Expansion Requires Pruning Away the Good to Give Space to the Great

Roxanne Quimby had fallen on hard times. The single mother had been laid off from three part-time waitressing jobs, and she needed a steady source of income to provide for her twin girls. In an effort to make ends meet, she scoured local yard sales for bargains and then resold her purchases at flea markets. In a good week, she could make $150. However, not all weeks were good, and living in Maine, cold weather restricted yard within a narrow season.

Quimby’s friend, a beekeeper, offered his supply of beeswax to her in the hopes that she could use it to make and sell candles. She accepted the offer and after some experimentation, Quimby arrived at a final product she liked. She then loaded up the candles she had made and set up shop at a local craft fair. In the course of a day, she sold $200. Encouraged by her success, she decided to make another batch of candles. They quickly sold out as well. She kept making the candles, people kept buying them, and in short order she had a thriving business. In honor of the friend who had encouraged her to get into candle-making, she named the company Burt’s Bees.

Operating out of a vacant one-room schoolhouse, and later an abandoned bowling alley, Burt’s Bees saw its sales continue to climb. Seven years later the company was producing a half-million candles per year. In addition, Quimby diversified the product line to include natural soaps, perfumes, and lip balm.

With business booming, Quimby faced constraints on the organization’s production capacity. Burt’s Bees could only manufacture $20,000 a day in products—far less than the amount needed to fulfill incoming orders. At that point, Quimby made one of the toughest, and wisest, decisions any leader can make. She stopped doing only those things Burt’s Bees had done, and she guided the company into things it could and should do.

She immediately slashed half of its product lineup—eliminating the handmade products, such as honey and candles, that had once been the lifeblood of Burt’s Bees. Given the emotional attachment of the company to its first products, the decision to discontinue them was extremely difficult. Furthermore, the products that she terminated accounted for $1.5 million in business. However, Quimby saw that persisting in the production of labor-intensive goods would hinder the organization from taking advantage of opportunities elsewhere. For this reason, she focused Burt’s Bees on product lines like lip balms and moisturizing creams that could be manufactured through an automated process. She then relocated operations from Maine to North Carolina so that the organization would have access to the facilities necessary for larger-scale production. As a result of Quimby’s actions to streamline the company, sales skyrocketed and Burt’s Bees reached a new level of influence and profitability.

As a leader, the more you do what you know, the more you encounter additional worthy things that you could do. When this happens, you are faced with a choice. Will you continue doing what you have always done, or will you make the leap and try new things? Embarking on new ventures leads to innovation and discoveries, and among those discoveries is the realization of things you should do on a consistent basis. If you do them, you will expand to your potential; if you neglect them, you’ll plat

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