Florida State alumni and fans may not recognize the names Elizabeth and Lucas Waring at first glance.
But they know the hard work done by the busy bees as the FSU graduates have built a growing business in North Florida: Busy Bee. Drivers along Interstate-10 can’t miss the billboards for clean potties as they make road trips east toward Jacksonville or west toward Tallahassee and beyond.
Stop at the Live Oak location for gas, clean restrooms, multiple restaurants and a shopping experience that can best be described as a modern-day take on the old general store.
“Everybody can can do a convenience store, and you see a ton of just regular chains,” said Elizabeth Waring, a 1993 FSU graduate who majored in public relations. “And we wanted to set ourselves apart with what we feel like travelers really are looking for when they’re on the road, whether it’s a family, whether it’s a single lady that’s traveling for business, whether it’s somebody in the motor home, or truck drivers that take cargo all over the nation, we wanted to appeal to a diverse group of people.
“But we wanted to do it better and cleaner and safer, and offer more variety to you than just your average store.”
The Busy Bee offers a little of everything: There’s candy and snacks but also healthy foods, gourmet foods, honey and jams. There are breakfast, lunch and dinner options at the fast food restaurants. There are also gifts: jewelry, clothing and Yeti coolers.
Convenience stores were part of the family business for Elizabeth for decades. A native of Madison, Fla., Elizabeth’s grandfather hauled heating oil to farmers and businesses before he bought a convenience store. Her father soon realized that people were constantly on the go and needed a quick stop to pick up a few items.
After graduating from FSU, Elizabeth returned to the family business. In 2009, Elizabeth and Lucas re-branded their locations under the Busy Bee name. Part of the concept is to offer some surprise items that will make travelers happy.
“We love selling people something they wouldn’t expect to see at a convenience store,” said Lucas Waring, a 1993 FSU graduate who majored in Finance. “I love it when you go in and buy a Yeti cooler or jewelry. Stuff you wouldn’t expect to see.”
They have spent plenty of hours on the road, traveling to find items that they want to sell at their stores while also hiring a staff that will take care of customers.
“It does take a lot of time to find those items and inventory and our candy sections,” Elizabeth said. “And we’re real selective in who we hire as well, because we believe that our guests actually pay our our bills, and we’ve got to have our guests extremely happy. And so we need teammates to understand that and are willing to go the extra mile for our every person that comes there.”
The Warings are continuing to branch out their stores, too. While they have a number of smaller stores in Madison, Lake City and other spots, they have also put time and energy into plans for locations in St. Augustine as well as others in Destin and Panama City. The first Panama City location is slated to open in Feb. 2020 with five more to come as part of a joint project with the St. Joe Company.
Along the way, the couple hasn’t forgotten about their Florida State roots. Growing up in Madison and in FSU families, with members on both sides earning degrees in Tallahassee, the couple wanted to give back to naming a section of the Champions Club at Doak Campbell Stadium.
“It was clear in my first interaction with the Warings that Lucas, Elizabeth and their boys were diehard Seminoles,” said Hugh Tomlinson, Director of Development and Planned Giving for Seminole Boosters, Inc. “They are a great family and we are fortunate to have them more engaged with Seminole Athletics.”
The Warings have turned their early FSU experiences into the foundation for their careers, lives and philanthropy.
Elizabeth recalls business school professors who were “very driven to see you succeed in life and not just make a good grade in class.” Fond memories of Saturday afternoons were built inside Doak Campbell Stadium in the early 1990s. They both remember hearing coach Bobby Bowden speak, with Lucas remarking that “Bobby was such a great person and a great recruiter” and Elizabeth stating he was a “consummate professional and such a man of integrity.”
The Warings have enjoyed their view the last few seasons from the Champions Club, watching the Seminoles play on Saturdays and soaking up the “electricity in the stadium.” They have also admired coach Willie Taggart for what he has done to shape not just a football player but mold a boy into a man.
“I think that that is important to have a role model and someone that they can can trust and and look out for their best interest as a whole,” Elizabeth said. “He seems to have a good temperament and again he realizes that some of these guys may go on to play pro but some of them may not. And regardless they all need to have a good perspective on life.”