Sometimes, when seen through an entrepreneur’s lens, what at first appears to be a nuisance can prove to be the seeds of a healthy business.
For Canadian Natural Oils’ founders Juanita and Pat Corbett, the nuisance on their former 20,000-acre Hills Health Ranch in British Columbia’s South Cariboo region was the prevalence of wild roses, a plant seen by many local ranchers as an unsightly weed.
“While we were on a stroll, Pat was complaining to me about how the wild roses were crowding out grazing grass for our horses,” said Juanita. “I wanted to find out why we have wild rose bushes while our neighbour has lots of grass.”
For Juanita, Pat’s off-hand remark triggered two years of research into rosehips that saw her tap information sources including the National Research Council, the University of Northern B.C., and an agricultural research unit in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba.
As a certified esthetician, Juanita was intrigued that rosehips had been prized for thousands of years for their therapeutic qualities. They had been used for everything from treating the redness caused by rosacea, to healing burn-damaged skin and even making age-related wrinkles disappear.
She learned that preserving rosehips’ healthful properties was best achieved by extracting the plant’s oil from its rock-hard seeds through a cold press, rather than a chemical process.
“If I couldn’t extract it naturally—if I had to use a solvent to pull it out—then I didn’t want to do it,” said Juanita.
Her search for a cold press machine capable of doing the job, which required the application of pressure in excess of 50,000 pounds per-square-inch, took her to Germany. That first cold press cost $30,000, but the investment quickly proved its worth.
That process coupled with fact that rose hip is gathered wild, rather than farm-raised, would later make it far easier for Canadian Natural Oils’ products to be approved for export to the U.S. and other countries.
Faced with a nearly limitless supply, the couple encouraged locals to harvest rosehips at their yearly peak, just after the first frost. At first Juanita and Pat made rose hip oil a staple at their health ranch. But, with the steady growth of the global health and wellness industry—and the constant urging of their guests to sell the rose hip products—Juanita decided to explore exporting.
“I knew absolutely nothing about exporting, but I wanted to see what it was about,” said Juanita.
In 2004, she attended a sales conference sponsored by the immigrant services group S.U.C.C.E.S.S. in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. She was amazed by how many exporters were interested in taking her products overseas.
After following up on many offers, she settled on James Choi and his exporting company JIC Enterprises, an agent-distributor with business experience in South Korea.
“Of all the people there, James seemed to be the one who had my best interests at heart,” said Juanita.
Choi stickhandled the regulatory and bureaucratic hurdles involved in seeking South Korean import approval, including facilitating Korean government lab tests required to prove the products’ validity, she said.
Meanwhile, the Corbetts’ business was spreading across Canada and into the U.S., where it became a supplier to Willow Stream spas in several Fairmont hotels. They also began selling the products online, which drew customers from Switzerland, Israel and Great Britain, among other countries.
Today, their product line includes rosehips oil, sold in cobalt blue bottles ranging from five millilitres for $9.50 to 120 millilitres for $79, a rosehips soap, seed body scrub and lotion, rosehips tea, and other products derived from chamomile and peppermint plants
While the 2008 recession hit the industry hard, the Corbett’s business has climbed steadily back, she says. At the same time, their Hills Health Ranch, located 450 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, won recognition from the Spa Alliance of America, which inducted Pat and Juanita into the organization’s Hall of Fame.
“The revenues of the spa industry have surpassed those of the movie industry in North America,” says Pat. “In the United States alone there are 21,000 spas with a gross annual industry revenue of $16.3 billion U.S.”
Last year, after running their spa “seven days a week” for decades, the Corbetts sold Hills Health Ranch to focus on growing their rosehips oil business.
Get more export insights from Juanita Corbett here.