Baylor University's Institute for Family Business awarded its Heritage Award to local, family-owned Burleson's Honey earlier this month as part of its annual Texas Family Business of the Year Awards.
Burleson's Honey Controller Pete Cunningham, a Baylor graduate, proposed the idea of applying for the award and Owner Tim Burleson quickly agreed. Cunningham researched and wrote a timeline chronicling the company's success, trials and continual growth and adaptation.
“I thought it would be a good venture for Burleson's Honey to apply, and I believed we had a fairly good chance at winning the Heritage Award,” Cunningham said. “When I learned of the magnitude of these awards, we were even more humbled and excited that we won the award.”
By June 7, Burleson's Honey had gathered together a packet with information, diagrams, charts, records, financial reports and the chronicle of the family and company's history.
For three month's the Institute for Family Business faculty and staff reviewed their submissions and checked the authenticity and background of each company that applied for the many awards given out to businesses in three size categories, as well as the top six special awards that are open to any candidate – one of those awards being the Heritage Award bestowed on Burleson's Honey.
The award is designated for a successful family business that has overcome statistical odds to achieve the rare status of maintaining continuous existence through at least three generations of family ownership.
Those “statistical odds” state that 70 percent of family-owned businesses fail or are sold before the second generation has a chance to take over leadership of the company. Just 10 percent remain active, privately held companies through the third generation of ownership.
Burleson's Honey not only beat out the statistical odds by passing ownership to the fourth generation of Burlesons, it has conquered the ebb and flow of local and national economics and prospered in the face of adversity.
The company had humble beginnings – a single colony of bees bought for $5 and supplies for $15. In 1903, T.W. Burleson set into motion what would become a 100-year-old business, recognized as the oldest commercial honey packer in the United States and the largest honey processing and packing plant in the Southwest region.
It wasn't until 1906 that T.W. would pursue apiculture (beekeeping) full time and leave his position as the Ellis County clerk. The next year he founded the T.W. Burleson Honey Company. He produced and sold honey from his home on West Main Street in Waxahachie. From there he built the company into a complete beekeeping enterprise. He bought the bees and the wooden wares, collected the honey and bottled it for the general market.
In 1929, T.E. Burleson, Sr. graduated from Trinity University in Waxahachie and entered the business with his father. Together, T.W. and T.E. formed the T.W. Burleson & Son Honey Packers which was the first commercial honey bottling plant in Texas. The company thrived and began serving more and more customers, creating the need for a larger facility and greater production. In 1936, the company moved from West Main Street to downtown Waxahachie at 224 N. Rogers Street which provided more space for the bottling operation.
Though the company had steadily grown and expanded, tragedy soon struck and threatened the businesses continuation. In 1944, T.W. Burleson was struck by a car while walking along Main Street and died. The company's ownership had suddenly and unexpectedly passed to a young T.E. Burleson, but 15 years of working alongside his father had prepared him to keep the business running.
Within just eight years T.E. had set the company up to start shipping its honey all over the South and Southwest regions. He purchased the company's first diesel truck and its wasn't long before he added other trucks to grow its shipping operation.
In 1962, T.E. Burleson, Jr. came to work for the company with his father, T.E. Sr. and in four years the company had outgrown its facility on Rogers Street. T.W. Burleson & Son Honey Packers constructed a 27,000-square-foot facility at 301 Peters Street with office space, loading docks and warehouse space. The family also incorporated state-of-the-art capping, filling and packing equipment into the operation. Two new corporations were formed: Burleson's, Inc. for sales and transportation and T.W. Burleson & Son, Inc. for packaging and warehousing.
In 1973, T.E. Burleson, Sr. retired and transferred leadership of the company to his son, T.E. Jr. and daughter, Ann Burleson Bond. In 1981, Greg Burleson, T.E. Jr's oldest son, joined the company as the fourth generation. He currently serves as president of Burleson's Inc.
In 1985, The National Honey Board was established with Ame Burleson, T.E. Jr's daughter, as its first employee. In September 1986, the first National Honey Board meeting took place to help begin the promotion of the food category, honey. T.E. Burleson Jr. served as vice chairman.
In 1997, Tim Burleson, T.E. Jr's youngest son, began his career at Burleson's Honey as the honey buyer. He currently serves as president of T.W. Burleson & Son, Inc.
In 2009, T.E. Burleson Jr. turned primary responsibility of the companies over to his two sons, Greg and Tim. Under their combined leadership, Burleson's Honey received its Safe Quality Food Certification in 2010, became True Source Certified in 2011 for tracing the origin and source of its honey, and became certified to pack organic honey in 2013.
Today, there are three generations of Burlesons involved in the company operations: Ann Burleson Bond, Greg and Tim Burleson and Annie Burleson. Burleson's Honey has 25 current employees of which 30 percent have been with the company for more than 20 years each.
Burleson's continues to set the standard for quality as one of the nation's oldest honey processors and packers. It is currently equipped to provide honey to its customers in a wide variety of quantities and containers ranging from eight ounce PET bottles for home use to 45,000-pound tanker trucks for industrial baking operations. Other sizes of containers packaged by Burleson's are used by restaurants, bakeries, pharmaceutical firms and skin care firms.
Burleson's Honey remains committed to quality and to being on the cutting edge of innovation as it relates to the food industry and honey processing and packaging. The company features a website, www.burlesons-honey.com, where customers can order online and learn about the benefits of Burleson's Honey.