Small Business Spotlight: A Passion For Bees And Natural Remedies At Beekeeper's Naturals

July 17, 2018 - 7:16 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- While studying abroad in Europe during college, Carly Stein fell ill and was offered a remedy produced by bees that she had never heard of before.

That experience turned out to be the catalyst for what is now her business, Beekeeper’s Naturals.

As Stein explained to WCBS 880’s Joe Connolly in this week’s Small Business Spotlight, she has an allergic reaction to most antibiotics and thus is always in search for alternatives to treat infections such as strep throat or tonsillitis.

She contracted tonsillitis while studying in Europe, and nearly had to go home to have surgery.

“I was desperate, so I went into a pharmacy when I was in Italy, and the pharmacist took one look at my swollen chipmunk cheeks and gave me this weird stuff called propolis. I had no idea at the time that the bees made anything beyond honey, but I figured, you know what? I’ll try it,” Stein said, “and it worked for me. It was the first time that I was able to make a recovery that quickly, and it functioned in my body the same way antibiotics do for normal people.”

After that, Stein began doing a lot of research. As she traveled around Europe, she discovered that bee products well beyond honey were everywhere.

“You can walk into a pharmacy in Copenhagen and there’s an awareness of bee propolis. People know that’s what you use when you get cold, flu, sore throat, and people know that you use royal jelly for brain boosting and all these different things. So I was just learning about this stuff, and I didn’t think about it as a business opportunity at all. I was just completely fascinated as a consumer,” she said.

But back in the U.S., midterms came around, and Stein came down with strep throat. She searched everywhere for propolis at domestic health food stores, but no one had any idea what she was talking about and everyone just kept giving her jars of honey – which was not what she needed.

“And so I got online and I was just like, I have to find a beekeeper,” she said. “So I found a local beekeeper and I started purchasing this stuff directly from him.”

Stein was able to pull in her university database and consult with a chemistry professor to conduct further research, and when she met with the beekeeper the first time, she was fascinated.

“I saw beehives for the first time, and I was just instantly blown away. I was just like, I don’t know what that is, but it looks really cool, and I want to get in there,” she said. “So I asked him if I could work for him for free. The next thing you know, I was a beekeeper’s apprentice, which is a strange hobby for a college student.”

While working with the beekeeper, Stein started building different products and giving them to friends. The products were passed down further, and before Stein knew it, people were messaging her on Facebook “asking to buy some weird products out of some chick’s dorm room.”

With that, Stein realized she had found a market for which there was great demand. But founding Beekeeper’s Naturals was not her next step.

“I had this fantastic-on-paper job offer, and it makes more sense when you tell people, ‘I’m going to work at Goldman Sachs’ than, ‘I’m starting a bee product company.’ So I followed the standard track, and sort of did what was socially rewarded and respected of me, and I had a fantastic experience and learned a lot, but my passion was always in this,” she said.

So while working in finance, Stein came home in the evenings and dug into her passion for bee products and health. It grew more and more as a side hustle, and then as a burgeoning business.

Carly Stein
Beekeeper's Naturals

“It got to a point where we were in 600 stores, and I was still doing my day job as an analyst at Goldman working the crazy hours. So when it got to that point, I was like, ‘OK, this company is now a thing. It needs some full-time intervention, and I think it’s time to make that leap, and I think the company’s ready for that leap,’” she said.

Even while still working for Goldman Sachs, Stein was going around to smaller health food stores with a backpack full of her products and getting the stores to stock them. She soon had enough accounts to sign on with a distributor.

Initially, Stein started just with propolis spray, which is an immune booster for cold, flu, and sore throats. She said it has over 300 beneficial compounds and is it’s antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial.

“It’s a natural alternative to a lot of the cold and flu medicine you see out there, and it’s a great thing to take preventatively. And everyone’s sick and run down, especially during cold and flu season, and more and more people are looking for natural alternatives,” Stein said. “So as I was going in and pitching this product, people had a really positive response.”

The propolis spray retails for $13.99, and has more than 230 sprays per bottle, Stein said.

The second product that Beekeeper’s Naturals began marketing was bee pollen, along with some honey.

“Pollen, it’s the protein source of the bees, and for humans, it’s also a great source of protein. It’s full of broad-spectrum vitamins, and it’s amazing for energy boosting,” she said.

Stein said she herself puts bee pollen in her smoothies, puts it on toast, and sprinkles it on fruit.

Beekeeper’s Naturals also markets regular and specialty honey. She brought cacao honey – a chocolate honey – to show Connolly.

“It’s really delicious. It’s kind of like guilt-free chocolate fudge,” Stein said. “So it’s raw honey with organic Ecuadorean cacao. And it’s really just delicious. And then cacao has tons of nutrients. It’s full of copper, minerals.”

Beekeeper's Naturals
Beekeeper's Naturals

Stein said Beekeeper’s Naturals started out doing many trade shows and still does, but has also had a lot of growth online.

“We work really hard educating about the products and about the cause behind it, which is the bees. We’re committed to sustainable beekeeping, and at every level of production, we work really hard to save, support, and nurture and awareness for what’s happening with our bees, because bees pollinate one third of our food supply. So if we lose the bees, we’re going to have a massive environmental issue,” Stein said. “So we work really hard to educate about that, and online is a great way to generate that awareness.”

Stein noted that her company maintains the scientific rigor of the pharmaceutical world, but applies the standards to natural ingredients.

“At the end of the day, we’re really committed to making something that works, and working with this really niche product category. So we’ve had some great interest in the products, and I mean, again, the products work, and that is a testament to the power of the honeybees,” she said. “I’m just lucky to have stumbled upon these amazing solutions.”