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,” says Heather Sharpe, a University of Georgia Small Business Development Center in Albany consultant. She confesses her honey-buying habits have made her a “honey snob.”
“Ray has a passion not just for the quality of the honey, but for the bees and beekeepers,” she says. “He’s an advocate for Georgia’s local honey and its health properties. He believes in handling honey with love and great care. Weeks produces a pure quality craft product without damaging its properties, and Ray is committed to this mission.”
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,” he says. He’s 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 says. “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, “so I talked to Lynn and Heather quite a bit.”
Weeks Honey Farm 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 says.
Weeks Honey Farm’s product placement has expanded from 150 to 3,000 stores. Overall sales have increased 30 percent, and they continue to grow.
The business maintains anywhere from 6,000 to 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.
In 2017, Weeks Honey was named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Georgia District Office 2017 “Family-Owned Business of the Year.”
“We’re just stewards of God’s blessings,” says Crosby. “We love everybody and want to help others, our beekeepers and families, feel this great love and know they’re important and a valued part of something good.”
“Many in agribusiness have a lot of faith. There are so many variables in what may happen,” says Sharpe. “It’s a lifestyle, but they also understand they need to make good decisions for their businesses.”
“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,” says Crosby.