Brush Prairie resident Leeanne Goetz comes from a long line of beekeepers. Her son is a fifth-generation apiarist and honey is served in her household daily.
It’s only natural, then, to assume Goetz would be involved in the family line of work – but not in the way you’d expect.
“Beekeeping is just in our blood, but I’m deathly allergic to bees,” Goetz said. “So I haven’t participated much in the beekeeping aspect of the business.”
Instead, Goetz worked out of her home to develop all-natural, honey-based foods. She started selling her son’s honey at holiday bazaars and the Vancouver Farmer’s Market in 2004. When Whole Foods began selling her honey the following year, she was inspired to grow her product line. Her company, Honey Ridge Farms, now sells grilling sauces, honey crèmes, and award-winning honey vinegars. The products can be found at various local retailers, including QFC and Thriftway.
While all the honey used in Honey Ridge Farms’ products originally came from Goetz’s son in Eastern Oregon exclusively, the business’ growth has since exceeded what the family beehives can produce. Goetz now sources honey from extended family members and friends located around the western United States. A quarter of that honey comes from Southwest Washington.
Goetz believes her commitment to all-natural products supplied by close friends and family has helped her achieve growth.
“Our uniqueness is the quality of our ingredients and the family aspect to our business,” she explained. “I truly believe people are becoming more interested in what they are putting into their bodies and starting to read labels. So we make sure that you can pronounce everything on our ingredients lists.”
Goetz sub-contracts her production, warehousing and distribution work to a Portland facility. Her marketing and sales managers are also independent contractors from across the United States. This business model allows her to focus on product development.
“I like to get people involved who have more expertise,” Goetz said. “I can’t do it all. It’s a neat way to set up a company and I want to keep it simple so I can run my business from anywhere.”
Goetz’s road to success had its share of ups and downs. Just as her grandfather survived the Great Depression through income generated by beekeeping, Goetz said she has nurtured her honey business during the recent recession through a combination of networking and determination.
“I networked with a lot of food entrepreneurs and we were all in the same boat,” Goetz recalled. “One month you’re struggling and you feel like you’re ready to throw in the towel. The next month, business picks up and you think maybe it’ll be okay.”
These tactics have also led Goetz through the challenges of starting a business. Knowing nothing about the food industry truly made her start-up journey a learning experience.
“When you’re by yourself and you have this idea, you just have to plunge forward and seek out resources,” she said. “You make mistakes and learn along the way.”
One such resource Goetz said was essential to Honey Ridge Farms’ success was the Small Business Development Center (SBDC). She met a representative of the organization while taking a business class and said the consultations have been valuable.
“[My mentor at SBCD] was a big help in keeping me going, especially during the many times I wanted to quit,” Goetz said. “Just about anything you need, they can find somebody to help you, and it won’t cost you an arm and a leg.”
In the coming months, Goetz plans on adding two more flavors of honey vinegar to her current lineup. She’s also heading to China in September to meet with potential international buyers.
“I have a long-term vision and a very high quality, unique product,” she said. “As long as I can grow, I don’t want to give up on it. I think there’s too much potential down the road.”