Burt’s Bees is a great example of a small, homegrown Maine company that has grown into a giant by keeping things simple: simple products, simple packaging, even a simple marketing message. Founded by a Maine beekeeper and a graphic artist in 1984, the company has become legendary for quality and a down-home image. As the New York Times put it:
“It makes simple products using plain ingredients like milk, honey, beeswax and almond oil, selling them in cheerful, tongue-in-cheek retro packages. It appeals to a diverse audience using a retail distribution system that includes national (drugstore) chains, college bookstores and village gift stores. And it employs seemingly low-key marketing… without preaching a green gospel. This laissez-faire approach inspires word-of-mouth promotion.”
Viral marketing: a marketer’s dream. And boy has it worked for Burt’s. In the last five years, the company has doubled the number of sales outlets (to 20,000) and quadrupled retail sales (now $250 million). Not bad for a company founded by a couple of hippies.
I’ll bet poor Burt, whose bearded face still graces the packages, wishes he still had a piece of the company. But he sold his share in ’93, a year before his partner sold the company for $173 million.