Wilds Are Working: Rich Valley Apiary
Rich Valley Apiary is a business featuring various honey and beeswax products made by Ryan and Brandi Magaro in Emporium, PA.
(Editor’s Note: Technical issues caused the introduction to be cut out of the recording. The text is shown below.)
Kate: Hello, this is Kate from the Kane Area Development Center, serving as a PA Wilds Ambassador for the Wild Are Working series. I’m here today with Ryan and Brandi Magaro from Rich Valley Apiary. Welcome Ryan and Brandi, we are glad to have you with us to share how you are pivoting your company amid these unchartered times. So thank you so much for being here.
Brandi: Thanks for having us.
Kate: Let’s go ahead and start. Can you briefly describe your company?
Ryan: Sure. Rich Valley Apiary started as more of a hobby in about 2010. We became beekeepers one late night, I was there with my young son at the time. We were watching videos on my iPad and on the right hand side bar and it happened to come about swarming bees in the spring. And so I came out the next morning to my wife and was like, guess what we’re going to become beekeepers, which she was thrilled about. So for the first few years, it was a hobby. You know, we went from one hive. Every thought they were going to die. They realize it’s not so bad. These are great. We all need the bees. So we transition to two hives and four. And then we’re in the mid-summer. We’ll be up by 20 or 25 hives. Again, it ebbs and flows. You know, you lose about 40 percent of your bees here in Pennsylvania on average, which is really tough for us as beekeepers. And then by about 2016, we decided to start making some Christmas gifts. We always like to make our own gifts and things for Christmas for family members and friends. So we started off besides the honey. We started to make soap with the beeswax and the honey, those excess from hives. And so that was really popular right away. At Christmas time, our local Chamber of Commerce and PA Wilds artisan center requested the honey. We thought, well, maybe it’s a great opportunity to sell more. So we decided to take this. So we took the honey. And then eventually we started making a lotion and some other balms, furniture polish and things. We kind of expanded pretty quickly over about a year, too, with all of our excess beeswax and honey. So all of our products typically have either beeswax, honey, or both. And so that was really how Rich Valley Apiary started and transitioned into a legitimate business over the last few years. And now we’re fortunate enough to be in places like the PA Wilds Conservation Shop at Kinzua Bridge, the Chamber of Commerce here in Emporium… as well as other smaller retailers and things. So we primarily, up to this point, we’re doing things like wholesale to others and let them sell at retail. But then about a year ago [to] a year and a half ago, we decided that we also want to pursue one of our other hobbies, which is winemaking. So we started what’s called Rich Valley Wines, and the licensing process took about a year and we opened that on Valentine’s Day of 2020. So we were open exactly one month before we had to shut our doors for about two weeks as we had to reassess and reevaluate where we were at.
Kate: Oh, yes. You really had a quick learning curve there for the winery.
Ryan: Absolutely. Absolutely. After spending money, all money going out for a year, it was kind of nice to finally start having some revenue coming back and then obviously this pandemic hit.
Kate: Yeah. So, OK, you started out as a hobby, beekeeping, honey. You ended up evolving into lotions, balms and things, and sometimes candles, and now you have a winery as well. Can you tell us how did you go from a hobby in honey to starting to sell honey?
Ryan: Well … the real main thing was we have three young kids and they’re actually not as young anymore. They’re now 12, 10 and 9, and they keep us pretty busy. The two younger ones, the two girls, have been beekeepers like, we like to say, since birth. They’ve been beekeeping alongside of us. And so I think it was probably about that 2015, fall of 2015, we were extracting honey from the fall. And so our kitchen was a gigantic mess. I had honey from ceiling to the floor and all of the cupboards. As I was working, the kids were just anxious to be outside so they wanted to have a honey stand. They decided they wanted to have a honey stand. I said OK, so we put a table out there at the end of our driveway in our rural road in Rich Valley in Emporium. And they came back in maybe after about 15 minutes with one hundred dollars in cash and all the honey that we give them sold. So we said, wow. So we went down, got more honey, put it on the table. And over about a two-hour period, they sold over four hundred dollars in honey. And that’s when we realized, wow, there might be an actual, you know, business here.
Ryan: And just to point out, our hives are treatment free. That’s another reason we have high losses. We don’t treat our hives with anything. It’s pretty common to treat. We don’t judge anyone for that. That’s just because we make cosmetic products from that. We don’t treat our hives, no pesticides, no things that might be a problem for us.
Kate: Well, I think that’s really awesome that, first of all, it’s a family business and it’s really your kids that kind of showed you this could be something that could actually make it into a business where you make money. And I love that they’re that they’ve been part of that process this whole time and that it’s local as a local product. And so that’s one of the things that’s so great about the wild, is that it’s all locally made. So… why did you guys decide to start up a business here in the PA Wilds?
Ryan: Well, we both are lifelong residents. My wife was born down in Driftwood, along Route 555, and I was born and raised here in Emporium. And so we just love this area. I know as a young man myself, I wanted to get away. You know, the typical small town wanted to spread their wings and move. I started school for engineering at Pitt and I realized when I got to the city, I love visiting all of the country by that age, but realized it’s no place to live for me. And so I really decided to come back here to settle and start our family and really just love, you know, a new appreciation for the things we take for granted, especially when we’re young people. So we decided we wanted to start our business here and try to have something we can maybe hand over generationally to our kids in whatever size it might be. It might still be small. And that’s OK.
Kate: Oh, yes, the Wilds are home for you. And now you’ve found a way to connect with making a product that can be sold all over that is really meaningful to you. That’s awesome. You were saying that right before this COVID-19 pandemic happened, about a month before, you guys opened the winery piece. So how did you pivot? I mean, this is a big deal to open a new section of your business and then you have to kind of shut down and rethink things. So what was it that you did for all of your business to pivot during this time?
Brandi: I think we realized pretty quickly that to still be able to sell and still be able to pay our bills and still be able to have the revenue coming in, we were going to have to do things a little bit differently. We were willing to do that. It kind of made things hurry along, like we were planning on doing shipping and applying for that license and going through the motions for that, but we haven’t done it yet. So we went ahead, applied, got the paperwork taken care of, and so we are now able to ship our line to most of the U.S. Another thing that we did, we decided that we were definitely going to need to go online. A presence online as far as people being able to order was going to be essential. So we did start a website. That, of course, it just kind of made that happen a little quicker than we had planned. But we started a website, listed all of our products and can do, you know, online sales or pick up during the week, pick up on our weekend hours and even delivery.
Kate: Great. And so it’s one of those things that you had these long term plans, but you kind of had to speed it up to accommodate, and it seems like it’s been working for you.
Ryan: Well, what we had planned on doing probably over two years we did over two weeks.
Kate: Talk about being flexible!
Ryan: We shut down for about two weeks. As soon as we were able to… you know, we didn’t have an exemption. We were able to have the type of sales we were doing already. But we just want to be safe and socially responsible. So we really weren’t sure how to go about doing that. So we were able to ship pretty quickly with the website features. And our point of sale system allowed us to really just invest a couple of days’ time, get it set up correctly. And really that has allowed us to continue and actually thrive during this. We just yesterday started fermenting about another 300 pounds of wine as we speak. So it’s the building here smells lovely.
Kate: Well, you guys had said that primarily you had been going through a retailer. So you would sell to retailers and then they would sell your product. It sounds like now you’re doing more business directly with customers. How have you been staying in touch with customers during this time?
Ryan: That’s a really good question, because things like the PA Wilds Conservation Shop were shut down or still are shut down, and the Cameron County Chamber of Commerce and Artisan Center that’s… just opened this past week. One of our friends at a restaurant carries our products, but they’re limited, obviously, to take out and curbside type service. We aren’t obviously getting the traffic through those places that we were so going online really helped us. And we’ve always sold through sites like Etsy, and I know the PA Wilds is also going to have a shop for the makers as well, which would be wonderful. So getting out there and to be able to ship around the country … but locally here it really just kind of put a damper on our direct to consumer. You know, we weren’t able to keep in touch directly, except for through social media. It was the same thing — we’ve always done okay on social media but this really made it a focus because people were keeping in touch and communicating online more than ever. And it’s really just changed everybody’s habits… even our own. So we were able to let people know our hours, because it changed. It was kind of fluid. It changed at first every week. And we weren’t sure what we were going to open wasn’t consistent. So we use our social media a lot for that. But my wife reminded me, too, we also use the local radio station because there are people, surprisingly, that aren’t using social media. And I forget that. I mean, I’m a Generation Xer, so I’m at that threshold, you know, where I grew up creating the Internet. And so now … we’re fine. And, you know, newsprint, radio and social media are still very all viable avenues to get a hold of people and let them know what we’re doing.
Kate: So what are some of the special things that you have done, things that you hadn’t done before?
Brandi: We had done some minimal food in-house, like some charcuterie boards. We had been doing those and those were really well received. We were very surprised at how well those were going over. And my sister actually came to me and said, “Hey, you know, my boyfriend and I want a charcuterie board. You guys make one for us.” And we hadn’t even thought of doing like a charcuterie board to go. So Ryan went in his woodshop and made some charcuterie boards and engraved our name [and] our logo for the winery on them. And we started selling those and we sold out. I think we did it three or four weekends and we sold out every single weekend. That’s something that went really, really well.
Ryan: I spent a lot of time in the woodshop for that first batch. We weren’t expecting such a great response. We were… just thankful all along. And we thought this will be fun. It’ll be something fun to do, let alone something to actually sell out, so we were very pleased.
Kate: Yeah, that’s awesome. What a creative way to connect with people and have them still getting your products, but also taking something they can have in their home to remind them of you even well beyond when the food and drinks are gone.
Ryan: Well, you know, like a lot of the artists in the PA Wilds, we’re tinkers, we’re makers, you know, we can’t sit idle. I get up bright and early and I go to bed late. And so it’s a creative outlet for me. It helps, you know, scratch an itch, I like to say, in my woodshop to be able to do something along those lines, but it’s still productive for the business. So I got to really enjoy doing some woodworking. And this past week, we actually did sushi boards. That was something I wanted to do, we talked about for about two years now, but we weren’t really sure how to do that. While this shift, because we were working on site of the winery and the apiary …. we wouldn’t have time to make fresh sushi and still man our area. It’s just us working here. But by having this happen, it was a silver lining or a blessing in disguise, where we were able to actually make sushi right up until our open time. It was all pre-ordered and pre-sold. So that way people already had to pick up times they would come and it was fresh. We, literally, the first day, were within, actually, about five minutes late, but we were prepping sushi boards as people were pulling in to pick them up, so it was great. We did something completely different for the area that we really enjoyed doing.
Kate: Yeah, that is something you never probably would have thought of unless you had to think outside the box.
Kate: So what are some of the operational pivots that you’re going to take on once things reopen fully?
Ryan: I think once we fully reopen, we’re going to still slowly – regardless what the guidelines are – we’re probably going to go one step further. Just because we want to be as responsible as we can, you know, not only for others, but also our own family. Actually, we brought my mother up to help us with the kids right before Valentine’s Day, our grand opening. And she’s now still with us because … of the travel restrictions; we don’t want to take her back home to Virginia. So she’s been living with us now since early February. So it just changed how we’re going to do things. I think moving forward, this really will again accelerate our plans. So this can be a great long term because of things we wanted to do anyway. I think people buying habits will change. I think that we’re going to see more and more people just permanently going to a curbside pickup or preordering, even if they’re going to come into our tasting room for the wines. And plus, because we’re selling them both through the same online portal, we can sell a mixture of winery products and the aviary products and, you know, make deliveries or have people pick up. And it’s been great. It’s been really, really, really nice to build to do that.
Kate: You’re really expanding that one-on-one customer contact that you didn’t have before. Are there any programs or resources or organizations that you find particularly helpful during this time?
Brandi: Our Chamber of Commerce, definitely our Chamber of Commerce. Tina Johns with the Chamber, has stayed in the know for everything for small businesses. And she has done a fantastic job at keeping all of us on our toes, knowing what to do, what resources are out there, what help is out there, and [being] a great sounding board for, you know, ideas. We’re always going to or she’s coming to us and we’re sharing ideas so that’s been fantastic.
Ryan: Thanks, Tina! She’s been doing a fantastic job and she’s sitting through all the webinars. She’s on the conference calls. So, the time that we don’t have because we’re business owners trying to make ends meet, she’s able to take some of that burden and then filter the information to each of us. So she’s even specifically e-mailing us to say, “hey, this might be beneficial to your particular business.” So it’s just been phenomenal. Also, we took advantage of the EIDL express loan. We did get a small amount of money to assist there, which did help pay some outstanding invoices because obviously it hit so quickly. We were just in the process of buying more bottles to bottle, more equipment, and things like that. So we were able to use that to help pay utilities and rent and things. So we can still continue on, because we all know… there is an end to this. You know, this may be the new normal, but we will at some point get back to normal, and people will get out and about and enjoy the PA Wilds. And so we really want to be ready for that. The first month that we were open here, between the apiary and the winery, we just saw such a great response that we know that coming out of this week, we have to prepare. It’s going to be even better yet.
Kate: Right, yeah. And it’s great to have that support right in your town like that, too. So last question. Any moment of humanity or inspiration that helped you get through this time?
Ryan: Well, I would say it’s seeing all the community working together. It’s seeing other businesses supporting other businesses. I like to say on the weekend we were selling, as soon as we were done, we would go buy dinner for the family at one of the local restaurants or things like that. So… everybody is putting money back into the local community, supporting each other, because that’s the only way we’re going to survive this is by working together. So we really appreciate all the community support for each other, whether it’s just an individual buying and purchasing from us, or buying and purchasing from the restaurants down the road, or just being there to lend a helping hand. So it’s just been great to see such a great, you know, real community happening during these tough times.
Kate: Yeah, I really can show the strength of a community when times get tough like that. So that’s a great example. Well, thank you, guys. Is there anything else that you want to say before we wrap up?
Ryan: No. I want to apologize; Brandi had to step way. Because we’re pivoting, we have to have a U.P.S. pickup for some shipping we’re doing of our wine. The driver just showed up, which, you know, it’s a live interview.
Kate: There you go!
Ryan: But we really appreciate everything that, you know, that Abbi, Libby, Jason, everyone at the PA Wilds … LaKeshia. All the work being done behind the scenes to really help promote the Pennsylvania Wilds region. I’m excited for the next 20 years. You know, the last 10 have been wonderful. And I think we’re really going to see just so much more in the next 20 years.
Kate: Yeah, well, it’s been great talking with you, Randy. Sorry, Ryan and Brandi. I’m just combining your names and making you one.
Ryan: I’m just I get that all the time.
Kate: Ryan and Brandi, thanks again so much for your time. For those watching this question and answer and others like it, and information on how to support small businesses in the Wilds, can be found at WildsCoPA.org. There you can also learn about how to share your story. Thanks, and take care.
Ryan: Thank you.
Ryan + Brandi Magaro
Beekeepers + Owners, Rich Valley Apiary | Rich Valley Wines
THIS EPISODE FEATURES:
Ryan and Brandi Magaro of Rich Valley Apiary are interviewed by Kate Kennedy of the Kane Area Development Center.
Executive Director, Kane Area Development Center
Kate brings over 7 years of non-profit experience into her role at the Kane Area Development Center (KADC), which supports and connects the Kane Chamber of Commerce, Kane Area Revitalization Enterprise and Kane Area Industrial Development Corporation. She is passionate about telling the stories of the people and places she loves, as demonstrated through the 100 Days of Kane, PA project where every day for 100 consecutive days she interviewed someone from her hometown to share about why they love where they live. Her previous work experience as a public relations specialist at homeless shelter, an elementary school counselor at a title one school and with an AmeriCorps program has helped prepare her for where she is today.
Has your business pivoted?
The Wild Are Working: Rural Entrepreneurship in Uncharted Times series offers opportunities for small business owners and organizations to share how they are pivoting to survive the coronavirus crisis. Through 5-10 minute live interviews, participating entrepreneurs help cross-pollinate ideas and provide insights on how people can support small businesses amid COVID-19.
Learn more about how your business can get involved here.