey empire from home. Learning all aspects of production and marketing he developed a knack for packaging. “I can dress up the honey, the brochures, everything that’s part of the presentation. That differentiated us in the honey world because no one had ever really done it and it’s helped drive us along.”