Beehive Botanicals, a company that has been manufacturing bee-related products in Hayward for 50 years, is celebrating its silver anniversary this Fall. It was founded in 1972 by Hayward resident and postmaster, Warren Ogren, an entrepreneur and inventor who took his passion for bees and bee-keeping and turned it into a successful business that is now owned by second and third generation family members -- Linda Graham, his daughter, and Michelle Graham-Forrester, his grand-daughter.
While serving as Hayward’s postmaster, Ogren took up bee-keeping as a hobby. While doing extensive research to better understand the bees’ habitat and behavior, Ogren learned about propolis, a sticky, resinous substance that bees collect from leaf buds and tree bark to strengthen the hive. When he realized there was a demand for propolis in Europe, he began exporting the product overseas with the help of his wife, Vivian. They called the company Propolis USA and operated it from their home. The couple also traveled the world researching propolis and other raw materials produced by honeybees.
The husband and wife team eventually created their own formulas for products that utilized three materials from the hive -- propolis, honey and royal jelly -- having realized that there were very few bee-based products in the US marketplace. When customers began asking for other raw materials and production services, the company expanded capabilities to meet their needs. At the same time, they changed the name to Beehive Botanicals. In 1994, to meet the increasing demand for product, the company purchased encapsulation machines, and in doing so, became a trusted manufacturer for other businesses producing health and wellness products.
“In the 80’s, Beehive Botanicals had its own branded line; at the same time, bigger companies started buying raw materials from us to build their own lines of products. When the market started to feel saturated, we decided to stick with producing the core supplements and only a few branded personal care items. It made more sense to us to focus on being a trusted supplier to other companies and develop our manufacturing capabilities,” explained Linda Graham, Warren and Vivian Ogren’s daughter and Beehive’s current president.
As the company continued growing steadily, more Ogren family members became involved. While her parents were building the business selling raw propolis, Graham worked as a lab and x-ray technician in Hayward. When her father began pursuing other interests, he asked her to join the company in 1982 on a part-time basis. Initially Graham helped with production, then transitioned into building a team of employees. “As I got more involved in the company, I learned who I needed to hire – people who knew things that I didn’t know. First, I hired a sales manager to work with our distributors; then I hired an international sales manager. After that, the smartest thing I ever did was hire Sally Gagan, who’s been with the company for 30 years.”
VP of Operations, Sally Gagan, came on board as Beehive Botanicals’ sixth employee in 1992. When asked how she got involved in the business, she explained, “I came to the company with a background in the food industry. Linda asked me to set up and run a sales department, given my background in sales and management. In 2000, I crossed over to regulatory because all dietary supplement companies were required to follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) based on the Code of Federal Register regulations. As we hired more employees and our level of production increased, I eventually took on oversight of the employees and working with equipment vendors. With each wave of growth, Linda and I have worked as a team to explore the opportunity and see if it made sense for the business. We definitely have taken some chances, but always carefully and conscientiously.”
Upon her return to Hayward, Linda’s daughter, Michelle Graham-Forrester, joined the business in 2002. After realizing that owning a restaurant wasn’t quite the right fit, Graham-Forrester asked her mother if she could work at the company, which Linda welcomed. Graham-Forrester started working in production on the bottling line. Today, she manages the Finance and HR departments and co-owns the company with her mother. They currently have over 40 employees and hope to reach a point where they can continue increasing production by running fully staffed day and night shifts.
Over the course of 50 years, the company grew slowly, steady, and carefully as its customer base grew – from expanding its production space to purchasing more manufacturing equipment. Some of the raw material such as propolis can be challenging to work with given its viscous qualities, so some of our production is done manually. Since the beginning, quality and consumer safety has always been Beehive Botanicals’ first priority. Every inbound ingredient used in the products is rigorously tested for potency and purity, and the outbound final product is tested as well to make sure all label claims are met, and documentation is created for every product.
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the legacy of founder Warren Orgen, and the company’s humble beginnings, as well as further its commitment to offering high-quality products, Beehive Botanicals is excited to announce that they have created their own line of personal care products and supplements for consumers to enjoy. “To honor our roots and bring the company full circle, earlier this year we decided to revive our branded line because we believe in the quality of our products and wanted to give people the opportunity to try them. The raw material we use is very special – and we want customers to experience that,” explained Graham-Forrester.
From pollen capsules to royal jelly, shampoo to lip balm, conditioner to moisturizers, Beehive Botanicals’ products are made with the same level of care and high standards that Ogren established when he created the company in 1972. While the company continues to grow and evolve, their approach to business remains the same – people before profits. “We would not be the company we are today without our employees,” Sally Gagan commented. “They are a group of people who are willing to wear different hats, communicate with us openly and honestly, and work as a team to get the job done. We also appreciate that they provide excellent customer service and are willing to go the extra mile to communicate and respond to our customers’ needs.”
When asked about the company’s employees, Michelle Graham-Forrester commented, “The leadership team at Beehive knows the importance of respecting your employees – listening to their ideas and questions, caring about them, celebrating with them, helping them when they struggle, and showing up for them. We consider this company a family and believe that every person here is valuable, because they, like us, will never sacrifice quality for quantity.” Her mother added, “Our employees are as invested in this company as we are, which makes them our greatest asset.”
Beehive Botanicals’ commitment to people extends beyond its employees to the people of Hayward and the place where it all began. “Giving back to the community is one of our core values,” said Sally Gagan. “As a company, we take care of a stretch of highway to keep our roads clean; participate in the program, Food for Kids; and donate a portion of our profits to local nonprofits like the Food Shelf, Habitat for Humanity, and Northwoods Humane Society. We have also worked closely with the Lac Courte Oreilles band of the Lake Superior Chippewa to create The People’s Free Store, which provides food, clothing and household items to people at no cost.”
As the business honors and celebrates its past, it also looks to the future with optimism and excitement. “Looking forward, I would love to see our branded line of products take off, that we will continue to be able to offer a competitive package for employees, and that we will be able hire more people to increase production – while also maintaining work-life balance!” Michelle Graham-Forrester reflected. “In our community and beyond, we want to be known as a company that started in an inventor/entrepreneur’s garage and has evolved into a manufacturing business that produces high-quality products in a manufacturing facility. As we grow, we’d like the people of Hayward to consider growing with us and joining our team, a team that knows and believes in the value of giving back. We look forward to the next 50 years as a family-owned and operated business that calls Hayward home!”