Nature Nate's CEO Nathan Sheets shares how faith fuels his mission to be more than just a honey company
May 9, 2017
Nathan Sheets never dreamed one hive could turn into a business success story. Nature Nate’s Honey Company started as a post-honeymoon hobby for Nathan Sheets and his wife Patty. Twenty years after buying his first beehive, the hobby has flourished into a booming honey business with global sales and a commitment to betterment of communities and families across the US. But it wasn’t an easy start.
After losing his long-time advertising job, Sheets realized he couldn’t support his family with the part-time honey business he ran.
With encouragement from Patty, Sheets mustered the courage to bring his “no name” honey to Wal-Mart. Relying on his belief and his wife’s encouragement, Sheets approached Wal-Mart and within weeks, Sheets had a single sale that would cover the cost of living for an entire year.
Encouraged and energized by the sale, Sheets continued to grow his honey company. The past seven years have exceeded Sheets’ expectations, with new manufacturing facilities in Texas and Georgia and the company’s first retail store in Florida.
“Five years ago, we bought 200 pounds of honey. Only a short time later, we’re buying 25 million pounds of honey and we have become a top brand in honey. The only thing this can be attributed to is God and faith,” Sheets tells Guideposts.
Sheets points out that that God doesn’t shower believers with money or material reward. Instead, hard work and commitment is integral to the rewards they then turn back into helping as many people as possible.
Sheets says that the Nature Nate’s business is driven by more than a single bottom line: “We measure success not just by what we achieve, but also by what we contribute and how we work with others.”
Honeybees are by nature great at working with others: they are cooperative and build strength from team work. Sheets says that Nature Nate’s is nourished and grown because like honeybees, they work together well and share the many blessings granted to them.
Honeybees are an interesting metaphor for Sheets’ life. He never dreamed of a starting a honey business. But from an early age, he imagined how he could use his resources to sweeten the world and make it better for the people around him.
Sheets’ college nickname, “Nature Boy,” inspired by his love of the outdoors, fishing and exploring the beauty of nature developed into the company name, Nature Nate’s. Sheets’ affectionate nickname made sense for the company he leads with unwavering respect for nature and the people around him.
A devout Christian and former missionary in countries around the world, Sheets says that his experience doing mission work influenced his approach to the honey business. He continued this mission work well into the early years of Nature Nate’s. He traveled widely in Africa, sharing his faith and supporting ministries in Sudan, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia.
Despite the everyday challenges of running a large organization and supporting so many, Sheets’ core of mission work remains central to how he runs his honey company today.
While his days of frequent mission trips are now replaced with leading Nature Nate’s, the company is committed in everything they do to the mission of serving others and to the betterment of families and communities across the US, and works actively toward that mission.
“God brought me on this journey of making a difference in people’s lives,” Sheets says. “When I started Nature Nate’s full-time, I had the same motivation that I had when I was doing ministry: wanting to make a difference for eternity, wanting to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Today, Sheets says, he runs Nature Nate’s in a way that aligns with Biblical principles, encouraging Nature Nate’s employees “to share a core belief and think of other people as more important than yourselves.”
Sheet’s team coined “Honey Makes It Better” and it is essence by which they live. For the people of Nature Nate’s, honey is a natural replacement for sweeteners containing high-fructose corn syrup or other fillers. At the same time, “Honey Makes It Better” means that Nature Nate’s can use its resources and profits to treat employees well and reinvest in the betterment of people across the US.
“We pay double the Texas minimum wage and we pay time off for employees to take mission trips and I’ll match whatever money they raise,” Sheets says of his business practices.
Sheets developed a national program under Nature Nate’s called “Honey Gives Hope” to fund important initiatives supporting women with breast cancer, impoverished families, educational advancement and more.
“Honey Gives Hope is more than just a corporate giving program. It’s a philosophy that we put into practice every day and a way of giving back — both locally and globally,” says Sheets.
This Mother’s Day, for example, in lieu of an expensive marketing campaign or other investments into the company, Sheets decided to instead have a direct, positive impact on women and mothers around the country. Program facilitators coordinated generous donations to ten shelters that serve and protect victims of domestic violence and work to prevent the abuse and neglect of women and children.
“Honey Gives Hope is the heart of Nature Nate’s and allows us to put a priority on taking care of families and helping those in need,” says Sheets. “We let the bees take care of making the honey. We take care of the community.”
This care for community stems from Sheets unwavering commitment to bring in staff that will lead the business and mission by treating others the way they want to be treated, pulling from the familiar Christian adage. It is the core value system on which he leads Nature Nate’s.
“The Lord has blessed us so we can be a blessing to others,” Sheets says. Nathan Sheets makes sure this goal is reached every day.