Founder Kathy Garber likes to refer to the typical Mountain Meadow Herbs customer as “Amish Annie.”
“She is a mom looking for ways to improve the health of her family naturally,” she said. “The Amish want to avoid the doctor’s office, they don’t trust the medical world. They usually don’t have insurance and they might have 12 children.”
And like a large percentage of Mountain Meadow Herbs customers, “Amish Annie” is an old-fashioned mail-order buyer because she doesn’t have a computer.
The low-tech lives of some customers certainly aren’t hurting Mountain Meadows Herbs. Purchased by David P. Amrein of Switzerland in 2008, the company has made such great leaps that it moved six weeks ago into a 23,000-square-foot facility on Montana 82, the cut-across highway between Somers and Bigfork. It had been located in a 6,000-square-foot facility on Pioneer Road off of U.S. 2.
The new building originally was constructed around 2008 as a showroom for a tile company, but that business went bankrupt as the local construction industry collapsed. Consequently, the large front room shows off a number of high-quality tile floor patterns.
That area will, within a year, be a retail space for Mountain Meadow Herbs herbal extracts and other natural products, and a cafe featuring herbal drinks and natural foods. Amrein said he also envisions creating a botanical garden on part of the 10-acre site, highlighting the plants used to produce the herbal formula.
The building already houses a call center, office space, a sterile FDA-approved production facility, laboratory and labeling areas, and a shipping room. Amrein said he invested around $600,000 in remodeling and adding more space.
Mountain Meadow Herbs products are sold for a wide range of health uses — to expectant mothers, for liver and kidney health, as sleep aids, for weight control, as an aid for children with attention deficit disorder, to strengthen immune systems, and much more.
Amrein said the Mountain Meadows herbal respiratory tincture has made a huge difference in his fight with bronchitis issues, something that had become a big problem after long hours in airplanes. He has a permanent home in Bern, Switzerland, but makes about three trips a year to the Flathead Valley.
He is a certified naturopath in Switzerland, developing an interest in herbs and natural health cures after he realized he didn’t want to pursue work in the finance industry, though he had started working on his master’s degree in business. He instead finished a three-year program for herbalists and since then, “I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” he said.
He purchased Mountain Meadow Herbs after a long search spurred by his following of the work of Hulda Clark, a well-known alternative medicine practitioner. He had been selling products since 1998 according to research by Clark.
“One of the things that was very basic for Dr. Clark was product purity,” he said. “It’s best to have full control. If you have a natural product, you don’t want additives or fillers.”
Amrein wanted to team up with a company that created herbal compounds up to his standards. His search began with 1,000 possible prospects; he ended up interviewing 50 of those companies by phone. That was narrowed down to nine top choices, then after visiting the finalists, “at the end, it was Mountain Meadow Herbs. It’s been four years, and I could not have found a better match.”
In his first two years with the company, Amrein said sales were fair, but then “it really started to take off,” he said. Mountain Meadow Herbs grew from 10 to 20 current employees; Amrein expects to add even more staff in production, sales and shipping in the next year.
He attributes much of the growth to Garber’s increasing involvement.
“Kathy has such an analytical marketing mind,” he said.
After working sporadically for Amrein in the first few years after selling him the business, Garber is back full time in consulting and marketing.
“I have a basic understanding of who our customers are and what they are looking for,” she said. “Almost all of our products are made at their request.”
Garber estimates that about 75 percent of Mountain Meadow’s retail purchases are made by people in Amish communities. She has an intimate knowledge of her customer base, being raised in an Amish family in Maryland and Costa Rica.
Her own Amish “do-it-yourself” background was what brought her into the herbal formula business. It started with a search for an herbal cure for her oldest son, Tristan, who was born with a defect in his bladder that caused significant kidney damage by the time he was 4.
He could not have a transplant until he was 12, so “we were looking at eight years in dialysis. He was probably not going to make it.”
Her mother had used herbs as a home health remedy, so Garber decided to try that path.
Within a year, Tristan’s kidney was functioning at 90 percent. The formula kept Tristan in good health for 12 years, but he eventually did have a kidney transplant from his father, Nathan, in 2010.
When Garber began treating her son, she was giving him capsules made from ground herbs. She later discovered liquid extracts, an easier solution in both the processing and the treatment.
Family and friends had followed her success, and they asked Garber to make them extracts.
“My husband is very entrepreneurial, and he said I should make this into a business,” she said. “Over the next few years we converted the garage into a lab of sorts.”
In 2003, the Garbers obtained their license to open for business.
They started out with 42 formulas and started selling them to people Kathy Garber grew up with in Amish and Mennonite communities. She used newspapers, mail and catalogs to spread the word. She also hooked into one of the original social networks.
“The Amish have ‘the great mind,’” Garber said. “It’s better than the Internet. They’re very connected.”
Word of mouth has been a great marketing method and a testament to the worth of the company’s mission, Garber said.
“We wouldn’t be this size if people weren’t helped and then told their friends about our products,” she said. “I know it means there are a lot of people we are helping.”
For more information on Mountain Meadow Herbs, visit www.mountainmeadowherbs.com
Reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4439 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake Thursday afternoon at Mountain Meadow Herbs near Somers. Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 in Somers, Montana.
Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake Charlie Benton applies a label to a bottle of extracts Thursday afternoon at Mountain Meadow Herbs near Somers. Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012 in Somers, Montana.