Ray Crosby knows his bees and honey. A third-generation farmer who lives with his family in the rural southwest Georgia town of Omega, he understands what makes his product—packaged as pure, unfiltered raw honey—unique. His knowledge, in fact, resonates with the customers from coast-to-coast who buy Weeks Honey.
“Working with Ray, I’ve learned a lot about honey,” said Heather Sharpe, a consultant in the UGA Small Business Development Center’s (SBDC) Albany office. Her honey-buying habits have made her a “honey snob” she said.
“Ray has a passion not just for the quality of the honey, but for the bees and beekeepers,” she said. “He’s an advocate for Georgia’s local honey and its health properties. He believes in handling honey with love and great care. Weeks Honey produces a pure quality craft product without damaging its properties, and Ray is committed to this mission.”
That commitment and assistance from the SBDC has helped Weeks Honey grow from the shelves of 150 stores to 3,000. Overall sales have increased 30 percent, and they continue to grow.
In 2017, Weeks Honey was named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Georgia District Office 2017 “Family-Owned Business of the Year.”
Crosby grew up helping with the family hives, but left home at 18 to make his mark in the corporate world.
“I said I’d never end up in this business getting stung by bees every day, but I came back in 2001 when my parents asked if I would help our family business for the next generation,” said Crosby, who has been running the business since 2009. “When we lost my father, I stepped out of the bee yards to manage the honey side as well.”
By 2015, Crosby realized that to leave a strong, viable business to future generations, he had to move it to the next level. He would need to restructure the company’s debt and expand.
He contacted Lynn Bennett, area director of the UGA SBDC at Valdosta State University.
“Ray needed some guidance in producing a solid business plan that would capture his current structure and provide a pathway for growth,” she said. “He was looking for assistance with his cash flow projections and wanted to develop a new marketing strategy.”
Bennett helped Crosby develop the plan and projections. She also introduced him to Sharpe, who worked with his staff to develop marketing strategies including social media and a plan to target new customers out west.
“We had to get bigger or cut back a lot to be profitable, so we made the leap. Our expansion was very expensive,” says Crosby said, “so I talked to Lynn and Heather quite a bit.”
Weeks Honey successfully secured a seven-figure loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Crosby used it to refinance the company’s debt and expand product sales to 28 states across the nation, from California and Arizona, across Texas to New York and New Jersey.
“The loan refinanced the equipment we needed for our expansion and the inventory and supplies. It funded the labeling equipment, machinery, inventory, bottles, jars and lids,” he said.
The business maintains between 6,000 and 8,000 hives of honey bees for production, and it rents hives to farmers in Georgia and California for pollination services. The expansion has ensured Crosby’s family and friends will continue to hold their jobs at the farm and has allowed him to hire another full-time employee. The company also supports 60 beekeepers, up from 20 just a few years earlier.
There are a lot of variables in honey production, Crosby said. But he has faith and understands the importance of good business decisions.
“I tell others, if you need advice or someone to hold your hand to get through any process in your business, the consultants of the SBDC are not afraid to get their hands dirty and do anything that needs to get done.”