Saturday, 08 May 2021

Let's Get Down to Business: Nigel Eddon, Honeys of Henley

Let's Get Down to Business: Nigel Eddon, Honeys of Henley

NIGEL EDDON and his wife Jo are the founders of Honeys of Henley, producing honey which they sell around the Chilterns and at food fairs and markets. The couple live in Henley with their son Guy, a mechanic, and daughter Rowanne, who is reading bio-medical sciences at Leeds University, and three dogs.

Describe your business

We are commercial bee farmers, producing honey using traditional, tried and tested methods. We work seven days a week from March to October. We collect the honey from April to September.

How many people does it employ?

Just the two of us but we enlist help from family members during the busy times.

What did you do before you started this business?

After leaving school in Harrogate at 16, I moved to London and worked in several top restaurants for three years before moving to Cornwall to become a fisherman. I lived there for about 15 years and Jo and I met. The fishing industry became tough and more demanding so I moved to Henley to work on the land. Initially, I worked for Bob Hopper, who ran a farm shop in Reading Road, and then I set up on my own as a landscape gardener. About nine years ago, one of my clients wanted to have bees as their contribution to supporting nature and asked me if I would be their beekeeper. They told me that they would provide the hive, all the equipment and the initial package of bees, so I agreed. While setting up I gained two more swarms so found myself looking after three colonies.

When did you start your business?

Five years ago we decided to make it a full-time business and invest in all the equipment and increase our stock. We then had to seek out new pieces of land, which were clean and accessible, where we could set up more apiaries. We are very lucky because all the landowners support us and give us the freedom to come and go as we need. Jo, who was production manager for a local clothing company for 15 years, came into the business full-time two years ago.

What was your objective?

To make a viable business by harnessing our creativity and willingness to work hard.

Who influenced you?

One of our first customers, Allison Hussey, ran the Local Larder that used to be at the marina in Wargrave. She championed local businesses and stocked goods from about 58 producers. She encouraged us so we rebranded and found a professional way of approaching sales.

Do you have a mentor or role model?

The people who inspire us are the local small business entrepreneurs. We attend many outdoor markets and meet a variety of traders and producers, most of whom are on their own journeys doing amazing things.

What would you do differently if you could start again?

I would have started much sooner and Jo would have learned how to use accounting packages at the start.

What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having on your business?

We’ve been fortunate and experienced a measurable upsurge in business. More people than ever are buying locally, using farm shops, post offices, village stores, cafés and butchers where they buy our honey. We also feel well supported by the town council.

How is your business doing?

Last year was really good but you can’t predict how much honey the bees will produce each year.

Do you compare on a regular basis?

Until recently we never really paid that much attention but we’ve now overhauled our accounting.

How do you market your business/service?

We have a lot of local stockists and we use social media. We used to do tastings but at the moment that’s not practical.

What’s the best thing about running your own business?

Being outside and in contact with nature while getting lots of fresh air. It’s physically very satisfying.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

When people ask us if it’s real honey.

Where is your business headed?

We intend to process propolis, which is a hive bi-product. It is highly valued for being antibacterial. From that we can develop soap and other products.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

Don’t bank on anything.

What would you advise someone starting a business?

Trust your instincts and never stop learning.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

We had to learn about rebalancing density because bees procreate and produce more colonies. We started with eight colonies on one piece of land and about five years later we had about 90, which isn’t ideal.

What three qualities are most important to success?

Determination, honesty and flexibility.

What’s the secret of your success?

Knowledge, research and patience. We started slowly, which enabled us to learn as we went, and Jo and I work well as a team.

How organised are you?

Not as much as I’d like to be. We start off the year fully prepared and organised and then it gradually falls apart.

How do you dress for work each day?

Sensible boots, thick trousers and a shirt with a good collar and cuffs. We also have to wear protective masks.

What can’t be without every day?

Coffee and cuddles.

Lunch at your desk or going out?

We are out from early morning to early evening and take food and drinks with us.

What do you read?

Magazines and scientific papers.

How are you planning for retirement?

We have no plans to retire and can’t imagine not working.

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