When Passion Drives Strategy

Holly Raal with a customer

Holly Raal never set out to open a shop that would be part boutique, part educational forum for browsing customers to learn about…bees.

The 45-year-old artist had spent years working as a graphic designer when she sought another way to work, and still have time to spend with her sons (now ages 20, 13 and four). Opening a store in her home town of Rhinebeck, NY, seemed the way to go.

She came up with the name Bumble & Hive, inspired by a serendipitous find of an old French symbol. The inventory—including honey and beeswax candles—soon followed. Little did she realize a mission was unfolding, too. “The more I learned about bees, the more I knew we had to support ethical beekeeping,” she says.

A little more than a year later, Raal and her six employees are as much about disseminating information as they are about sales. Raal leads her employees on trips to local apiaries and invites beekeepers to address the staff. “While I started out using the bee as a branding symbol, I discovered something I could be passionate about,” she says.

Her interactive approach—including letting customers taste different honeys at the store’s honey bar—also turned out to be a smart retail strategy. “I’d much rather have shoppers tell a friend they learned something of global importance here, rather than just saying they found  some nice candles.”

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