I'm a hobby beekeeper, and have been since I started in 2004. This year I suffered a total loss, but I'm rebuilding (caught one swarm, have a nuc in the pipeline from Russell's, 6 Queens on order from Russell's, and trying to find some good nucs elsewhere [treatment free small cell, if possible, and if not just treatment free if possible, and if not just the best I can get ahold of, lol]). I have not sold one dime's worth of items, and have been doing it only for entertainment purposes. However, in the next five to ten years I would like to turn it into a business, by generating enough income to support itself and let it grow, then see where it goes. The difficulty is that I don't know what business direction I should be planning. The route I choose would obviously determine the equipment I would need, and as any business start's off cash is king. For example, if I buy all the equipment to process honey, but end up in the nuc production business, I wasted my start up cash on unused equipment and it would probably take twice as long to get my feet off the ground.
While I am aware of the potential markets, I don't know any of these markets. I wouldn't know how to get started in any of them. I know most of that will come in the next few years, as I build, but I was wondering what some people's take would be on how to turn a beekeeping hobby into a business, and what steps are helpful as opposed to detrimental. Which markets can easily be pushed into, which ones are difficult, which ones require little start up equipment, and which ones are massive.
So the way I see it, there are a number of different "areas" that I could get into:
1. Honey Production
I have an extractor, and I could get going on this. Downside: honey flows in my area are not constant, or predictable. We get one main flow a year, and sometimes it doesn't happen every year. As far as a business plan goes, I might have to move to get this one off the ground. At that point, my 9-5 job isn't paying my personal expenses and the whole thing crashes. Likewise, it would take a great deal of time to market and sell my honey at farmer market prices (or in grocery stores). Time which I don't have. Or I could sell it whole-sale, but at $1.60/lb I'm not sure economically how I would be able to break even.
2. Wax Production
As far as a business strategy goes, I don't know anything about this area.
3. Propolis and/or pollen sales
Like wax production, I don't know where I would begin here.
4. Queen breeding
I began breeding queens last year, in an attempt to get a ton of experience as soon as possible. I love doing it, but it has some very challenging moments. I was thinking the easiest way to get started would be here. I could start local and see where things go. My motto would be the local "Johnny on the spot" queen guy. An upside would be that I don't need that much new equipment, and I could churn out 50-100 queens in a season my first year (once I get set up). A downside would be making sure I am producing a stellar product, something that initial queen breeders can't always do.
5. Nuc production
I would assume that this area would go hand-in-hand with queen production. Queen orders not taken in year one could be turned into overwintered nucs for year two. Those can replace losses, and extras can be sold. I would like to be able to use queen production and nuc production at the same time, to see which one is more cost-effective, and which one has the better marketplace.
6. Package production
This area would obviously take me about 10 years to get into, as I would need hundreds of additional colonies. I don't think I will be stepping into this any time soon.
7. Venom production
As with a few others, I know nothing about this area.
8. Producing and/or re-sale of equipment
I am a simple woodworker, so I make all my own equipment (or almost all). Building it myself I save some money, but not much. Based on that reason, I don't think the profit margins would be enough to justify my time. Additionally, the market is just swamped with those people, and with Mann Lake offering free shipping, how could I possibly compete?
This would require more hives than I could keep as a hobby beekeeper. Because of that, I find it difficult to conceptualize a "transition." If I kept 50 hives as a hobby beekeeper, the same number would not be enough to satisfy a contract. If it was (and I brokered a small amount out), the transportation costs would likely deminish whatever return I could get to next to nothing. Economies of scale works big here, and when you don't have alot to scale, it's difficult to start. Likewise, I don't know where to get one of those contracts, if I should be focusing local or out of state, ect.
I've seen several doing these on the forums. I have put my name and number out there for people to contact, and I've received very few inquiaries (both on swarm calls, and cut outs. In the past four years of being on "lists" posting on craigslist, and scouring the internet I have received one swarm call and one cut out call. The cut out call was pricing out the lowest guy, so I wasn't interested in performing it.). Based on what little taste I have had, I would guess there is not much of a market for this in my area.
So, any thoughts? Anything I didn't factor into it?