Posted on July 14 2015
I have been reflecting on why Burt Shavitz, the face behind Burt’s Bees, impacted our world. Burt was an icon for natural, niche products whose core values remained consistent even after he became a millionaire. With Burt’s Bees, he had no agenda when he and his girlfriend, Roxanne, developed the brand. It was an honest, authentic and true story. Their romance began when he picked her up hitchhiking on route to the post office. Even though their personal relationship did not work out, and she reaped more of the benefit of the sale of the brand, they created something everlasting. It was a brand born out of great timing, a brilliant product and an authentic story.
Burt never was striving to make a billion dollars from his products – he was an “innocent capitalist.” There was no business plan. It was simply use the beeswax to create a lip balm, sell it and repeat. A fully self-sustaining business with bees as his partners! He and Roxanne did not do any market research to determine what product Gen X wanted at the time. As the Wall Street Journal sited in his obituary, Burt loved the color of school buses and that’s how the recognizable color behind Burt’s Bees was determined. He is described as a free spirit. In fact, the New York Times reported that after his company’s sale, his residence remained a converted turkey coop with no TV or running water. He was happy with his land and and did not want more.
Burt was really all about Burt’s BEES. He says in his documentary about beekeeping:
“I realized I had it made, because you don’t have to destroy anything to get honey. You can just use the same things over and over again, put it in a quart canning jar, and you’ve got $12.”
I remember meeting Roxanne in 1998 when I got back from the Peace Corps. I had been following two brands that I desperately wanted to work for: Burt’s Bees and Badger. I loved developing soaps and lotions from beeswax and plants so I went to the New York Gift Show to seek them out. They were really one of the few natural brands in the marketplace. Unfortunately, neither company was hiring in New York, but I did eventually interview in Raleigh, NC where Burt’s Bees headquarters was located. Just that visit was a dream come true. I saw lines and lines of the infamous products being produced!
The notion of an “innocent capitalists” seems like history. Burt, I am so thankful that your face remains on your products. Even though the company values may have shifted over the years, it is nice to remember you, the creator.