Hi! We’re Roxanne Quimby and Burt Shavitz, creators of Burt’s Bees products, and this is our inventor’s story!

Burts Bees original barn 1984We got our start back in 1984 in Maine, when we teamed up selling candles made from the beeswax created as a by-product of Burt’s honey business. At the very first craft fair, they sold $200 worth, and by the end of the first year, sales climbed to $20,000. Their fine attention to detail was an integral part of their success. For instance, Roxanne noticed that women always turned a candle over to look at the bottom before purchasing it. Roxanne knew that ensuring that each candle was cut to a fine finish, especially on the bottom of the candle, would signal to consumers that the candles were of the ultimate quality.

Photo CaptionI guess you could say it all started because there weren’t many jobs up there north of Bangor. Though we found, grew, or traded for most of what we needed, I figure a person’s got to have at least $3,000 a year in actual greenbacks to survive in this old world, especially if you’ve got kids. I’d been let go from my last three part-time waitressing jobs and had been buying low and selling high at yard sales and flea markets, which brought in about $150 a week during good weather.

Burt was enjoying similar commercial success selling quarts of honey off the tailgate of his pick-up truck every weekend between the Fourth of July and hunting season, from a parking lot over in Dexter. He’d been keeping bees around there for a dozen years or more, and had a right nice homestead up on the hill near Garland. Thirty hives, a flock of chickens, Pony and the 8′ x 8′ turkey coop he’d hauled off from a neighbor’s place that he remodeled and lived in were about all he needed.

The money he made selling honey mostly paid for his property taxes and gas for the pick-up, and it was just about enough. Well, you can see by Burt’s picture there what a good-looker he is, so I figured I’d get to know him better by volunteering to help with the bees. By the end of summer we got around to the heart of the matter, which was the beeswax. He’d been storing it in the honey house for years, figuring sometime he’d use it for something. That time had come, and he suggested I make some candles, which I did, and took them over to the local Junior High School in Dover-Foxcroft, where we sold them at the 8th Annual Christmas Craft Fair and Bake Sale for three dollars a pair. By the end of the day, we’d taken in $200, and we knew that our business venture was bound for glory.

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Well, as I mentioned, Burt lived in an 8′ x 8′ cabin and my kids and I were camped in a one room tent, so it was pretty obvious we needed to find more spacious quarters for our growing honey and candle operation. A friend came to the rescue when he agreed to rent out his old one room schoolhouse for $150 a year, which was the cost of the fire insurance on the place. It had been vacant for about fifteen years, except for the mice and squirrels, and though it had no heat, electricity, running water, or windows, the price was right, and it became corporate headquarters. We fixed the broken windows with cardboard, installed a gas kitchen range and some kerosene lamps, and were ready for anything.

Burts Bees boutique 1989Word about our products soon reached New York, and in 1989, the hip Zona boutique ordered hundreds of our candles. So, naturally, we expanded production. We hired 40 employees and set up shop in an abandoned bowling alley. Around this time, Roxanne happened upon a 19th century book of home-made personal care recipes and that’s when the Burt’s Bees we know and love now really began.

Burts Bees beeswax lip balmIn 1991, the year we incorporated, we were making half a million candles a year, as well as natural soaps and perfumes cooked up on gas stoves. That’s when we got the idea to add lip balm to our line-up. To this day, it is our best-selling product.

Burts Bees North Carolina officesWith an ever-expanding product line and more and more orders to fill, we knew in 1993 that we needed to expand. We searched high and low for a new home, and finally decided on business- and community-friendly North Carolina. The area was already home to several other internationally-known personal care products companies. We figured if it was good enough for them, it was good enough for us. It was also at this time that we made the difficult decision to focus our entire product line on personal care.

Burts Bees natural personal care productsWe set up shop in an 18,000 square-foot former garment factory in Creedmoor in 1994, and opened our first retail store the following year in nearby Chapel Hill. By this time, we had 50 products, some of which were even being distributed as far away as Japan. And we were embracing automation, one piece of machinery at a time ensuring all the while that it maintained that homemade quality and feel. In the spirit of recycling, we acquired a giant second-hand mixer from the cafeteria at nearby Duke University.

Burts Bees travel size personal care productsBy 1998, our annual sales had reached over $8 million and we had more than 100 distinct items in our product line, which were being sold in over 4,000 outlets, including Whole Foods Market and Cracker Barrel. That year, our new travel-sized natural skin care and hair care products became instant best-sellers.

The following year, we introduced our first body lotions featuring natural milk and sugar enzymes, as well as a line of bath products made with sea ingredients.

Burts Bees natural skin care product linesOver the next several years, product lines grew, profits grew and the space we worked in grew. We relocated again to a 105,000 square-foot site in Durham near Research Triangle and soon expanded that to 136,000 square feet. It was at that time that we launched our eCommerce website, making our products readily available for purchase country-wide. In 2002 and 2003, we launched our first toothpaste and shampoo as well as our incredibly popular Baby Bee product line.

Burts Bees environmental conservationBut Roxanne hadn’t forgotten the company’s roots in Maine. She used some of our profits to buy tracts of forest land in northern Maine to preserve them from development. This purchase marked the beginning of a long-standing relationship with The Nature Conservancy, which over the years, has helped conserve 185,000 acres of Maine forest land.

Burts Bees natural personal care productsWith our sales topping $250 million, we were becoming a household name—in nearly 30,000 retail outlets, including Target, Kroger and Rite-Aid. We launched a sun care line and expanded into body wash. And we began our important work with other like-minded companies to set the standard for what products can be labeled natural. Our efforts were met with overwhelming support from consumers, with over 30,000 signing a petition in support of the cause. Last but not least, we created a public service announcement to raise awareness about Colony Collapse Disorder, which really created a buzz running before Bee Movie.

Burts Bees natural personal care productsWith lots of great ideas finally coming to fruition, we launched our Naturally Ageless line, as well as a our line of lip glosses, all while expanding our Naturally Nourishing and Baby lines. We also expanded internationally to the U.KAustralia andJapan. Here at home, we were proud to be a part of launching the Natural Seal, which certifies products that meet the stringent requirements set by the Natural Products. The announcement of the Natural Seal drew support from 45,000 consumers, who voted “natural” led by actress, Julianne Moore.

The honey and candles are gone, the kids are grown, our friend sold the schoolhouse and now it’s a tattoo parlor, and Burt bought a classic motorcycle with his earnings, but otherwise everything’s pretty much the same here at Burt’s Bees.

Burts Bees natural personal care productsWe never thought 25 years would go by so quickly! We celebrated our 25th Burt Day with our loyal fans by giving them the gift of well-being. For 25 days, we gave away great Burt Day gifts, including 25,000 Beeswax Lip Balms! Over 500,000 fans participated in the fun on Facebook and a special Burt Day celebrity toasts and fun facts about our history. Continuing our growth, we launched inKorea and are honored to have been voted the second greenest U.S. brand. It’s been such an exciting ride—we’re looking forward to our next 25 years!

More information about Burt’s Bees can be found at www.burtsbees.com.