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Making a beeline to self-employment: Ivy Lawson traded in her career to become a bee farmer.

IVY LAWSON SPENT CLOSE TO 20 YEARS COMBINED, as a quality control engineer at Raytheon and later, as a software engineer at IBM, respectively. Then, in 2007, she quit her corporate gig to pursue something different. The following year she moved back to Jamaica--she'd immigrated to the United States in the mid-1960s, when she was about 4 years old--to do a feasibility study on a bee farm. Lawson ended up staying on the island for three years, falling in love with the honey. Upon returning for a visit to the states in 2010, she filled several jars with raw, organic, Jamaican honey, and handed them out to friends and family, who loved it as much as she did.

A light bulb went off. Lawson decided to write a business plan and learn about exporting and selling Jamaican honey in the U.S. Using her own money, in 2010, she launched Boston-based Logwood Co. L.L.C. with 50 hives. She also started picking up three- to six-month engineering contracting Jobs to expand and purchase more beehives in Jamaica for $30,000. By 2011, after 18 months of meeting with buyers and filling out extensive paperwork, Ivyees "Everything Honey" was approved as a North Atlantic regional vendor for Whole Foods. To expand her business yet again, in 2014, Lawson obtained a $2 5,000 loan from Eastern Bank. Today, approximately 33 Whole Foods and organic grocery retailers throughout Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York carry Logwood Co. products.

A certified minority and women's business enterprise, Ivyees "Everything Honey" is a fully integrated honey producer, which farms its own bees from its own hives in Jamaica.

With thousands of hives in Jamaica, Lawson notes the combination of rain, sun, and soil that come into play for the pollination. "Jamaica's mineral-rich, bauxite soil permits us to grow unique tropical vegetation that honeybees love to pollinate." Ivyees also sources honey from other Caribbean nations, producing three to four distinctive flavor varieties of all-natural, organic honey. Lawson points out that Caribbean honey is unique, because it derives from bees that pollinate tropical flowers, giving it a very different taste from the clover or dandelion honey sold in the U.S. What's more, Lawson's honey is not processed; the raw honey goes straight from the hive to the jar, allowing it to keep all its nutrients, as well as its taste.

Lawson and five part-time employees are responsible for filling, labeling, and packaging each jar. She currently packages her honey and condiments in a shared kitchen environment, otherwise known as a food incubator, in Warren, Rhode Island.

Since 2011, Lawson's sold close to 3,000 cases, or 36,000 jars of honey in stores, at $10.99 per 8 oz. jar and $12.99 per 10 oz. jar. She's since begun diversifying her business by creating a skin and haircare product line, which includes shampoos, conditioners, and moisturizers infused with honey and other tropical ingredients, and even consulted with pharmacists and chemists to help keep her formulations in accordance with Whole Foods' standards. Although Lawson still has to go through a lengthy review to get her beauty care line on brick-and-mortar shelves, these products are currently sold online at www.ivyees.com.

In 2016, Lawson generated $125,000 in revenue--52% from the honey, and 48% from body and haircare products. However, she continues to seek more than $100,000 to spend on honey inventory, beauty supply ingredients, production, and staffing. "My goal is to continue growing the business, but the lack of funding to scale up is my biggest challenge. I have great demand and limited supply, due to lack of capital," she says.

Perfect Your Pitch

Having applied for a vendor application, Lawson's pursuing a big opportunity with Target. Laffer spoke with Lawson about how to present to a buyer, and how to find the right person to pitch. "She might be able to leverage that conversation to arrange for financing," adds Laffer, "pending the deal with Target."

Outsource Your Production

"Quality control is an issue for startups. You have to be able to consistently turn-out the product, doing large batches," Laffer explains. The key is finding a manufacturer willing to warehouse the product and fulfill big orders.

Lawson now works with Cosmetic Solutions in Boca Raton, Florida, a leader in the development and manufacturing of skin care products with natural ingredients that produces private-label skin care products for chain stores, spas, and salons, and home shopping, among others.

Hire a Broker

If Lawson cannot afford to hire a dedicated salesperson, she should consider contracting a broker or work with several in different regions to sell on her behalf. Brokers--also called independent manufacturer's representatives--only get paid once they've make a sale, generally 5% to 15% of the deal. What's more, they usually have relationships with regional buyers at different retailers in specific industries.

BE HEARD BY CAROLYN M. BROWN

Get a Business Mentor

Most entrepreneurs know about SCORE (SC0RE.org). Comprised of more than 13,000 volunteer business counselors throughout the U.S., SCORE members are trained to serve as counselors, advisers, and mentors for aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners. These services are offered at no cost and as a community service via the Small Business Administration.

What you may not know is that you can browse member profiles to find the ideal mentor for your type of business, and that SCORE ideally designs customized, on-demand mentoring built around your needs, schedule, and location. In addition, you can look to develop a mentor-protegee relationship with an established business owner in your industry or even outside of your line of business. Whoever you choose will be able to guide you through operating your business, and help you make inroads with less risk and fewer mistakes.

EDITED BY CAROLYN M. BROWN @CMBROWN_7

Caption: Lawson can't continue to operate two, separate businesses--jarred honey and beauty care--on her own, at the rate she is going, "It is a challenge for any startup because you are always smaller than the larger companies, which have more money and resources. The trick is to come up with a market niche that the entrepreneur can fulfill," says SCORE Boston counselor Elliott Laffer.

Caption: Currently Lawson's mentor, Laffer also offers the following advice:
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Author:Brown, Carolyn M.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Geographic Code:5JAMA
Date:Jan 1, 2017
Words:1040
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