- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) - EunJin Newkirk was cold and miserable and hadn’t sold a thing.

After driving all the way to Philadelphia from her Scranton home business to display her honey at a downtown flea market, she quickly realized it was not the right place for her goods.

Her opinion on that chilly spring day in 2013 seemed to be bolstered when a man stopped at her stand and started asking for free samples, tasting everything she had.

“He wasn’t buying anything,” she said with a chuckle earlier this month, feigning the annoyance she felt then. “I was like ‘what are you doing?’”

Two years earlier, Mrs. Newkirk, a Korean immigrant, and her husband Jason Newkirk started their Scranton-based business, Newkirk Honey, producing from 15 hives. After meeting in New York City, where he was her English tutor, the couple married each other and then married their skill sets, which were as different as they were.

Mr. Newkirk, a Navy veteran, had experience in beekeeping from his time growing up in small-town Iowa. Mrs. Newkirk had previously worked for years in visual marketing and graphic design in her hometown and one of the largest cities in the world, Seoul.

Starting the business was as slow as honey sliding off a spoon. All the bees from the original hives died in their first winter, forcing the couple to purchase new ones the following spring. At first, Mrs. Newkirk couldn’t find a store in the Scranton area to sell her honey, balm and candles, so she schlepped to events like volunteer fire department craft shows. Friends and family were her main customers.

Now, Newkirk Honey plans to expand to 200 hives next month, and its products are sold in stores in seven states. The explosion of sales can be traced back to that cold, slow business day at the Phila Flea Market.

Before the man trying all those free samples left her table, he gave Mrs. Newkirk his card and asked her to get in touch. He was a buyer from Di Bruno Bros., a specialty food retailer and importer with several locations in Philadelphia.

“That changed the whole game from there,” she said.

Once they had a foothold in the City of Brotherly Love, other stores noticed. Newkirk Honey is now sold in places like the Reading Terminal Market at the Fair Food Farmstand, which sells directly from local farmers to the public, and the big one, Whole Foods.

The burst in growth meant Mrs. Newkirk, now 35, had to quit a part-time gig designing mascots for schools. While her husband works his full-time job at the wind turbine farm in Waymart, she spends her days raising their 4-year-old daughter Areum and running the financial side of the business.

Mr. Newkirk, 37, tends to the bees in his off-hours. The hives are now spread out across seven spots in Lackawanna County, including Roba Family Orchard in Scott Twp. where the bees pollinate the fruit trees. After “years and years of experience” working with the productive insects, Mr. Newkirk said he has gotten good enough to know when something is wrong simply by the smell or the sound of a hive.

He’s also learned enough - usually the hard way - to know he’s not as smart as his little livestock. Nearly all of his hive collapses have stemmed from his mistakes, he said, not some mystery problem. And despite his best efforts to keep the hives warm during the last few brutal winters, the Newkirks lost all their bees in 2014 and 2015 - they’ve done best when he has left them alone.

“There’s no method to the mayhem,” he said.

Both Mr. Newkirk and the bees are working hard, as he expects to harvest between 10,000 pounds to 13,000 pounds of honey this year.

No bee is busier than Mrs. Newkirk herself.

She’s “the workhorse,” her husband said, who also wields the metaphorical riding crop, whacking him when he needs to get to work.

But perhaps the greatest secret to the couple’s success in a crowded field of honey producers is Mrs. Newkirk’s designs. To find the best eye-catchers, the graphic artist said she market-tested the labels and packaging, which includes things like twine wrapping, wooden spoons, lots of white space and big black lettering.

Ashley Paschke, the owner/operator of The Post, a newer downtown Scranton store which sells natural body products, said Newkirk Honey items are some of her best-sellers. She credits that distinction in part to the packaging.

“You can have a great product, but if you don’t have a label that presents that well, it may not sell,” she said. “They do a really good job of presenting their product in a way that people are going to take them seriously,” she said.

The business’s success has allowed Newkirk Honey to turn $27,000 in startup debt into a consistent stream of profit.

They hire a part-time employee to help during the busy holiday season and Mrs. Newkirk is pondering a Scranton store of her own once Areum starts kindergarten next year.

Until then, Mrs. Newkirk will continue raising their little girl and building the business out of their West Mountain home. She will leave the beekeeping to her husband though.

She’s allergic to bee stings.

___

Online:

https://bit.ly/1sFBWVy

___

Information from: The Times-Tribune, https://thetimes-tribune.com/


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide