Dave Rukin, head beekeeper and founder of Buzzn Bee Farm in Gainesville, has been supplying Floridians with quality raw honey and related bee products since the mid-1970s. But it wasn’t until 2013 that his business really took flight. That’s when a friend referred Rukin to Brewster Cole, a commercial lending agent at Valley National Bank.
“Banks don’t really know much about beekeepers,” says Rukin. “It was a trust thing. It went really well, and the bank was easy to work with.”
Their relationship began with a simple line of credit. Cole helped Rukin get access to $50,000 to expand his production. As Rukin’s business flourished, so did his relationship with Valley. He eventually secured a $250,000 line of credit with the Bank. As a result, Buzzn Bee Farm went from a 250-square-foot bottling facility to a 1,000-square-foot facility, and business revenue increased to $1 million per year over the next few years.
“I didn’t know much about honey before I met David,” Cole explains. “We don’t do a lot of agricultural lending because of the risk, but honey is a unique commodity. It’s non-perishable, so you can store it and sell it at any time in response to price fluctuations. The Bank saw this as an opportunity to do something different. We were excited to be involved with helping a small business flourish, and things have worked out great. This was a good business decision for both of us.”
Being able to access more capital helped Rukin to continue improving his business. He hired a new employee with a business background and expanded production again to a 3,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility. His full suite of products became available to people across the entire state of Florida, and is now sold at Whole Foods and Publix, in addition to local health food stores.
“I kept learning and tightening up my business,” Rukin reflects. “We’ve found a balance at this level.”
Rukin enjoys knowing that as he moves his business to the next level, he’s making room for new beekeepers to fill his place. In fact, his son and nephew have each started their own beekeeping businesses. They’ve got plans to work together with Rukin to help people learn more about bees and the products they sell.
A few times a year, Rukin and Cole still get together to talk about the honey business. “It’s neat to be in the community I live in and see Buzzn Bee products on the shelf,” Cole says. “It enhances my world-view and that of the Bank — it’s all about helping people.”