From a pocket-size pamphlet called "Common Herbs" to an 8-day expedition to the Peruvian Amazon, the American Botanical Council uses a broad array of methods to uphold its mission to "educate the public on the use of herbs and phytomedicinals." Demand for these educational resources continues to grow, while ABC strives to keep up.
Almost six years ago, ABC Founder and Executive Director Mark Blumenthal decided that HerbalGram readers could benefit greatly by having access to the volumes of herbal literature that he encountered in his work at ABC. What began as a two-page display layout in HerbalGram is now the Herbal Education Catalog -- a 32-page, four-color catalog offering books on scores of topics ranging from aromatherapy to Zulu ethnobotany.
More than 300 titles are available through the catalog, including books, electronic items, third-party literature, and information about continuing education accredited modules and ethnobotanical tours. Every six months, ABC prints 100,000 copies of the catalog and distributes them through HerbalGram, conferences and trade shows, university classes, and when requested by individual consumers. Herbal product distributors also get catalogs to include with their orders.
The catalog offerings are in a constant state of flux. Maintaining the inventory requires a high level of diligence and attention on the part of Lisa Newton, who is in charge of purchasing, and David Hitchcock, who handles inventory control and manages all the aspects of shipping and receiving. Hitchcock bids shipping rates for customers all over the world in order to give them the lowest price possible.
Newton began working for ABC three years ago when she agreed to produce HerbalGram mailing labels on a contract basis from her home. In 1997, she began handling order processing full time and in 1998 assumed the responsibilities she now has as purchasing coordinator. Shaft McMillan is the newest hire in the order processing department and handles wholesale and distributor orders for HerbalGram as well as catalog orders. "I process, on average, 30 to 50 orders per day, and talk to most of the customers who call in wanting to order from a real person," says McMillan.
Before and after the books are in the hands of the consumer, it's Lisa Perrone's responsibility to make sure the customer is happy with their purchase. Dubbed "Pepper" because she was the third "Lisa" hired at ABC, Perrone first came to ABC in May of 1998, when customer service was being inundated with calls about the then-forthcoming The Complete German Commission E Monographs. An initial 3,000 copies of the book had to be shipped immediately after publication, a process which placed considerable pressure on customer service due to the lag between the time the books were ordered and the time they were shipped. "I spent my first year -- in addition to doing regular customer service like selling books to people over the phone and helping people figure out what they need -- dealing with questions and concerns surrounding the release of Commission E," says Perrone. "Now I actually have time to help develop procedures for the department."
Gayle Engels, manager of the sales department, has been with ABC for more than four years and has seen the department through some hectic times of rapid growth and reorganization. "We currently have one of the most effective teams in our history," says Engels. "They're all committed to doing a good job and they all work really well together. Now, when orders come in, they get processed, packed, and shipped within 24 to 48 hours."
Lauren Thompson coordinates ABC's participation in various conferences and trade shows throughout the year. "ABC exhibits at four major shows annually, and occasionally attends smaller shows to test new markets," says Thompson. "When ABC is unable to send representatives to a particular show or conference, we send various educational and promotional materials to be distributed." Including all the appearances and speeches by Blumenthal, Thompson estimates that she sends materials to approximately 150 events each year.
According to Engels the two main purposes served by exhibiting at conferences are exposure and fundraising. "We get exposure to many people, including manufacturers that are just beginning -- people who are starting new herbal lines and really need the kind of technical information that is offered in the books in our catalog," says Engels. "We also meet many retailers who have no idea that they can help educate their customers with our materials. Our Botanical Booklets and Common Herbs pamphlet are the best, most economical means available for educating the consumer on medicinal herbs."
Every year, some 80-100 pharmacists, herbal medicine practitioners, and physicians take advantage of ABC's accredited field workshops. These ethnobotanical expeditions are held in the Peruvian Amazon ("Pharmacy from the Rainforest"), Belize and Tikal ("Rainforest, Reef and Ruins Workshop"), and South Africa ("Safari for Health Care Professionals"). The trips generally last from eight to 14 days and include all expenses. International Expeditions of Helena, Ala., takes care of the travel planning and site accommodations.
"I think these trips are the most incredibly exciting way that we help educate people about medicinal plants," says Engels, who attended "Pharmacy from the Rainforest" last year. "You actually go to these faraway, exotic places and see the raw plant material that drugs actually come from. You get to learn the ethnobotany -- how the people who've lived in those areas have used the plants over the years."
Article copyright American Botanical Council.
By Rachael Jones