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Bee Thinking owners expand store after ABC's 'Shark Tank' episode

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He went from honey bees to sharks and lived to tell the story — and now, Oak Grove resident Matt Reed will swim with the sharks one more time, when “Beyond the Tank” airs at 10 p.m. EST on Jan. 5 on ABC. And this time his wife, Jill McKenna Reed, will be with him.

PHOTO BY ALVARO FONTAN - Bee Thinking owners Matt Reed and his wife, Jill McKenna Reed, describe the many varieties of mead available in the retail shop. Mead is a wine made from honey.Matt Reed noted that although he and his wife filmed the episode earlier this year, the network will not allow him to reveal any details about their appearance on the show. “Beyond the Tank” is dedicated to following up with businesses who have previously appeared on “Shark Tank.”

History

PHOTOS BY ALVARO FONTAN - Beeswax candles and gift sets featuring honey-based personal care products are displayed at Bee Thinking on Southeast Poplar in Portland.Back in 2008, Reed rescued a hungry honeybee by warming up some honey for it to eat. The next day it showed up with a swarm of ravenous friends.

The next month Reed got his first hive, began intensively educating himself about honeybees, and then started his company, Bee Thinking. He quit his job in IT, and began making beehives out of his garage, selling them online.

This led Reed and his wife to open a small space in Sellwood in 2011, selling a few retail items in addition to the hives. They quickly outgrew that space. Jill Reed quit her job in the wine industry to “take a leap of faith” that they could grow the business, and in April 2012 the pair moved Bee Thinking into a building on Southeast Poplar Street, just off of Hawthorne Boulevard. In October 2014 they acquired a warehouse on International Way in Milwaukie, and they are in the process of expanding their retail shop, with a new storefront directly on Hawthorne, expected to open early in 2016.

Shark Tank’

And now, back to “Shark Tank.” In September 2014, after weeks of practicing his pitch, Matt Reed flew to Los Angeles and entered the tank, ready to take on the sharks. Jill was unable to accompany her husband because she was set to deliver their first child on the very day he was to make his pitch.

“They let me pitch early, and they even let me take my phone on the set,” Reed said, but baby Henrik, now 11 months old, had other ideas and was born several weeks later.

So, all by himself, Reed faced Mark Cuban, Laurie Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Daymond John and Kevin O’Leary.

PHOTO BY ALVARO FONTAN - The Bee Thinking retail shop on Southeast Poplar Street in Portland sells local honey and honey-related products.“I told them my honeybee story to draw them in, and then told them why beehives are important. I talked about our history of growth as a company and our sales. I answered all their numbers questions perfectly and then tried to convince them to invest,” Reed said.

PHOTO BY ALVARO FONTAN - Matt Reed, co-owner of Bee Thinking, describes his first Shark Tank appearance; he will be featured in an episode airing on Jan. 5.That’s when the sharks started dropping out.

“I was asking for $400,000 and 10 percent of the business, figuring I would start high and work my way down, but I probably spent too much time teaching a beekeeping class,” he said.

O’Leary went out first, saying he’d “have to be immortal to get his money back,” and Greiner dropped out next, but Reed expected that, since she’s called “the Queen of QVC,” and his business wouldn’t work in that arena.

He had hopes that Cuban would bite, as he’s into “ecommerce and 80 percent of our business is online,” but Cuban told Reed the business would do fine without his investment.

Herjavec said much the same thing, and only John was left.

“As they start going out, it’s like a tree falling, you can’t stop them,” Reed said.

John chose not to invest. However, he was the most interested of the sharks, and later bought a hive from Reed.

“He’s been a great promoter of our business, and it’s been a comfort to us to see how we can educate just one person and see that amplify,” Jill Reed said.

After Shark Tank’

“I was very thankful to get through the pitch, and I learned a lot about our business through the application process. I walked out of the studio, came home and waited for the phone call,” Reed said.

The sharks listen to 150 people pitch every year, but only about 120 of them make it onto the actual televised show.

At that point, Reed and his wife began to wonder what would happen if he did make it onto the show, when it would air and what the impact would be.

“Our business is seasonal, and our busiest months are from December through May, when people are setting up their hives. If it aired during that time, we would have trouble keeping up,” Matt said.

Then the phone call came, and Reed found out the show would air in April.

“We knew we had only one chance, so we brought in all our customer service people and set them up to work all night talking to customers and handling our social media. We knew we had to be ready,” he said.

Before the show aired, the Bee Thinking website had around 15 to 30 hits, but once it premiered at 6 p.m., the hits started coming in thick and fast.

“We started with 5,000 hits, and this rose to 15,000 hits. We were thankful the site stayed up,” Reed said, adding that customers were excited to be talking to real people on the phone.

The next day the phone started ringing, and even though Reed did not get any money from the sharks, the show turned out to be a boon to the business, Jill said.

“There was a lot of pushback [on the sharks] from people who saw the show, and it brought in a lot of customers,” she said.

It became clear on social media that viewers were disappointed in the sharks for not investing in a company that was trying to do something good and educate people about honeybees, she said.

The sharks do watch the show, and “they respond to individual tweets. It was great to see the conversation continue” on social media, she added.

Continued growth

When a hair salon directly on Hawthorne Boulevard closed this past fall, the Reeds jumped on the opportunity to have a storefront right on the busy street.

The new space was a bakery many years ago, and the current Bee Thinking space was the kitchen supplying the bread, so the two sites originally were connected by a door. The Reeds have worked their way through the permitting process, and hope to open the new site in January, with a full line of honey-related products including mead, a honey-based wine.

Selling mead, “the oldest fermented beverage” made from honey, came as “the natural result of my background in wine,” Jill said.

“We have a beautiful product; we have mead, some even local, for every taste from dry to sweet,” she added.

Once the new space is open, she plans to expand mead tastings to seven days a week.

Also, she and her husband are committed to offering as many locally sourced and natural products as possible.

All their hives are made at a large mill in North Portland, and what sets them apart from other hives is that they are made from western red cedar, a premium wood that is best for outdoor applications, Matt said.

A blacksmith in Southeast Portland makes all their hive tools and hive stands for the honeycombs, and their beeswax candles are made practically next door in the Ladd’s Addition neighborhood.

“Beeswax candles burn three to five times longer than candles made from paraffin, and the scent is purely wonderful; it’s the scent of the hive,” Jill said.

The shop sells three different kinds of hives and a huge variety of natural and raw honey along with personal-care products made from honey.

Because at heart, the couple is dedicated to educating people about honeybees, the shop offers classes like Beekeeping 101 and how-to sessions on making candles and creating honey-based salves and lip balms, among others.

And there is one more TV tie-in.

Jill said, “We also offer classes on mead making, as we see mead sales pick up when ‘Game of Thrones’ starts.”

Bee Thinking

What: A beekeeping supplier, offering hives, classes on beekeeping, mead, honey and honey-related products.

Where: 1551 S.E. Poplar Ave., Portland

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

More: Call 877-325-2221 or visit beethinking.com.

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