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I am officially getting out of the package bee business.... I have made my last run.

10509 Views 105 Replies 23 Participants Last post by  Acebird
It was something I contemplated last fall when the producers sent me the price lists for 2014, but I decided to give it one more go as I already had a deposit down on 1000 packages. As winter progressed into spring sales were way down from previous years which I attributed to the price increases that I had to pass on to my customers, or people just procrastinate to the last second. Things really picked up about the second week of April and I am still getting calls for packs now that I am done for the year. At any rate my cost per pack increased $10.00 each and to be fair I ended up eating part of the increase on my end figuring I could hope for no more price increases in the next year or two and I can slowly edge my margins back up.

I ordered a new trailer custom built for package transportation with a GVWR of 9990 Lbs. After blowing out multiple tires and breaking an axle on the trailer last season I decided that unless I had a new trailer I wasn't going to do it at all. The thought crossed my mind to just rent a truck in GA instead of buying a new trailer and in hindsight I should have gone that route.

The trip down to GA was uneventful. I picked up the new trailer on May 5th at 9 am and was sitting in Baxley waiting to be loaded by 10:30. It was sunny and 90 degrees so we opted to wait until about 4 pm to start loading. The packages went on the new trailer in record time and by 5:30 we were headed north towards Augusta. I drove straight through the night with plans to arrive around 2 pm on the 6th. We left GA, crossed SC and NC without incident and then picked up I-77. The climb up into the Shenandoah really made it so I could feel the load behind me, but we took it slow and steady until we hit I-81 where we were able to pick up the speed a little. Mile after mile zipped by... by 4 am I was exhausted and pulled into a truck stop to get a few minutes of shut eye. By 4:45 we were back on the road and making tracks for the short stretch through Maryland and West Virginia. I stopped right before the PA line to fuel up, with the trailer loaded the truck was only getting about 5 mpg, so the gas bill was really starting to rack up.

We crossed into PA around 8:30 am and started to come into some traffic around Carlisle. At one point I was slowing down and went to put my foot back on the gas and the truck just died... I coasted to the side of the road in front of the Military Academy. I cranked the engine and nothing. I pulled out the phone and started searching for wrecker services in the area when the Highway Patrol pulled in behind us. I explained the situation with the bees being on the trailer and they were reluctant to alow me to run a generator to power fans on the side of the road. The first wrecker service I called didn't have equipment that could handle my truck and trailer, but they referred me to another company. The second company said they would put me on the list and they could get to me in 4-5 hrs. I told them forget it. I asked the police if they had a wrecker company they used and they made the call.. 10 minutes later a roll back pulled up, we disconnected from the trailer and he hauled both my truck and trailer off of the highway at once which was a relief. The driver wanted to know where I wanted to be taken and looked at me funny when I told him the nearest Walmart.

He dropped me in the Walmart lot in Mechanicsburg and I went in and cleaned out their Ice Chest and iced down the load. I also grabbed a can of starting fluid and gave the air intake a shot and the truck fired up for a minute and sputtered out.... Dang Fuel Pump. And of course the fuel tank has 30 gallons of fuel in it to complicate things.... After thinking things through I decided there was no easy fix sitting here so I called Penske to see if they had a rental available. $900.00 and an hr later and they had a truck sitting in the Walmart lot and we were moving the packages out of the trailer and into the rental. That only took 5 hrs for two of us to do and I now had nearly 100 K worth of bees in a completely un-ventilated truck. I have a cargo net for this very reason and strapped the rear door up, stretched the net across the rear door and shoveled the ice onto the load.

By 5 pm we were on the road again with the bees, but had to leave the truck and trailer behind. The rest of the trip was uneventful in that we stayed on the road and arrived in CT at 9 pm. I unloaded a couple hundred packs and headed for VT. By the time I arrived I had been awake for pretty much 35 hrs and I had to get up and unload the rest of the bees in just two hrs. All things considered the packages looked good. I had a few issues with dead queens, but had extras on hand to replace those. I also had an unprecedented number of people who just din't show up. So while I would have normally hung around and made some calls to get them their packages I was runny short on sleep and even shorter on patience. I loaded the leftover packages into my car, left the truck which did not need to be turned in for a few more day and headed for home.

I made it back to CT about 8:30pm on May 7th, took a quick shower and went to bed. After sleeping on it I decided that the best option would be for me to hire a shop to replace the fuel pump on the truck. I made some calls and got quotes from 900.00-1200 plus towing to get it there. I loaded up my Honda civic with every tool I thought I might need and on May 9th at 4 am I left for Mechanicsburg Pa. I arrived at about 9 am and stopped at Napa to get a fuel pump and a means to transfer 30 gal of fuel out of the tank. They sold me a hand pump and after fooling with that for an hr and not getting anywhere... I threw it away and bought a 12 vt fuel transfer pump. Once the fuel was out the tank dropped pretty easily and the pump swap went well. I got it all done in just under 7 hrs at a cost of about $250.00. I hooked back onto the trailer, loaded the car, strapped her down and headed for home. I was glad this week was over. I just had a few more packs to call people about and that was it, I was done. I called my retailers and let them know that I would not be transporting packages next year. One told me to think about it for a week or two and maybe I would change my mind....

So here I am a week later and I have no more desire to haul a load of bees than a did a week ago. The prices go up and up, the quality of the packs certainly isn't getting better and in some cases I have seen they appear to be getting worse. People buy packs and know when they need to be picked up and yet fail to do so.... then they want you to bend over backwards to get their bees to them or refund their money. The risks are high, the rewards getting smaller and smaller...

I had a Production company approach me last fall about doing a TV show on my package run... After talking with them for about an hr they said they didn't think there was enough excitement in the trip to hold an audience and wanted to know if I knew anybody I could compete against to make the "show" more entertaining. I think these trips are all the entertainment I can handle just they way they are.:D

So there it is... I little insight into the life of a package dealer/hauler.... Don't call me for packs next year, and whoever you get to haul the... Buy them a Beer:D This time next year I think I will go fishing.
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What a trip. Glad to hear you got your packages distributed. Hauling live insects leaves little room for malfunction.

Nothing personal, but I don't believe it for a NY minute.

'Road Warriors' can't just pack it in.

I'm sorry about the problem trailer though.
I might open a bee hauling school. Everything you need to know about hauling packages. Negotiating for the best price. Getting the best pickup dates. Tricks for staying awake for a week straight. How to control the nausea as a side effect of stress. Care of bees in transit. Routes north to avoid weigh stations and tolls. ;)

I'm exhausted just reading it. That is a bummer.
Glad your back safe and sound..and eventually sane again.
Our local Brushy Mountain Supplier has made runs down to Georgia to pick up packages for the last 3 years - maybe more.

I know last year he seemed to do fairly well. He usually bought extra packages - for the people who only ordered 2 packages and then decided they wanted 3 or 4. Whatever he didn't sell - he kept for himself.

He had mentioned last fall he didn't know if he was going to get packages for this Spring - he said he had been notified that his price would be at least $10.00 more - and he didn't know if beekeepers would be willing to pay an extra $10.00. He said even though his wife usually went with him and they visited and stayed overnight at a relatives near the pickup site - it was still a very long drive home - and worrying if the bees were too cold, too warm, or what.

Anyway, he didn't get any this year. I'm not sure how things would have went - many beekeepers lost quite a few colonies this past very cold and very long winter - but the question remains - "Would they have bought packages for $10.00 more and would they even want to replace their lost colonies?"

For anyone that wanted bees, I guess they would have had to order through some of the bigger companies - not through a local guy who actually picked them up.

I'm sure the trip would be stressful enough just worrying about ventilation, heat, or cold. Add a break down into the mix - and I can see why you would be done. Not to mention the people who order, but never show up. (I know our local guy got his money up front - if you ordered them, you paid for them BEFORE he went on the trip - but I don't know what he did with anyone who didn't pick up the their order - don't know if he refunded all of it, part of it, or none of it.)

I guess that gives a chance for any other beekeepers to try their luck at selling packages - if they would be so inclined. I'm sure many people suspect you make a killing - buy packages for a certain price, go and get them, come back home, jack up the price, sell them, and make a "killing". Of course they don't think about the expenses - gas, wear and tear on vehicles, not to mention the stress of getting them home and sold safely.
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Well did you atleast make a little money with a lot of headache?

I considered running a smaller amount of packages north, but decided against it. I will just make NUCs and sell them.
Well did you atleast make a little money with a lot of headache?

I considered running a smaller amount of packages north, but decided against it. I will just make NUCs and sell them.
I'm with BMAC. I'll make the NUCs, and sell them here. That package trip is way more fun then I need at this stage in my life.
The challenge of selling packages at a higher cost this year was compounded by the fact that Mann Lake is now in the Northeast and they sold 7800 packages this spring. They have absolutely no markup over shipping costs on them so we all pretty much had to stay in line with their prices... And they sold some of theirs at $80.00 each.

As far as profits go; I average $15.00 profit on each pack (I sell about half at wholesale to retailers and make less on those packs).... it is good money if nothing goes wrong. If anything goes really wrong you will loose your shirt. The margins are getting smaller though..a few years ago I was averaging 28.00 profit on each pack, but fuel costs and package price increases have killed those margins.

If I sat down and actually calculated the time spent taking orders for 6 months in advance, it probably isn't really worth it. But if somebody wanted to increase their bee operation and re-invested all the profits for a few years they could have one heck of an operation with very little personal monetary investment.
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Interesting/scary story, Bluegrass.

Are you considering raising local nucs for sale next year? :)
C'mon man, this is nothing that a brand new and bigger truck won't fix. :)
Hey Brad,

you looked pretty beat when I saw you in Holyoke... glad you survived... don't think it's worth it either.

Thanks for your work. Packages went it ok.
What is with the fuel pumps? Didn't Mark have a similar problem last year? I am curious why you didn't leave the truck and just pull the trailer.
Now that sounds sane....sell local...and fish often.
I am curious why you didn't leave the truck and just pull the trailer.
trailer has a 2 5/16th inch ball hitch... Rental truck had a 2 inch ball. Also can't operate the trailer's brakes from a rental as they are set up for surge brake trailers, not electric.

Cam I am just glad it is over :). Nice meeting you btw. Wish we had more time to shoot the breeze.
Interesting/scary story, Bluegrass.

Are you considering raising local nucs for sale next year? :)
Much of my equipment is Dadant depth now so unless I get other people to jump on the deeper is better bandwagon.....
I officially have more respect for the guy I got my bees from. Granted, he didn't have to go nearly as far as you did, but he still took a lot of risk on himself.
trailer has a 2 5/16th inch ball hitch... Rental truck had a 2 inch ball. Also can't operate the trailer's brakes from a rental as they are set up for surge brake trailers, not electric.
Yeah, I ran into that when I discovered a tranny leak on a Sunday just before Brimfield. Leaked 5 qts of oil getting there. The SOB's do it on purpose. They don't want you towing anything that isn't theirs.

It sounds like this should not be tried with out a buddy plan. Someone, maybe more than one, you can call on in an emergency with a similar rig to get the load to destination. One way or another you are going to pay for the breakdown but if you lost the bees you are dead.

Just keep this in mind, every landscaper has a truck and equipment trailer. Many have dullies and do plowing in the winter. $900 is a good chunk of change to a landscaper and I am sure you paid mileage. Did you pay a drop off charge? Adds up quick. You might have had better luck calling a landscaper. They are everywhere. Heck, for 900 you could have used my truck. It barely gets used in the summer. How heavy is the load?
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Ace, does your truck have a trailer electric brake controller?

If not, that illustrates part of the problem! :lookout:
Sounds like a great opportunity to team up with someone along the route. I live in North Georgia and would be more than happy to pick up the bees in South Georgia and meet you along the route. Maybe southern Virginia. That would save you a ton of time. I'm sure there are others that would be willing to pitch in and help as well. The only issue would be getting the trailer south some time before pick up dates.
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