CHECKING OUT SOME chunks of wax for tinted lip balm are, from left, Scott Haskins, Jon Dudzinski and James Wiciak. Ariana Hones photo
by Ariana Hones
Just give three local men a few hours in the Green Lake Town Square commercial kitchen and the fellows of Bee Bella will have created their next batch of product to ship out to their growing customer base.
10,000 lip balms per session to be exact.
However, on a recent Sunday afternoon they were experimenting.
The test subject: tinted lip balm.
When most people in their 20s would be relaxing on the weekend, the men of Bee Bella are hard at work because not only are they the creators of their Bee Bella lip balm and the beekeepers, they also still have day jobs.
Jon Dudzinski, a Ripon native, manages an investment fund; Scott Haskins, also a Ripon native, is an electrical engineer for Kimberly Clark; and James Wiciak, a Richfield, Wis. native, works as an IT consultant.
For them, beekeeping started out as a hobby. Dudzinski used to help his dad with his hives and soon brought in his friends to join them.
During the summer of 2014, each member pitched in starting funds to buy five beehives and read “Beekeeping for Dummies,” which they noted was fitting.
“We were dummies,” they all chimed in.
Dudzinski described their first summer of making lip balm as occurring with an “acute condition of beginner’s luck.”
“We were like, ‘This is easy. This is super simple. Nothing to it,’” he smiled.
Thus, the three men began their journey into what would become Bee Bella. Each chipped in more funds and spent their free time making 100 beehives in Haskin’s family barn in Ripon.
Two years later, Bee Bella has a retail presence in 45 states. Its future dreams?
“Our goal is to become an established national brand both domestically and internationally; we are expanding right now across Canada and will take on Europe next year,” Dudzinski said. “We have got momentum and brand recognition.”
Although these three men love a great lip balm, what truly drew them to this work was trying to figure out a viable local solution to the bee epidemic.
Dudzinski described working with his father tending his hives and reading about the current state of honey bees. He then realized that there was potential to create a great product that people could feel good about consuming in addition to raising consciousness on this global issue.
“We want to make the world a little better than we found it,” Dudzinski said.
Although they all agreed that most people have probably heard something about the bee epidemic, there is still little to no local or global call to action.
“Our call to action is, ‘Hey we don’t have the solution, but we are donating to The University of Minnesota bee lab which is tirelessly working on finding the solution, so you can buy our product, which is dope, and you can support fair trade-certified products and support honey bee research,’” Dudzinski said.
Bee Bella lip balm offers three year-round flavors: cherry, peppermint and pomegranate mango. In addition to these are three season flavors: lavender vanilla, pumpkin spice and candy cane.
The final product is fair trade certified and as individuals go through each ingredient on the list they will discover Bee Bella’s mission. The partners described their goal as making a product that is both better for the environment and communities, as well as a superior form of moisturizing.
Their guiding question for the creating the actual lip balm has always been, “If price was no object for our ingredients what is the best we could do?”
Through reverse engineering other lip balms and plenty of trial pipets later, they settled on a formula that then went through tests with family, friends and co-workers.
The real challenge they described was when they took Bee Bella to the Oshkosh Farmer’s Market and had to see what kind of product consumers would be willing to part money for.
“Honestly it still surprises me [that] the reception has been so positive,” Wiciak said. “If we see someone we don’t know using our lip balm we are all star struck.”
Dudzinski echoed his business partner’s sentiments.
“For me, that we have been able to do something that tens of thousands and potentially hundreds of thousands of people have purchased blows my mind — that people are so taken and appreciate what we are doing,” he said.
Dudzinski estimates that Bee Bella products serve around 100,000 consumers. He believes that due to the quality and cause that its product supports, retention is great, but its next task is to work on expanding to new customers.
The men behind Bee Bella never saw this success coming.
“If you told me at 27 I would be making and selling lip balm I would say, ‘What are you doing with your life?’” Haskins said.
“No one is interested in IT and eyes would glaze over, but you tell someone you are a beekeeper and people are interested,” Wiciak added, laughing.
“He got into beekeeping for the ladies” Dudzinski chirped in about Wiciak.
Bee Bella may be found online at beebella.buzz as well as locally at Teak and Soxy, Mugs Coffeehouse, A Little Somethin’ Somethin’ and Vines and Rushes.
Bee Bella and the men behind it have their sights set on expanding a product that can make their customers feel great and make the world a bit sweeter in the process.
They hope their product will continue to allow the customer and world to see the truth of their name and “Be Beautiful.”