Two years ago, Bee Amour partnered with milk + honey spa to create an urban apiary focused on raising bees and educating others on the importance and craft of beekeeping. Now, we not only have more than a dozen thriving hives, which I manage, but an ever-growing appreciation of these powerful little insects! While our apiary is rather young, my relationship with the Alissa, the owner of milk + honey, goes back to 2005 when I worked for the spa. I am continuously inspired by her entrepreneurial wisdom and ability to build and grow a successful business here in Austin. Much like a bee hive, milk + honey spa is managed mostly by smart females with one strong and tenacious queen bee leading the way. She recently took the time to answer my questions about being a female business owner and how she holds her monarchy together. Check out our conversation below and stay tuned for more interviews with women entrepreneurs in Austin!
Anna: As you know a queen bee has one crucial job and that is laying eggs which essentially is the lifeline of the hive. I know over the years you have worn many hats for your business. Can you identified a single essential skill or role you fulfill that keeps milk + honey thriving?
Alissa: Well, I suppose when you put it that way, I am very good at laying eggs. Between five spas and salons, our product line, and three kids at home, I am laying eggs all over the place!
But in all seriousness, I don’t think there is a just one skill or role. I believe it is a lot of different things. First, I have an amazing team who cares about milk + honey as much as I do. Second, my team and I never stop learning and we never assume that we know everything we need to know. Third, I am constantly seeking incremental improvements. I think my team has learned to never be satisfied with the “status quo.” We are always looking for ways to make our client’s experience better, make our employee’s experience better, and become more efficient and excellent at what we do.
Anna: Although there are some men in management roles at milk and honey, it seems you are surrounded mostly by hard working intelligent women. Is this a conscious choice and what do you think are the greatest benefits to having a majority female-run business?
Alissa: It was not a conscious choice. While I love supporting the success of other women, I do believe the most successful teams and work environments are diverse, and in our case, that means having men on the team. We always hire the best person for the job and right now, with the exception of my husband, Shon, all of our managers and leaders in the company are women. Our team has evolved over time to strike a great balance of being compassionate and empathetic, while also holding people accountable for their actions, which is certainly a great benefit to having so many strong, but kind women on our team.
Anna: We've had our apiary for almost two years now. We've lost some hives and cultivated a few new ones all the while learning more about bees as we go. I know running a business is very similar with ups, downs and sometimes a steep learning curve. What is one of the greatest lessons you've learned with growing milk + honey and how do you handle the stress that comes with those ebbs and flows?
Alissa: Being an entrepreneur is often like riding a roller coaster. There are ups and downs and sharp, surprising turns. I’ve learned over the years to relax a little and enjoy the ride — it’s much better than white-knuckling it all the time. That said, being the founder/leader of a business is a huge responsibility. I have over 300 people depending on milk + honey for their income and the magnitude of that is not lost on me when I am making important decisions for the business. But, overall, as the business has matured — as have I — the highs and lows are not as steep, the turns are not as sharp, and it’s much more enjoyable.
Anna: When we started our apiary, you had a normal amount of fear around the bees. Do you think that collaborating with Bee Amour and seeing a hive in real life has helped to soften that apprehension?
Alissa: I wouldn’t say I was apprehensive of bees — just highly allergic since a yellow jacket sting once landed me in the emergency room. But as I’ve educated myself about honeybees and their fascinating lives, I am increasingly protective of them. I have seen my young children react in extreme fear and even crying when a bee is buzzing around us outside. Through educating them about bees, all the great things they do, and how they will really only sting you if they feel threatened themselves, my kids are much calmer and more relaxed. But I still have to keep an EpiPen in my purse. :)
Anna: Do you have a favorite recipe or use for honey?
Alissa: I love the subtle, nuanced flavor of different honeys, so, to be honest, my favorite way to have it is savored by the spoonful. I do add a little to savory marinades for salmon, chicken, and occasionally when we eat beef.
After talking with Alissa it is no surprise that milk + honey spa is one of the most successful and well known spas in Austin. How could it not be with such a power-house woman at the helm?! I highly recommend going in for a treatment next time you are needing a little tlc!