Burt’s Bees - Mission, Myth and a Buzzing Business – Interview with Jim Geikie, General Manager

January 6, 2017

Yes, Burt really existed. The wild-bearded man on the brand's logo was a documentary photographer turned beekeeper after moving from Manhattan to Maine and leaving the trappings of a rather privileged upbringing behind him to live in a converted turkey coop in the backwoods (where he also died in 2015).  But it is unlikely that you or I would ever hear about Burt and his bees and it is certain we would not be able to moisturize your lips with one of the iconic balms that bear their name, if it was not for a woman: Roxanne Quimby. It turns out that Burt played the role of mentor and muse, of an enigmatic, spiritual Ueber-Father of the brand, while Roxanne was the ingenious product developer and business builder who really made 'Burt's Bees happen' as Jim Geikie tells us.

And Jim should know.  He is the General Manager of the business today and a Vice President at Clorox, the parent company which bought the business in 2007 for a whopping $925 million in cash.  Burt had been bought out by previously by Roxanne for just $130,000 but apparently never complained  ... which provides just one of the many ingredients to this mythical story that is the man, the couple, the bees, the product... But before we get into the myth, Jim lays out Burt's Bees guiding mission.  For, while Burt's Bees is no Luxury brand, its nature and health-centric mission and befitting myth have allowed the brand to carve out a premium position within the mass personal care and beauty segment. Jim and I will also talk about:

  • what makes the business buzz despite a 300% price premium and no discounts
  • when to say 'No' to the easy way forward and how to justify it
  • how to balance the needs of brand, parent company and consumer
  • who works at Burt's Bees -why and how they join
    and
  • why Jim thinks corporate ownership of mission-driven brands in not only the norm but a good model for everyone involved.

 

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FURTHER READING:

For more insights what drives the success of Ueber-Brands like Burt's Bees, read our Ueber-Brands blog and book “Rethinking Prestige Branding”.

 

Below is a document on Burt's Bees culture that Jim shared and which reflects some of the values he talked about and the growth model Burt's Bees' organization  follows (click to view/download the full document)

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Below are the 'Memorial Hive' on the outside facade of the headquarter and Burt's hut that was being re-build in front of the building while I visited.

One can't miss the detailed bees painted across the brick facade. They were painted by artist Matthew Willey with the help of Burt's Bees employees. Willey has pledged to paint 50,000 bees (the number of bees in a healthy hive) to help awareness for Colony Collapse Disorder (we talk about it briefly in the interview) and raise funds to help find a cure for this phenomenon that threatens to wipe out native bees across North America (article in the local newspaper).

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