Honey of a Business: The Buzz About Sweet Bee Sisters
Their beeswax-based empire is growing by lips and bounds
Lily Warren, 18
co-CEO/Marketing & communications
Favorite product: Peppermint Tingle lip balm
Chloe Warren, 17
Favorite product: Vanilla Hazelnut Body Butter
Sophie Warren, 14
Co-CEO/Packaging, quality control & sales
Favorite product: Groovy Grapefruit lip balm
The Warren sisters have 30 years of combined business experience, which happens to be more than half of their combined years of life. What started as a learning experience around the family bee-keeping enterprise has given rise to a beeswax-based empire that is growing by lips and bounds.
And the co-CEOs do it all themselves in their Littleton home, cranking out as many as 1,000 tubes of “Groovy Grapefruit” or “Macho Mocha” a day between school and extracurriculars of musical theater for Lily, swim meets for Chloe and wrestling (yes, wrestling) for Sophie.
With sales online and in 20 Denver-area stores, the sisters sell 20,000 lip balms a year — in eight flavors — along with an ever-expanding product line of lotion bars, sugar scrubs and deodorant sprays. Winners of the 2017 Spotlight on YouthBiz Stars business competition held by Young Americans Center for Financial Education, they’ve doubled their revenue year-over-year for the last three years, and they’ve also started moving into custom corporate sales. That’s why you can snarf Pineapple Upside Down, Blueberry Danish and Cinnamon Roll pancakes at Snooze: an AM Eatery — and then pick up tubes of Sweet Bee Sisters lip balm in those same flavors on your way out the door.
ColoradoBiz: Give me a little history of how you came to be.
Chloe Warren: Our parents started beekeeping back in 2009, and it was just a hobby for them. After our first honey harvest, we got a bunch of beeswax with the honey, and we didn’t want to throw it away because the bees work seven times harder to make the wax than to make the honey. At the same time, our mom had been wanting us to start a business. So we started researching and found that lip balm is one of the most common things to make out of beeswax.
CB: How did you figure out your roles in the company?
Lily Warren: We have different skillsets for sure, and pretty early on we figured out how to play to each of our strengths and support each other in those. That’s how we found we’re most successful. But then again, being kids running a business, you can’t always depend on people being able to fulfill those roles – somebody has a big test in school that week or something – so we’re definitely used to picking up the slack for each other and being flexible as we move through the different jobs.
CB: What is it about you that has made you successful entrepreneurs? Is it genetics?
CW: I think our parents definitely have a lot to do with our being successful. They’re our No. 1 supporters, they always push us to strive for excellence.
LW: I think a huge driving factor is the entrepreneurial mindset. And some people are gifted with that and are born wanting to be risk-takers and think outside the box. For me personally, that’s not in my genetics, and that’s something I have to strive for and cultivate in myself and something that I honestly have to choose to embrace. But making that conscious decision, I think that’s been a huge part of our success, being willing to take risks and step into rooms where we’re kids talking to adults and trying to pursue opportunities that are beyond our experience.
CB: What are the challenges here for three kids running a business? Is it hard to get people to take you seriously?
CW: Definitely. After they start talking to us, they kind of understand that we know what we’re doing. But before that, they’re like, kid business-owners probably don’t know too much. And we’d like to try to change that mindset. We want to help other young entrepreneurs be confident and show adults that they’re just as capable.
LW: And we don’t want to be treated any differently. Especially some of our larger clients, they expect to be able to do business with people who know how to do business, and there aren’t exceptions. And we strive to rise to the occasion and show the same professionalism as people twice our age.
CW: And I think that being kids, we’ve been given a lot of opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have been given.
LW: People go out of their way to help us and mentor us.
CB: How has this business changed you – as people, and as sisters, too?
CW: It’s definitely taught us how to work well together. A lot of people who see our business say, ‘Oh, I could never work with my sister.’ But we’ve definitely been able to better understand who each other are because of the business. If we hadn’t started a business, we wouldn’t be this close. And we wouldn’t know how to play off each other’s strengths and work well together.
LW: And it’s not like we’re exceptional sisters who were just born close. We really do work to work well with each other. And that’s honestly been such a blessing, even in our family unit. On the flip side, the business has grown us hugely in communication skills, financial literacy, all these amazing skills we have.
CB: Do you see yourself doing some kind of business in the future?
Sophie Warren: We’ve grown up learning this, so we already know a lot that people in their 20s are learning now. We’re already far ahead of our peers in knowing how the business world works. If you grow up doing something, you’re better at it. For me personally, I think I’m going to have a job in business – probably running a business.
LW: We’ve all taken a different skill set away that we want to pursue later in life. Like me, I love marketing. And Sophie – she knows she wants to be a boss.
SW: I don’t want to work for anyone else.
CB: What do you see as the future of your business?
CW: Right now, we’re working on starting the Sweet Bee Sisterhood. We want to have kid representatives for our business, and they can learn how to do sales and sell a product and walk into stores and ask if they want to carry the product. And just give kids the opportunity to be business owners without having to learn how to make the product or get the licensing and everything required.
LW: We’re primarily focusing on girls 8 to 12 who are interested in entrepreneurship. As far as we know, there aren’t a lot of places out there giving these opportunities to young girls. Girl Scouts sell the cookies, but then they don’t get any of the money. And they don’t learn any of the financial aspects of it. So we would love to still produce the product and still supply them, but give girls the opportunity to learn these life skills.
CB: What advice would you give a kid who wanted to do some kind of entrepreneur thing?
CW: Kids should choose a business that they love, because when people do work they enjoy, they are more likely to stick it out.
LW: Surround yourself with knowledgeable people who challenge you, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
SW: Just persevere. Because you are going to hit hard times, and you are going to say you don’t want to keep working because it’s too hard. But you can do it. And all the adults will be like, ‘Look at that kid! They’re awesome!’