WHITE CITY — It all started rather simply. A beekeeper asked Dave Schoenmann if his outfit could make "one of these."

WHITE CITY — It all started rather simply. A beekeeper asked Dave Schoenmann if his outfit could make "one of these."

"These" were beehive boxes — fairly simple structures — and Shastina Millwork Inc. had little trouble producing the order.

What was little more than an afterthought nine years ago has grown into a burgeoning business that now accounts for 99 percent of the company's revenue at its 14,000-square-foot Avenue H plant. By Schoenmann's reckoning, Shastina Millwork is the third-largest beehive box maker in the land, selling more than 100,000 boxes last year. The company can build 900 boxes a day and has the capability of boosting production to between 200,000 and 250,000 units annually.

"We're neophytes in this industry," says Schoenmann, whose firm has 10 employees and has seen demand grow 20 to 25 percent annually. "There are a lot of garage guys and beekeepers, who hammer stuff together and others who buy used stuff to get things that work. But we're pretty precision-oriented — at least the machines are."

The company was located in Willows, Calif., until 2004, when the milling operation moved to the Rogue Valley, where family already ran a lumber wholesaling outfit.

The bee boxes are built from ponderosa pine grown in Northern California, Washington, Montana and Idaho, obtained from sources established through the former Shastina Lumber and Millwork wholesale operation.

California accounts for two-thirds of Schoenmann's sales, but the company has sold boxes in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, New York and Ohio as well. It also has signed up retail distributors in Maryland, New York and Ohio.

Commercial-grade boxes typically run about $8, while general-use boxes cost around $7. The boxes are durable, but the manufacturer doesn't anticipate a glut any time soon.

"Hives are two boxes high. If you have a million hives, that means you have two million boxes, just in California," Schoenmann says. "I can safely say there are 3 million boxes out there and they'll wear out in about seven years, depending how you take care of them."

The boxes do take a beating. They travel on trucks that bounce down bumpy dirt roads on orchards and farms, and they sit unprotected in fields and orchards, exposed to the elements.

"Priming and painting thick coats is pretty much impossible with the bees in there," he says.

Domestic-honeybee populations have taken a hit in recent years, but the industry continues to thrive. Mites killed off colonies for several years. More recently the problem has been nosemosis, a disease caused a single-celled parasite that thrives in the bees' digestive system.

"It seems like there is something different every winter," Schoenmann says. "They develop a different flu shot (for humans) every year, but there's always something it doesn't stop. The labs at (University of California, Davis) and other places make all kinds of calculations for a new product every year."

Shastina Millwork entered the field at a time when the bee industry — especially in the West — was going through a transition from honey production to pollination.

"Honey is a sidelight," he says.

The company's largest order came in 2005. An outfit near Bakersfield, Calif., wanted 25,000 boxes.

"We put everything aside and it took 30 days," Schoenmann says.

The company's name comes from the days when Schoenmann was golf pro at Lake Shastina Golf Resort.

The company's motto, "Any size any quantity," means the standard 16-inch by 20-inch shape isn't mandatory.

"We get so many weird things," Schoenmann admits. "I try not to laugh on the phone when a guy explains what he wants. I've come in on weekends and done different sizes and configurations. It goes back to the old marketing theory: If you want five of something, it takes this long and here's the price."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.