Appearing on CBC’s "Dragons’ Den" turned out to be a sweet deal for a Manitoba-based honey business.
Wendell Estate Honey, located in the Russell area, continues to thrive after accepting an offer from one of the "dragons," Jim Treliving, a year ago.
"It’s an incredible advantage," said Martin Neuhofer, who handles marketing for Wendell Estate Honey. "Literally within minutes, we had a national presence, and we still have that."
Neuhofer was in Brandon on Thursday to speak at the Brandon Chamber of Commerce luncheon. He spoke about his experience on the national television show, how it boosted morale at the company and opened up doors with distributers.
"It’s nerve-racking. It’s 35 minutes of tough questioning," he said. "They edit it down to seven if you’re lucky, which I was."
At least 200 hopefuls auditioned in Winnipeg, Neuhofer said. Only two were chosen to make the trip to Toronto. To step it up a notch, Neuhofer brought in live bees and wore an orange beekeeper suit for his pitch on "Dragons’ Den."
"It’s only a 50/50 chance that you get aired," he said. "This is what we wanted … that’s why I went there. So if I go there and go through all this rigamarole and don’t get aired, well then it’s a waste. So what do you do to make it interesting?"
Wendell Honey was founded in the early 1940s by John Wendell. The farm has grown to house more than 3,500 beehives, now run by Tim and Isabel Wendell.
Just a few years ago, the farm decided to launch a new product, offering raw, unpasteurized, artisan honey in an elegant jar for the retail market. Previously the farm only produced in bulk.
Neuhofer presented the business plan to the Dragons, and the show aired Jan. 13, 2013.
After receiving a sample, Treliving said, "This is absolutely dynamite. We had this as kids at home."
Both Kevin O’Leary and Arlene Dickinson made offers to Neuhofer, but were asking for 50 per cent and 45 per cent of the business, respectively.
Treliving offered $200,000 for 25 per cent of the business, adding, "I know where Russell is, so I know how to get there."
Treliving, chairman and owner of Boston Pizza International, was born in Virden.
Honey orders began to come in immediately after the show aired, and Neuhofer said whenever the show is replayed, they see a noticeable spike in sales.
Neuhofer said the deal and appearance on "Dragons’ Den" allowed the company to take a major short cut into the market.
"We produce an excellent product because we are in this rural area, because we’re isolated, we have no pollution … all that provides us with a good crop," he said. "But we are as far away from any market as it possibly gets. So that is a really expensive endeavour to overcome … ‘Dragons’ Den’ short-cutted that, like overnight."
The company is distributing honey across Canada, in China, and is currently working on breaking into Japan. Neuhofer said they hope to expand into the United States market as well, and is heading to Chicago for a meeting soon.
Neuhofer ended his talk with an inspiring message, comparing a business’ success to the activity of a beehive.
"It takes a lot of people to succeed and we are mindful of that," he said. "You know, sometimes entrepreneurship is presented like one strong person, but that’s nonsense in my opinion. The community builds this. We couldn’t do this without the people helping us. You gotta share, you gotta work together."
Neuhofer said they hope to offer the honey for sale in Brandon soon, but in the meantime it can be ordered online at wendellestate.ca.