8 lessons on entrepreneurship from the owners of Charlotte’s Cloister Honey

8 lessons on entrepreneurship from the owners of Charlotte’s Cloister Honey
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As a writer for Axios Charlotte, I get to talk to a lot of entrepreneurs. I enjoy the company of driven, focused and passionate people, and I like hearing their stories, it inspires me.

The other day I spoke with Joanne de la Rionda and Randall York the owners of Cloister Honey, and although theirs was a story of entrepreneurship, their narrative was tinged with the hard earned realism of two corporate “lifers” who chose to leave their successful careers to pursue the American Dream. Rugged individualists to the end, Randall and Joanne had no illusions about what they were getting themselves into. As Randall put it, “We were going to have to sell a lot of honey to make up for that salary.”

And they did…taking what began as a hobby and turning it into one of Southern Living’s “must have” products of 2015. If you’re thinking about starting your own business, listen to these eight pieces of advice from Joanne and Randall first.

(1) Don’t quit your day job

At least not right away.


“If you can start your business and keep your corporate job, do that absolutely as long as you can,” Joanne says.

Joanne and Randall planned the launch of Cloister Honey for over six months before Joanne was comfortable leaving her position at one of Charlotte’s big banks to run Cloister Honey full time. In those six months they were planning, saving, allocating funds and preparing for the ups and downs of running their own business without the safety net of a corporate job.

“We are where we are because we had good corporate jobs that taught us a lot,” says Joanne.

Keeping their day jobs also allowed Joanne and Randall to self-fund Cloister Honey, something they highly recommend to new business owners. “If you can fund your business yourself, you’ll be more proud of it and you won’t owe anybody anything,” Joanne says.


(2) Do something you love

The amount of time you will spend with your new business is insane. Get ready for a completely different lifestyle. You have to love what you do to be able to make the sacrifices and put in the type of hours necessary to have a successful business. Say goodbye to weekends and evenings #nevernotworking. But if you love what you do then that passion will shine through, it will bolster your business, encourage your employees, and inspire your customers.

Cloister Honey started with two hives, now they have over 50 throughout North Carolina, including two hives on top of the Ritz Carlton in Uptown Charlotte. Proof positive of the power of persistence.


(3) Know your craft

Do your homework. If you want your business to thrive you not only have to love what you do, you also have to be an expert. You have to know every little detail about every little detail. For example, just from talking with Randall for 10 minutes I learned the following fun facts about bees and honey.

  • 98% of wild bees were killed in the early 90’s when a bee scourge spread through the Carolinas.
  • Each full-size hive has about 60,000 bees, and in each hive about 2,000 bees are born and 2,000 bees die every single day.
  • The average life span of a normal bee in the summer is 42 days…the average life span of a Queen Bee is 8 years.
  • One bee makes 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in their entire lifetime.

And there was so much more, seriously, Randall knows everything there is to know about bees and beekeeping…and you’ll need to have that same level of expertise if you want to succeed in any entrepreneurial endeavor.

Cloisters bees in uptown

(4) Choose the right partner

It’s not sustainable to try to do everything yourself.

“You have to be really honest with yourself about what you’re good at and what you’re not good at,” says Joanne.

Try to find someone who complements your skill set, who fills in your gaps and augments your strengths. If you can do that your business will be much more likely to succeed.

“Randall is so good with people, and I’m much better at coming up with flavors and new products,” says Joanne.

Randall Cloisters Honey

(5) Diversify, but find your niche

Think outside the box. When Randall first started selling honey at local farmers’ markets things went great, until another bee keeper showed up selling his honey right next to Randall, at a lower price. Then and there Randall knew he and Joanne were going to have to do something different. Something to make Cloister Honey remarkable. That need to diversify set Joanne off on a creative whirlwind that resulted in the development of among other things infused honeys, whipped honeys, and different varietals of honey.

Today Cloister Honey has four different flavors of infused honeys from cinnamon to bourbon, and seven whipped honeys including the Ghost Pepper Honey that won a coveted Southern Living Food Award in 2015. You can either be exceptional or you can be cheap… Cloister Honey has chosen to be exceptional.

“People seek quality and people will find you and if you’re good they’ll keep finding you.” says Randall.

CLoisters honey

(6) Do your homework

There’s your business and then there’s the business of running your business. Not only do you need to be proficient in your area of expertise, but you also have to know how to effectively manage and grow your business. Joanne and Randall have a few books to help you with that part of the equation as well.

The E-Myth by Michael Gerber
The Sales Bible by Jeffrey Gitomer

(7) Go for it

“You have no idea until you do it,” says Joanne. Follow steps 1-6, and after that… there ain’t nothing to it but to do it! Pull the trigger baby, change the world!

honey bee

(8) Never stop innovating

But it’s not enough to just start a business, owning a small business is a marathon, not a sprint… you have to keep the fire inside alive. Always be learning and growing and striving to improve. Right now Randall and Joanne are working on installing a Pollinator Garden in the NoDa Industrial area. They want this garden to be a space for educating the community on the importance of bees to the eco-system and the benefits of honey to our diets, and our palates.

Honey Eclair Bar Cocoa

And Joanne is constantly experimenting with new flavors. They just rolled out a “Power Seed Honey” with a mixture of nature’s super seeds, “It’s like a spreadable ‘Everything Bagel’ without the garlic,” says Joanne. “I eat it on peanut butter toast, it’s one of my favorite things!”

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