U.S. Small Business Award
Joe Lillard Receives National Recognition
by Kate Shunney - the Morgan Messenger - 5/6/2009
Joe Lillard’s 30-year mission to spread the word about homeopathy began with a sick goat.
A friend asked Lillard, who was a farmer in Unger, for his help with a goat with an abscess. The goat had been to a veterinarian several times but was still ailing.
Lillard did some research about homeopathic remedies, which are medicines made from natural substances that stimulate the body’s healing response to disease.
When he picked a remedy for the animal, the goat’s relief was immediate and long lasting, and the abscess disappeared.
"That was like — Whoa! That was pretty exciting,” Lillard said of the moment when he saw the remedy working.
For him, that first major success with homeopathy made it clear that the remedies were effective. Goats, after all, aren’t prone to the placebo effect, he noted.
Farmer to CEO
Lillard wanted to know more about homeopathy. His study of the 200-year-old system of medicine continues today, though not just for the benefit of animals on his farm.
Instead, Lillard’s knowledge of homeopathy led him to become a businessman and international advocate for the medicine.
The U.S. Small Business Administration recently chose his company, Washington Homeopathic Products, as West Virginia’s Small Business of 2009.
The company is one of three manufacturers of homeopathic remedies in the United States. Washington Homeopathic is a multi-million dollar business that sells to clients around the world.
All of the company’s remedies are made in Morgan County, either at Lillard’s manufacturing plant in the Morgan County Business Park or at Homeopathy Works in downtown Berkeley Springs.
Last month, the U.S. Small Business Administration also named Lillard its West Virginia Small Business Person of the Year for 2009.
For Lillard and his wife, Linda Sprankle, the business awards have been significant.
"It’s meant a lot, really,” he said.
"It’s like a validation of us in the business community,” said Sprankle, who is the company’s vice president.
For the couple, the awards are also an indication that homeopathy is appealing to more and more people.
"People are discouraged with the current health care system. They’re looking for something else,” Sprankle said.
Roots in 1873
While homeopathy is widely used in Europe and developing countries around the world, its role in American medicine has largely been consigned to the "alternative” category, along with herbs and nutritional supplements.
And yet, the origins of Washington Homeopathic Products points to a more mainstream role for the medicine a hundred years ago.
The company began in 1873 in Washington, D.C. and was operated as a licensed pharmacy until Lillard bought the business from the late Dr. Furr in 1991.
Lillard found the pharmacy as a source for remedies in the 1980s and gave Dr. Furr several suggestions about increasing business at his Bethesda storefront.
"Mr. Furr never taught anybody to make remedies. He made what he could make in a day and that was it,” Lillard said.
Furr carried a limited line of remedies and had a toll-free business number, but never published it, said Lillard.
Eventually, the two men negotiated a price and Lillard bought the pharmacy.
A growing business
Two years later, Lillard and Sprankle decided to expand the business to an additional location in Berkeley Springs. They established a manufacturing facility, homeopathic museum and storefront on Fairfax Street.
By 2004, Washington Homeopathic Products was growing at a steady 20% per year.
The business outgrew its tiny storefront in Bethesda that year. Lillard and Sprankle and several employees moved remedies, tinctures and equipment that had been in use for the better part of a century out to Berkeley Springs.
The need for more space drove the construction of the company’s new 12,500-square-foot manufacturing facility in the county’s business park in 2006.
The company modeled some of its manufacturing facility on homeopathic labs in Germany, where productions standards are very stringent.
Washington Homeopathic is inspected for their adherence to good manufacturing practice policies established by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States (HPUS) on a regular basis, Lillard said.
In just under 15 years, Washington Homeopathic’s client base has grown from 3,000 to 65,000 customers in more than 20 countries. Clients include individuals, pharmacies, retail stores like CVS, homeopathic practitioners, physicians, veterinarians and distributors.
On average, the company ships 750 orders per week.
Washington Homeopathic manufactures products for 40 private label companies worldwide, including HomeoPet remedies for animals. Lillard also has a partnership with a German homeopathic company, Pfleuger, to produce 55 products for Pfleuger USA.
Taking notice of the growth of Lillard’s international business, the U.S. Small Business Administration recognized Washington Homeopathic as West Virginia’s Small Business Exporter of the Year in 2007.
The company employs close to 40 people, nearly all from Morgan County. Lillard and Sprankle, who both once worked in Personnel and Equal Employment for the National Park Service, try to offer above-average employee benefits as a way to attract and retain talented local workers.
Spreading the word
Lillard and Sprankle’s transformation into business executives primarily grew out of their own interest in homeopathy and the desire to make it available to as many people as possible.
The couple has five children between them, and all grew up using homeopathic medicines. Their youngest, Emi, now 20, was saved from a deadly case of septicemia by homeopathy, Lillard said.
At only six months old, she became severely ill and doctors told Lillard and Sprankle that their daughter would die from the infection. Enlisting the help of friends and with the permission of doctors, Lillard used homeopathy to help Emi recover from an illness that took her to two hospitals.
Son Paul works in the family business, while daughter Belle and sons Chris and Joey have joined in the enterprise at some point, said Sprankle.
In addition to running Washington Homeopathic Products, he has served on the board of the National Center for Homeopathy for more than 20 years, often as its president.
Lillard is also a board member for Homeopaths Without Borders, a group that travels internationally to help communities set up homeopathic clinics and pharmacies.
Work with the group has taken Lillard and Sprankle to Mexico several times, to El Salvador, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago and to the Dominican Republic.
Even though his company has grown from a single pharmacist hand-mixing remedies to a staff overseeing high-volume production of product lines, Lillard and Sprankle are still primarily concerned with the end result — a medicine that helps heal an injury or alleviate an illness.
"It’s definitely not just a business,” Lillard said.
reprinted by permission from the Morgan Messenger