Sometimes the sweetest things in life come disguised. Three female entrepreneurs from West Michigan thought the honey from their beehive was the ultimate gold, but little did they know the byproduct of their beekeeping hobby would lead to a buzzing business.
Friends Kim Ambrose and Amber Boerema began backyard beekeeping in 2014, starting a hobby hive with the intention of harvesting the honey. As novice beekeepers, they threw away the beeswax for years, seeing it as a byproduct with no clear purpose. Today, that byproduct is the heart of their business: Sister Bees.
In 2016, they discovered the all-natural healing and moisturizing properties of beeswax and began prototyping lip balms and body moisturizers for their kids and family to use. They created the name Sister Bees and were soon joined by Kelly Bonnema, Ambrose’s sister, who teamed up with them to give the business vision.
“Between the three of us, we have a combined total of 12 kids,” Ambrose said. “We have always been hyperconscious of the products and chemicals our kids are exposed to, so Sister Bees started as a passion to protect our homes and kids from the detrimental effects of chemicals.”
“We have always been hyperconscious of the products and chemicals our kids are exposed to, so Sister Bees started as a passion to protect our homes and kids from the detrimental effects of chemicals.”
— Kim Ambrose
Perfecting the Product
Like anything, the first batch wasn’t perfect. The women tried different recipes and shared the products with family and friends who kept requesting more. That’s when they realized they were onto something. Today, Sister Bees offers nine chemical-free lip balms, bee butter body moisturizer, homemade hand soaps, beard balm for men and Paw Putty for pets. Each product uses chemical-free ingredients and essential oils to create a range of fragrances, including seasonal fragrances with local flair.
“I was raised in Ludington with my sister, and we love all of Michigan’s different seasons,” Bonnema said. For this reason, Sister Bees sells Windmill Cookie lip balm during Tulip Time, Pumpkin in the fall and Blueberry Sangria in the summer. Sister Bees also offers a wedding line with personalized gifts for groomsmen and bridesmaids, lip balms with printed wedding dates and honey stick table favors to complement reception plate settings.
Sister Bees’ products are sold in 35 local retail shops from South Haven to Petoskey, and they are frequent vendors at pop-up markets and craft fairs around the state.
Beyond the Mitten
With a desire to grow their business beyond the Mitten, the women knew they would need more capital. So, they applied in 2018 for a Momentum Business Plan Competition grant administered by The Ludington & Scottville Area Chamber of Commerce. They were among one of four finalists invited to participate in a competition similar to the TV show “Shark Tank,” held that fall. Sister Bees had five minutes to pitch its business plan in front of a packed auditorium. A judging panel comprised of Mason County business leaders selected who would be the recipient of a $50,000 grant. The women were overjoyed to hear Sister Bees’ name announced at the end of the night.
The grant money will be used for branding, packaging, reaching health stores and retailers, growing the website and advancing into new sales territories across the country.
For more information on beeswax skin care, see sisterbees.com.