You could almost guarantee that I have a Burt’s Bees product within 5 feet of me at any given time. I have epically dry skin and lips and can get into a frenzy if I’m looking for a moisturizer and can’t find it. Lip chap/gloss also seems to suffer the same fate as pens – you’re always buying new ones but you never really use one up?
I am definitely a fan and customer of this brand. And so when I saw Burt’s Buzz under the “Newly Added” category of Netflix, I was super excited to watch. A documentary about the founder of this company? There is actually a real guy named Burt? Sign me up!
It’s clear from the opening shot of this doc that the story of Burt is far from ordinary. Ambushed by fans at a Taiwanese airport, we are introduced to Burt Shavitz, who otherwise lives an eclectic and rural existence deep in the woods of Maine. Surrounded by his collection of worldly treasures and a very modest cabin, it seems that Burt is happiest living life simply. He opines, “a good day is one when no one shows up and you don’t have to go anywhere.” (I hear you there, Burt.) His current relationship to the iconic brand, at first, seems limited to his name and face only, but as the Burt’s Buzz delves deeper in to Shavitz’ life, the path to his now unassuming life is utterly fascinating.
The beginnings of the Burt’s Bees empire were especially modest; Burt was selling honey on the side of the road out of the back of his truck when he happens to give a ride to the company’s eventual co-founder, Roxanne Quimby. Built of the same stock as Burt (a woodsy-loving, live from the land, tough as nails kinda gal), they partnered when she convinced him to start making products from the byproducts of his honey – candles, cosmetics and food products. It becomes clear that the ambition to grow this business from more than a two-person operation was solely Quimby’s – and you get the feeling that Burt was just along for the ride. Years later, Shavitz sold his share of the company to Quimby in the late 1990’s.
Though the documentary is not bold enough to make the connection directly, it’s evident that Burt’s exit from the company was acrimonious. His current role in Burt’s Bees is merely a figurehead; stepping out for appearances or board presentations here and there. It’s strange to see the man who created the brand (and IS Burt, for crying out loud), take on such a superficial role in the very thing that he started many years back. You get the sense that he is aware that he’s being used this way, but knows that to maintain his modest secluded lifestyle, this is a role he must begrudgingly take on.
I think there is a lot to be taken away from this documentary. As a small business owner and professional in the marketing space, there is a treasure trove of lessons here. Namely, that being creative does not necessarily mean you are a good entrepreneur, and that perhaps the greatest and most honest attempts at creating a business can be crucially jeopardized by so many things (and people!) along the way.
It also made me think more critically about the brands and companies I support. You just never know the story of the brand until you take the time or get the opportunity to learn more, and it gives me pause when I pick up things off of the shelf on an errand run. What’s the story behind this product? What happened from the time that something was just an idea to when it became a fully formed business?
In any case, if you’re looking for a eye-opening look at this brand and the eccentric guy behind it, I’d give Burt’s Buzz a shot. I definitely think of it every time I’m looking to refill my Burt’s Bees stash!
Have you seen Burt’s Buzz? Any good docs you’re watching lately?