It’s been a humdinger of a ride, but Deming company that landed in ‘Shark Tank’ has closed

Deming honey business that landed in ‘Shark Tank’ stung by lack of profits

On Jan. 2, Henry Miller announced that he has closed Henry’s Humdingers after five years in business. Miller said his gourmet honey business, first featured on “Shark Tank,” wasn’t making a profit. His mother, Denise, is recovering from cancer.
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On Jan. 2, Henry Miller announced that he has closed Henry’s Humdingers after five years in business. Miller said his gourmet honey business, first featured on “Shark Tank,” wasn’t making a profit. His mother, Denise, is recovering from cancer.

A honey business that started in Deming and captured national attention on the reality TV show “Shark Tank” has closed.

On Jan. 2, Henry Miller announced on Facebook that he has closed Henry’s Humdingers after five years. In the post, Miller said the business wasn’t making a profit. He also said that his mother, Denise, is recovering from cancer.

“I know that this has been a very difficult time for my family and I’ve struggled with the fact that I was unable to succeed, but as corny as it sounds — we have each other and I was able to raise awareness for the bees,” Miller said in the Facebook post. “Thank you to all who have supported me along the way. I can’t tell you how much it’s meant.”

Miller, a senior at Washington State University, started Henry’s Humdingers in Deming as a way to publicize the declining bee population. The company sold raw honey combined with a variety of spices branded with names like Grumpy Grampa and Diabolical Dad.

In an interview, Miller said his mother served as an integral part in keeping the business going while he attended college. She’s recovering now, but needed to take a break from the business. At this point, they can’t afford to replace her.

“How do you afford to pay someone to do what a mom does? It’s incalculable,” Miller said.

‘Shark Tank’ gave him a boost

Miller got into the honey business when he was 11 after hearing from a beekeeper about colony collapse disorder, in which worker bees abruptly disappear.

He asked his parents for a beehive for his birthday to use on their Deming farm to try to make a difference. The honey began to pile up, so he started selling it to raise money to donate to the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees. He then got the idea to add spices, and soon after Henry’s Humdingers was born.

The company caught the interest of the popular ABC television show “Shark Tank” in 2014 and Miller pitched his company to investors.

In what turned into a dramatic episode, Miller was seen accepting a $300,000 deal from Mark Cuban and Robert Herjavec for 75 percent of the company. Miller and the investors later decided to nix the deal in order to keep it as a family business.

After the show aired, Henry’s Humdingers received plenty of national attention, with later appearances on QVC television. As it grew, the business later operated in a Skagit County facility.

Even though he didn’t close a deal on “Shark Tank,” he said he’s grateful for the opportunity ABC gave him as well as the Shark Tank investors. Cuban, the billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, ended up providing a reference on Miller’s college application.

The episode propelled Miller and his family into an amazing period, he said.

Hanky Panky, featuring vanilla and nutmeg, was one of the honey products offered by Henry’s Humdingers, which was founded on a Deming farm. Philip A. Dwyer The Bellingham Herald

“We met so many interesting, driven, creative people at trade shows and made lifelong friends,” Miller said in an email. “My family laughed, cried, worked and traveled together. I was really lucky to take the ride.”

Even with the chance to connect with highly successful investors, Miller learned that running this kind of business has huge challenges. While the “Shark Tank” experience brought tons of publicity to Henry’s Humdingers, taking a small family operation to the national stage is difficult.

One of the biggest problems was rising costs, Miller said. They were able to sell jars in a variety of national grocery stores, including Kroger, but they didn’t have the ability to buy in the volume necessary to achieve the lower costs. They also had trouble being found in stores — they were sometimes in the honey aisle, where customers were looking for sweet-tasting products, he said.

Ashley Zalkin, 28, of Myakka City, started her Jel Shot Co. business three years ago. She offers vegan, gluten-free, alcoholic gelatin mixes that don't require refrigeration and has partnered with shark tank investor Kevin Harrington.

What’s next for Henry?

With plans to graduate from WSU this spring, Miller said he and his parents are ready for a new challenge. Miller started as a business major at WSU majoring, but became burned out between business classes and running Henry’s Humdingers.

He spoke to his parents, who asked him what he loved. With that in mind, he switched to a history major. He might pursue a master’s degree and go into teaching, but he hasn’t decided yet.

He also won’t rule out a return to the business world; Miller said he still loves the food industry and fondly remembers the days of scraping honey and offering samples at Costco. He’s also expressed a desire to go on other adventures.

“Who knows what the future will bring — maybe I’ll apply to ‘Survivor’?” Miller said in the Facebook post, referring to another popular television show.

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Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.