We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Blake Shook. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Blake below.
Hi Blake, thanks for joining us today. What do you think it takes to be successful?
This may sound overly simplistic, but in many ways, success in small business is a combination of incredibly hard work, persistence, and being at the right place at the right time. I’ve been a fortunate part of starting and running 6 different businesses at this point and I’ve always been stuck by the need for all 3 of those elements.
Running a business, especially in the start up years, is incredibly hard work. But also incredibly rewarding to see such a direct correlation between your efforts and results! Being persistent, getting your name out over a period of years, and maintaining quality and service over time results in every increasing opportunity. Finally, once in a while, you hit the perfect trifecta and all three occur. That’s when I’ve seen explosive growth! But, more often than not, it’s hard, persistent work over the long term that yields success.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
Two things fascinated me growing up: the outdoors, and starting my own business. I experimented with every business I could dream up as a kid living in rural Texas. Lemonade stands, (not much traffic on country roads) raising and selling vegetables and fresh eggs, (hard to grow things in dust) painting the farmer’s fences next door, (ran out of fence) but nothing was ever quite the perfect fit. My big break came in 2002 at 12 years old. I really had never been that interested in beekeeping before, because, bees just sting right? But, my parents convinced me to sign up for a scholarship that offered kids all they needed to get started in beekeeping. I had never won anything for free, so I was super excited when, to my surprise, I won a free beehive, and classes to help me get started in beekeeping. Two classes in, I fell in love with beekeeping. I’ll never forget the thrill of watching my own bees work to gather honey, or the amazement of tasting honey from my own beehive! Everything they did fascinated me!
I built my first building by cutting down trees for lumber on my parent’s land, and using recycled sheet metal. It had no electricity, water, floor, or air conditioning, but it was perfect. I spent days and nights building new beehives and planning for the future. I decided in high school that I wanted to share my passion for bees with everyone else, and began growing my business and selling honey to a few friends and family. A local health food store called “Mike’s” was the first real customer I had. John Talbert was in his 70s, and was my hero & mentor who inspired me to become a commercial beekeeper and helped me grow in the early days.
Back then, every label on every jar was hand applied and I delivered every case of honey in person from my grandfather’s 1988 Ford truck. All of the sudden, everyone wanted more and more honey! I added beehives to my operation, delivered honey every morning before sunup, rushed through school, and worked late into the night again with my bees. When I was 17, I became the president of the local beekeeping club that gave me my first beehive. I was honored by the opportunity to give back to the people that gave so much to me. By the time I graduated high school in 2008, I had several hundred beehives, and was selling honey all over my local area. I upgraded to a 1995 pickup, and worked bees all day, and bottled and delivered honey by night.
But, I had a choice to make. Do I slow down the bee business, and go to college, or do I continue with my success, and put college plans on hold? As I was attempting to decide, I also become the president of the Texas Beekeepers Association, and a director for the American Beekeeping Federation. I didn’t know it yet, but I had also met my future wife two years before. By the time graduation rolled around, she didn’t know it, but I was convinced she was the girl I had to marry. So, I decided beekeeping was already my passion, and I knew I could make a living doing it, and chose to give it 110%. I never looked back. At 20 I married Kathleen. We spent 10 days on our honeymoon- the longest I had been away from bees since I was 12.
Since then the company has grown to several thousand beehives, and I still care about each jar and beehive like they were my first. I don’t get to hand deliver every jar to each customer now, but I do get to work bees every week during the busy season. I’m still amazed by them every day. I get to serve on the National Honey Board to help promote honey in the USA, and the American Beekeeping Federation to help promote beekeeping. We’ve also started Texas Bee Supply, which sells bees & supplies and provides education to new, hobby beekeepers! Bees & beekeeping have been a part of me almost as long as I can remember. That’s why, even as we grow, we are always beekeepers first.
Has your business ever had a near-death moment? Would you mind sharing the story?
I think many people who don’t own or run businesses usually think of self employment in terms of all the perceived positives- wealth, flexibility, freedom, etc. With enough time, work, and a bit of luck, those things are achievable. But, I’ve never met a business owner who doesn’t have a few dozen stories, at least, about nearly going under, sleepless nights, and close calls. For me, there have been many! There have been many times over the past 20 years when I’ve drained my personal savings to make payroll, had to take a walk after looking at my bank balance, or feeling panic when receiving an invoice, with no idea how I’m going to pay it. I remember one early year in particular I lost over 60% of my beehives to disease and the remaining 40% were in poor condition. This resulted in very low revenue, and I remember being doubled over at my desk one day with no idea how I was going to make it over the next month, much less the next year. But, as hard as those times are, they force you to learn two critical traits- resilience and scrappiness. I had to learn, along with my incredible team, how to survive. And, we did! Enough years of those experiences and you learn to always have a plan B, C and D, and the confidence that you can make it. It taught me to diversify, which has lead to the creation of several new businesses. But, I’d be happy if I never have to relive those experiences again.:)
What do you think helped you build your reputation within your market?
Using my story has always been tremendously helpful! Everyone loves a story and has a story. When I was young, I was able to leverage being a very young entrepreneur, being in a unique industry, and just being authentic about the ups and downs of business. I also joined trade organizations and more importantly, served inside those organizations. This quickly gave me two things- credibility, and relationships.
Finally, once I began having a reputation, I pivoted to educating others in the industry, furthering credibility, my own knowledge (teaching is a great way to learn!) and reputation.