Deming boy rejects 'Shark Tank' offer to keep control of honey company

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 17, 2014 

When it came down to the contract details, Henry Miller and his "Shark Tank" investors decided Henry's Humdingers should remain a family business after all.

Miller was seen accepting a deal to sell 75 percent of his company to two investors for $300,000 on the Friday, March 14, airing of the ABC television show "Shark Tank." The 16-year-old, whose family has a farm near Deming, combines raw honey with a variety of spices and sells it in jars with fun names like Grumpy Grampa and Diabolical Dad.

The show was taped in September so Miller and his parents, Denise Miller and Tom Roberts, have spent the past six months negotiating with Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, and Robert Herjavec, a high-tech mogul. They couldn't reveal the results of the negotiations until after the show aired.

Henry Miller realized during the negotiations just what it would mean giving up control of Henry's Humdingers: Cuban was interested in moving the company to Dallas, while Herjavec wanted to use some honey from Canada. Henry Miller was hoping to keep the company local and continue using honey produced in the U.S.

"I also realized that I still wanted to work with bees," Henry Miller said in a phone interview Monday, March 17. "I had every intention of completing the deal when I was on 'Shark Tank,' but when it came to signing a contract, it was a difficult choice."

One of the factors that prompted Henry to accept the deal on 'Shark Tank' was so he could pay back his parents, who had invested about $150,000 into the company. While they appreciated the gesture, Denise Miller said they didn't think it was the right choice for the family.

"Some people have said 'Are you crazy?' (for not accepting), but we realized it wasn't the best thing," Denise Miller said. She added that Cuban, who led the negotiations, was completely supportive of the decision.

The company, and particularly Henry Miller, received an immense amount of attention over the weekend once the show aired. The website did $50,000 in sales on Saturday and Sunday, nearly as much as the company has done in the past 12 months. Haggen Inc. has agreed to start selling the jars in its stores, while Fred Meyer and Costco have expressed interest. Henry's Humdingers is already in hundreds of stores across the U.S.

Henry received 3,000 emails over the weekend, as well as three marriage proposals. Monday morning he did three radio interviews. At one point this past weekend his parents had to pull Henry away from all of this so he could study for his advance placement history class.

While they couldn't agree to a contract, Denise Miller said the real gift of "Shark Tank" is the exposure the company has received, as well as letting millions of people know about colony collapse disorder. It's a phenomenon where worker bees have abruptly disappeared, and it's the main reason Henry started the business.

One of the challenges for the company has been getting people to try the honey. Henry has suggested a variety of uses, including as a condiment or that "special ingredient" that adds a bit of zip to a recipe.

"Now we have a lot of people interested in the product, so we can do things on the website like suggest different recipes to try out," Denise Miller said.

For further details on the product itself, visit henryshumdingers.com or the company's Facebook page.

UPDATE ON DEMING'S FIRST 'SHARK TANK' CONTESTANT

Henry Miller isn't the only one with Deming roots to be on "Shark Tank." On March 16, 2012, the television show aired an episode that included Stephan Aarstol, owner of Tower Paddle Boards.

Aarstol, who grew up in Deming and graduated from Mount Baker High School and Western Washington University, received an investment of $150,000 from billionaire Mark Cuban.

Two years later, the stand-up paddleboard business is doing great and is expected to generate about $5 million in sales this year, Aarstol said in a phone interview. The California-based company is starting up its own manufacturing facility and is introducing a new paddle board this year that is difficult to break, he said.

Aarstol saw the Henry's Humdingers segment of "Shark Tank" and sent Henry Miller - whose family farm is near Deming - a Twitter message congratulating him. At some point he hopes to connect with Henry to offer advice if he wants it. One aspect he would point out is to take advantage of the national exposure as it helps further grow the company.

What was interesting about the "Shark Tank" episode with Henrys Humdingers is the entire hour was devoted to young entrepreneurs, Aarstol said.

"Some of the biggest fans of the show are children, teens and college students," Aarstol said, adding that children and young adults are very interested in taking a good idea and turning it into a business.

Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Read the Business Blog at bellinghamherald.com/business-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.

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