West Virginia Homeopathic Powerhouse
BY Catherine Zacchi
Two historic buildings of cream-colored
brick, poised together on the main square of downtown Berkeley Springs,
look like set pieces in a Norman Rockwell painting of small-town
America. Yet behind the quaint edifices lies a bustling, ever-growing
operation. The circa 1908 and 1913 buildings on Fairfax Street are home
to the storefront museum, distribution center, and administrative
offices of Washington Homeopathic ( pronounced home-me-o-pathic)
Products, a multimillion-dollar business that exports to more than 40
destinations around the world.
Owned by Joe and Linda Lillard, Washington Homeopathic Products sells a complete line of products for people and pets, including single remedies, combination remedies, remedy kits, lotions, and books. among the company's most popular products are Rhus tox pills and Rusto lotion for poison ivy, sinus combination No. 79, arthritis combination No. 89, and Calendula ointment for cuts and scrapes. Named 2007 West Virginia Exporter of the year by the Small Business Administration, the company exports its products to all corners of the globe, including Australia, Belgium, Chile, Finland, Hong Kong, Kenya, and many other places.
Indeed, the worldwide popularity of Washington Homeopathic Products climbed a further notch late last year, when supermodel Cindy Crawford, appearing on Oprah, told millions of television viewers that as a mother, she never left home without her Washington Homeopathic Products 50 remedy homeopathic kit. The topic of the show was "what the style makers can't live without." Sales increased across the board and traffic on the company's Web site more than doubled.
The practice of homeopathy originated in Germany during the early 1800s as an alternative medical system. "At the core of the system is the idea that like cures like, or that a small dose of a similar matter may stimulate healing," explains Joe Lillard. "Homeopathic medicine uses diluted solutions of natural substances to match the symptoms of illness. The idea is to stimulate the body's natural healing process. Homepaths consider the body the best healing system around. Symptoms are evidence of a body trying to heal but not quite getting the job done.
Many people confuse homeopathic remedies with herbal medicine. "Homeopathy does use more than 600 plants," Lillard notes, "but we also use substances from minerals and animals."
For example, key ingredients in the Washington Homeopathic product Mental Fatigue No.68 are Kali phos, or potassium, which is essential for proper nerve functioning, and Agnus castus, a Mediterranean plant also known as chaste tree. The product Change of Life includes the chemical amyl nitrosum; bloodroot; and lachesis, or the venom of the bushmaster snake. Di-Gest-Us, a product used to relieve a tender stomach and heartburn, includes the evergreen plant Nox vomica; vegetable charcoal; pepsin; and podophyllinum, also known as mayapple.
"All of these medicines are safe as wll as effective," says Lillard. "People have used them for over 100 years." Safety levels are set by the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States, and homeopathic medicines are manufactured and labeled under specifications recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
With his untamed silver hair and bushy moustache, Joe Lillard loods more like Albert Einstein in a t-shirt and jeans than the stereotypical corporate executive. But behind his casual appearance is an impressive background. After earning a graduate degree in public administration from American University, Lillard worked for numerous federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Internal Revenue Service. He began sutdying homeopathy after retiring from government service.
"I bought a farm, thinking I'd be a farmer for a few years in semiretirement," he says. "I didn't know anything about farming but figured a farm had to have livestock. I bought goats, sheep, and cattle. Then the vet bills started pouring in."
Lillard had heard of the practice of homeopathy and wondered whether it would work on his animals. He discovered the National Center for Homeopathy in Washington, DC, which offered a homeopathic kit but no books. He bought the kit, which had 28 remedies.
"Then I went to a bookstore, thinking they'd surely have books on homeopathy," he recalls. "They did. I bought them both. Today, our company alone carries more than 70 homeopathy books."
Lillard tried a homeopathic remedy on a neighbor's goat that had a recurring abscess. After treatment with Hepar sulfur, the abscess went away in two days. "We were triumphant," Lillard remembers. "My neighbor, Jane Doyle, went on to become a veterinarian specializing in homeopathic treatment."
Lillard continued to take classes through the National Center for Homeopathy. Then in 1991 he and his wife, Linda, bought Washington Homeopathic Pharmacy, a company founded in Washington D.C., in 1873. Two years later, they opened a second shop in Berkeley Springs. In 2004, they moved all of their operations to Berkeley Springs. The business has continued to succeed, growing approximately 20 percent a year.
The Washington Homeopathic storefront museum educates visitors about homeopathy and also serves retail customers. In the museum's display room, wooden shelves exhibit old-fashioned, cork-stoppered bottles; tattered textbooks; and early advertisements.
On the store's ledges and countertops, modern, plastic capped containers compete for attention. Behind the cash register, a large window gives visitors a view of bustling technicians mixing powders for individual and small batch orders.
Beyond the shop and production area is a maze of orderly yet crowded rooms dedicated to ingredient storage, remedy warehousing, and package shipping. An upper floor houses work stations for the company's administrators, accountants, marketing manager, and executives. Joe and Linda Lillard company president and vice president respectively, and information technology manager Jim Hoyt share a single office outfitted with three sets of desks, files, and computers.
In 2005, the Lillards recognized that the downtown shop was cramped and that and that annual, double-digit growth only promised to add to the problem. In 2006, to allow the company to expand, construction wax completed on a 12,500 square-foot facility in the MOrgan County Business Park, located on Rt 522S, about 13 miles south of Berkeley Springs.
"But we still need more room to grow," Linda says. "Now we are working on another expansion that will allow us to move from downtown to the business park in two stages. The adition to the ware house should be finished in 2008. In 2009, we expect to move the museum and staff to the business park. After that, walk-in visitors will be able to visit the store and museum there."
Today, about half of Washington Homeopathic's business comes through its Web site. One of the largest export destinations is Hong Kong, where annual shipments of Cell Salts, a group of homeopathic remedies made from minerals, total more than 30,000 bottles.
The Lillards also export homeopathy through personal missions with Homeopaths Without Borders. In May 2007, they flew to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to help set up a homeopathic pharmacy.
For more product information, visit www.homeopathyworks.com or call 800.336.1695 or 304.258.2541.
Catherine Zacchi is a writer in the Communications division of the West Virginia Department of Commerce. She lives in Mineral Wells.