Herbal remedy company grows

| Print |  Email
Articles - February 2013
Monday, January 28, 2013

BY PETER BELAND 

0213 FOB Dispatches NaturalMedicine
Herb Pharm is an organic farm in Williams that produces natural medicine and employs 70. It was founded by Ed Smith and Sarah Katz.
// Photo courtesy Herb Pharm

Sourcing material from medicine women in the Amazon jungle or spice merchants in Marrakech is not only good for quality control, it also helps sell your goods. “People love stories,” says Herb Pharm co-founder Ed Smith of his frequent trips abroad in search of rare herbs for the three-decade-old natural medicine company.

What started as something for “two hippies trying to keep from getting a job” has grown to a multimillion-dollar enterprise that controls 45% of the national market share in liquid herbal extracts. Herb Pharm produces 2 million bottles of the stuff a year, largely sourced from an 85-acre certified organic farm in Williams, and employs 70 local workers.

Smith and co-founder Sarah Katz have been interested in herbal remedies for years. On a chance visit to Powell’s Books in Portland in the late 1970s, Smith looked through a recently sold collection of books from a local pharmacist and found a weathered copy of Joseph P. Remington’s The Practice of Pharmacy, a 3,000-page book published at the end of the 19th century that is something of a bible for herbal-medicine practitioners. From the late 1800s to early 1900s, herbal medicine was the norm, and this book outlines with scientific precision how to manufacture all manner of remedies. Smith spent $300 of his $500 in savings on the book. “I knew I’d see money again, but I knew I’d never see those books again,” he says.

Armed with the knowledge contained in those yellowed pages, Smith and Katz went about “reinventing the wheel.” With the help of the first of more than 500 interns who have passed through the Herb Pharm, Smith and Katz took their first batch of herbal remedies to a yoga retreat in northern California in 1979 where Smith was set to lecture on herbal medicines. At the end of the talk, from the back of an International Scout Jeep spruced up with a Guatemalan blanket, Smith and Katz sold $350 worth of goods. One customer asked if they had a wholesale catalog so she could stock her store. “I said, ‘No, we don’t, but we will next week!’” says Smith. Katz typed up a rough version on a typewriter and made copies to send off. In their first year, they made $2,000. Two years later they grossed $50,000.

“We did all the wrong things and the right things,” says Smith. “We were limited by our size, but that was a good thing.” Over the next decade, they figured out how to cultivate herbs by trial and error and using whatever they could glean from old books. Some herbs took 10 years of experimentation before they could cost-effectively cultivate them for medicinal production. Their steady approach meant they never took on debt they couldn’t pay back in 60 days. In that first decade, they had no advertising.

Word of mouth and connections made on the road created the foundation of Herb Pharm’s customer base. According to spokesman Mike Gillette, Herb Pharm’s products are now sold in 2,500 stores and by 1,000 medical practitioners nationwide. “We grow slowly but surely, so we could have our environmentally [sound] herbs and eat them too,” says Smith.

At the core of Herb Pharm’s growth is getting the right product. “Sourcing is a big key that sets us apart from our competitors,” says Katz, who is on the board of United Plant Savers, a national organization that seeks to preserve rare or endangered herb species. Herb Pharm houses an herb sanctuary of rare plants.

“We have a highly skilled herbal staff; we keep trying to maintain our edge with better products and better management teams,” says Katz.

 

More Articles

Light Moves

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Fittingly, Light at Play — a business whose sole purpose is to create mesmerizing ambience — was conceived at Burning Man.


Read more...

Imperial Palate

February 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Power Lunch at the Imperial.


Read more...

Which Way to Chinatown?

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

The Jade International District, already Portland's center of Asian life, is poised for rejuvenation. Where does that leave the westside's historic Chinatown?


Read more...

Justice for All

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY

Lawger upends the typical hourly based fee model by letting clients determine the cost.


Read more...

Corner Office: Pam Edstrom

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seven tidbits of information from an agency partner and co-founder of Waggener Edstrom in Lake Oswego.


Read more...

Transportation Fairness Alliance holds demonstration in Pioneer Square

The Latest
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
IMG 3367BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Portland's cab companies urged city hall for consideration as officials weigh new rules for Uber and other ridesharing companies.


Read more...

Playoffs pay off for the Ducks

The Latest
Friday, January 02, 2015
oregon-ducks-logo-helmet-thumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

The University of Oregon football team looked unstoppable on the field Jan. 1 — and the university is reaping the benefits of the new postseason format.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS