Sheets was a newlywed and owned a small advertising agency at the time he bought his first beehive nearly 20 years ago after his wife suggested they should start a hobby together. Now Sheets' honey label, Nature Nate's, is seen on grocery store shelves throughout the country.
"We were living in Plano and I owned a small ad agency at the time and so as newly weds she looked at me and said, 'we need a hobby together,'" Sheets said.
Sheets loved honey and, of course, he loved his wife, so he figured two loves might make a great hobby. He got on the computer and found the North Dallas Bee Company. He picked up the phone and called to inquire about buying a beehive and that was where a national company stemmed from.
"I went down bought a hive, put it in my parent's back yard in Plano," he laughed. "I just fell in love with it. It is just amazing how God created bees and how they govern themselves"
The owner of North Dallas Honey Company had started it in 1972, and he was selling honey in 23 Tom Thumbs stores and had 100 hives -- 50 in Plano and 50 at Brookhaven college in Dallas. Sheets knew that if he wanted to learn about beekeeping and making honey, this was the man to learn it from.
"So, I started helping him work his hives, really just so I could kind of learn beekeeping," Sheets said. "So, I am doing the ad agency and I'm doing beekeeping in the evenings and on the weekends on the side, and then I started helping him pack his honey. I would put the honey in the bottles in his garage, then I started getting up at four in the morning and putting the honey on the store shelves and I did that for about a year. Finally my wife was like, 'what are you doing?' I was like 'I dunno I am just helping this guy.'"
After about a year of helping, the owner offered to sell the North Dallas Honey Company to Sheets and he obliged.
"So Sept. 11, 1997, I officially bought North Dallas Honey Company from him," Sheets said. "I had the ad agency, so I had a job, I really didn't need a job, so I wound up hiring another beekeeper to package my honey and put it in the bottles for me, and then I hired a distributer to put it on the shelves."
Sheets spent the first few years working with the distributor, increasing sales from 23 Tom Thumbs to all 80 Tom Thumbs, then they met with Kroger, then Albertson's and kept meeting with the grocery stores and the buyers. This business model went on for about 13 years.
Sheets, being a spiritual man, felt he was being called to work in the ministry, so when the opportunity presented itself, he went to work with a Christian ministry that toured in about 80 countries around the world.
"So, I was traveling all the time," Sheets said. "So, I had this full time Christian ministry job and this honey company was really something I had on the side. Really, my goal was to allow it take up as little time as possible."
Eventually, he was steered back in the direction of the bees a few years ago when he and his wife decided it was time for a shift.
"We have four little kids, and they needed their dad at home and I was traveling all the time and gone," he said. "So we decided, 'lets just focus on the honey company full-time.'
Soon after venturing into the honey business full-time, Sheets was approached by Wal-Mart. He began selling his product there and later at Costco as well.
During that time, they started thinking about how to start a national, local honey company.
"The Honey company is highly fragmented, which is great if you are just going to sell in Whole Foods, but the mass grocery chains, they don't operate to where they can have just one little local guy," Sheets explained. "So, we hired a consultant and we developed a national brand strategy, and we felt that the idea of doing the separate honey companies wasn't going to work because of the way the national chains operate. So, we developed Nature Nate's as our national brand and we went out and presented it to different grocery stores and Kroger said, "alright we believe in it.' We launched in 27 states with Kroger about a month ago. We expanded into the rest of Texas with Costco, Tom Thumb and obviously Kroger and regionally with Wal-Mart."
So now, Nature Nate's, previously the North Dallas Honey Company, is available in more than half the country. They partner with local beekeepers all over the country and buy regional honey and own another company in California where they do the same thing -- buying local honey, packaging it and selling it.
"I'm a highly spiritual person and I believe that God has a great plan for all of our lives," he said. "So, my role is to try to live a life that honors God and seek what his best is and how he wants to use me to glorify him. So, that is what North Dallas honey is really about. On the very top (of the label) it has a verse, 'Thy word is sweeter than Honey,' and it is on the top because that is what we are about. We are not about selling honey, we are not about making money, I want to be about being available to God for him to do what he wants to with me and make himself famous and not us famous."
With that said, Sheets said honey is likely only the beginning for Nature Nate's and there are no limits to what their label will be seen on next, but it will be all natural and fit their mission: "Serving God by serving you, and helping you and your family live happier, healthier lives."
For more information or to find honey visit www.naturenates.com.