Business is buzzing by Denise Gunn
Although New Zealand-born Stephen Black attended a few beekeeping field days while living in Scotland, it wasn’t until he and his wife Fiona moved to Taranaki in 2001 that he was able to pursue his interest further. Twelve years later the couple run a successful business, Bees-R-Us, producing honey and other bee products.
Stephen initially met up with Taranaki beekeepers to gain experience and bought his first two hives shortly afterwards. A few months later, the number of hives grew to seven.
“Six months went by and the people we had bought the bees from initially decided they wanted to give up, so we bought their remaining 140 hives,” said Fiona.
At first the hobby was Stephen’s, but as the number of beehives increased Fiona became more involved.
The pair joined the Taranaki Bee Club and attended as many bee-related conferences, workshops and field days as possible. They have also furthered their knowledge through reading books on the topic and talking to beekeepers.
Fiona soon found her beekeeping knowledgeable increasing and she enjoyed learning about the bees.
With Stephen working five days a week and looking after the bees every weekend and evening, Fiona bought herself a bee-suit to help out.
As the couple’s three young children grew, Stephen and Fiona chose to expand the beekeeping operation.
“We decided that we liked the lifestyle that the bees gave us and wanted to continue to grow.”
In 2008 the growth of Bees-R-Us enabled the couple to give up their outside employment to run their business full time.
Stephen and Fiona now have close to 1000 hives located around Taranaki.
“We are regularly approached by people who ask if we would like to put bees on their properties.”
Using wood ware and frames, the couple make their own new beehives. They then take bees from a strong hive to make a smaller hive and add a new queen.
“We breed our own queens so we always have a stock of new young queens to keep the hives strong.”
The couple built their own honey house and over the years have added more equipment. Approved by the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) in 2006, the Black’s honey house runs under a risk management programme (RMP). This means the honey produced from their Bees-R-Us business is eligible for export and run under strict regulations.
Last year the couple opened a small shop in New Plymouth where orders were processed, but the business soon outgrew the size of the store.
In April this year they opened a larger warehouse and shop in New Plymouth.
“We found there was a need as our business is growing, so we had to move our packing, sales and dispatch into town,” said Fiona.
“The most effective way was to have all the honey central for deliveries and couriers sending our parcels.”
The store stocks a wide range of raw and creamed honey, beekeeping supplies and bee products. Candles, made from pure beeswax, are also made on-site.
The business has worked well for Stephen, Fiona and their children.
“Stephen enjoys being outside and seeing parts of the country that you wouldn’t normally get to see,” said Fiona.
“I’ve always worked in an office so I enjoy working in our shop and dealing with the customers both online and face-to-face.”
Although working for themselves sometimes means long hours, Stephen and Fiona can also take time out to support their children at school events and have an active involvement in their learning.
The couple have employed an assistant to help Stephen with the beekeeping and another to help in the shop.
Fiona has also been in demand to teach others about bees.
“A couple of years ago I was asked if I could do a talk about the bees to a local horticultural society.”
“I got some beehive parts together to make a demonstration hive and made a costume to make it a bit more interesting,” said Fiona.
“It went really well and since then the talk has grown into a bit of an entertainment show, and has meant I can teach people about bees in a fun and educational way that they remember.”
Fiona packages honey for the store
Bees-R-Us opened a larger store in New Plymouth this year.
Stephen and Fiona now have 1,000 beehives located around Taranaki