MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. -- As flames crackled in front of them, two Marine Corps Intelligence Activity Marines learned that they had another unusual skill set in common: both had been beekeepers in high school.
“It started as a bet,” said Capt. Justin Strickler, operations and support branch head, of their joint business venture “Honeycomb Heroes.”
Toward the end of 2011, over that bonfire Strickler and Chief Warrant Officer James McWilliams, counter intelligence branch operations officer, discovered each other’s beekeeping skills and, as one thing led to another, six hives were ordered and the beginnings of Honeycomb Heroes was in place. At first it was just a hobby, Stickler added. And then Strickler’s wife, who also served as a Marine, discovered a SCORE small business workshop available on base in April 2012, he said. The workshop gave the Marines some much needed encouragement.
“The instructor’s excitement about our business got us excited about our business,” said Strickler. Through the workshop the Marines learned that to have a successful business you need five things: an accountant, a lawyer, insurance, a banker and a mentor, they said. The workshop also helped them with pricing the honey they produced. “There isn’t a lot of overhead, just time and stings,” said Strickler. “So we weren’t really sure what to charge for our honey.” The key to pricing, according to the workshop is researching what competitors charge and then carving your own nitch, he said.
“Don’t just go the cheapest, set your price and then offer sales and discounts,” Strickler added. During the workshop, the Marines and their 10 classmates had to pitch their business plan, said McWilliams.
“After our pitch, everyone wanted to invest in our business,” McWilliams said. “Some of the students even followed us out to our car to buy honey.” The SCORE workshop isn’t the only training the military has given these beekeeper to help their business. “My previous (motor transport) training helped with driving the truck, an F-350, with a 20-foot trailer and the Bobcat, which is used to move the hives,” said McWilliams. It hasn’t been all business for these Marines though. When they learned of an elderly woman who had been living in a home infested with over 80,000 bees, they came to her rescue. At first we didn’t know if we could help her, but we called anyway to ask if she would let us look and see if we could do anything, said Strickler. She had already hired four different people to get rid of the bees and they hadn’t been able to, he added. When they got to the house, they discovered the bees had set up housing in the eaves of the 19th century, two-story home. “The house was literally dripping with honey,” said Strickler. A few bee stings and hours later, the hive was removed from the house and the woman was able to sleep, sting free, that night. It’s important to us that we give back to the community, said Strickler while McWilliams agreed. They also helped out after the Derecho in June 2012, by using their Bobcat to help with clean-up efforts, added McWilliams. Using all they learned during the SCORE workshop and as beekeepers in high school, Strickler and McWilliams expect to break even this year and actually earn some money next year.