A Trip to a Beekeeper’s “Candy Store”

I visit the California location of Mann Lake, Ltd.

If you’re a beekeeper in the U.S., you’ve undoubtably heard of Mann Lake, Ltd. They’re a major mail order supplier of beekeeping equipment for hobbyists and professionals. They have quality merchandise, fair prices, satisfactory delivery times, and free shipping for orders over $100 — which is pretty easy to reach, especially when you’re first starting out.

Mann Lake’s website is an odd combination of printed catalog pages reproduced page-by-page coupled with a back end database that makes searching possible. It’s not my favorite shopping interface, but it does work. It works best, though, if you have a copy of the printed catalog and can just enter item numbers to order. The printed catalog is a great reference guide, too, with lots of information about each product and plenty of pictures. (You can get one for free by filling in this form.)

Mann Lake is based in Hackensack, MN — a place I’m not likely to ever see. (Actually, Minnesota is the only state in the U.S. that I’ve never been to; don’t see that changing any time soon.)

Somehow, not long after I began shopping for beekeeping supplies last May, I discovered that Mann Lake had a Woodland, CA location. This really bummed me out — I’d spent a bit of time near Woodland just a few months before and, had I known I’d be a beekeeper soon, I would have stopped in to see what they had. Although I didn’t realize it then, I’d soon be back in the Woodland area on another contract.

And that’s where I am now.

So yesterday, my first full day based in this area, I drove over to the Mann Lake California location at 500 Santa Anita Drive. (Yes, it’s true. I went from being a computer nerd to a beekeeping nerd in only a few short years.)

Mann Lake's CA Location
Mann Lake’s CA location is in an industrial park; it’s mostly warehouse.

From the outside, the place didn’t look very exciting. The parking area out front was completely empty. But when I walked inside, I think my jaw must have dropped. Every single item in their extensive catalog was fully assembled and on display in neatly organized aisles.

Inside Mann Lake
Frames and foundations

Inside Mann Lake
Covers and bottoms.

Inside Mann Lake
Hive bodies.

Kid in a candy store, is the phrase that came to mind. I felt like a crazy tourist taking pictures, but I have some beekeeping friends who would really appreciate seeing what I’d seen.

I walked up and down the aisles, seeing firsthand all the equipment I’d seen in their catalog. While some of it wasn’t a big deal — after all, if you’ve seen one standard Langstroth hive body, you’ve seen them all — other items were great to see and touch: propolis collectors, queen cages, honey extractors.

When a sales guy — who turned out to be the sales manager — asked if I needed any help, I asked him to show me the pollen collectors. I wanted an easy solution but apparently there isn’t any. Still, I got to see how the commonly used pollen traps work. The catalog doesn’t really make it obvious.

I wound up buying a frame puller — which I’ve been wanting for a while — and a few other odds and ends that wouldn’t add up to the $100 amount I’d need for free shipping anyway. The sales manager checked out my purchase and looked me up in the computer system and offered to apply my “bee bucks” to the purchase, saving me $25. Sweet!

It was a good experience and I’m sure I’ll be back before I head home. After all, I was crazy enough to bring my beehives with me on this trip and I’m sure I’ll need one or two more things as they enjoy the early spring and start strengthening their hives. Who knows? I might even be ready to extract some honey before I leave.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why Mann Lake chose this location for their California warehouse/store, I can guess. Woodland is near the heart of California’s almond country. My 5,000 or so bees, just recovering from a northwest winter, are only a handful of the 31 billion bees from all over the country that are here right now.

What do you think?