Kevin Casey (Banyan Botanicals) - the fortitude of sticking to your ideals

by Sandra Radja

We want to change the world and we want to be able to pay rent doing it. Some business mentors will tell you to avoid wasting your time re-inventing the wheel when there are many wheels out there -  just grab yourself a franchise and be assured that your investment will pay for itself whilst you live comfortably in the knowledge that you can plan for the future of your childrens future.  

And then there are those that get driven by a passion to do service. When a movement starts, it's subtle, and perceptive to only a few.  Some would say you were ahead of the times. I would say the times were already beginning and you felt the shift in the wind, like the shift in the seasons.  An idea is just that, a shift of wind, and it needs the warmth of passion and driven desire to see it manifest to something of value to others whose senses may not have detected the subtle wind. 

Kevin Casey, co-owner of Banyan Botanicals, sheds light on what it takes to bring your ideas to fruition. Banyan Botanicals is well known to the community of Ayurveda for supplying herbs and formulations from an Ayurvedic perspective. They have been around since 1996 when Kevin and Scott Cote decided to fill in the gap of the supply chain, helping to promote the increasing need from practitioners graduating from Ayurvedic schools in the US.  They remain consistent in their ideals and employ staff that live true to the daily practise. They even extended their ideals to the sustainable farming of herbs in India which is becoming a real issue in healthcare. 

In a community that is on the cusp of bringing the heart of Ayurveda to the mainstream, it is timely that we look at the many ways we can be of service. There is no need to wait for educational standards or licensing to emerge to make a change, the art can be offered in what you do best. Be inspired by your hearts passion. Being a practitioner may not be what's in store for you. Ayurveda is the science of life - you are a living example of the many ways nature has reproduced herself to be seen. Shine on!

1. You started Banyan Botanicals with Scott Cote in 1996 after spending time working in the herbal pharmacy of the Ayurvedic Insitute.  Was there a defining moment when you guys thought, hey, here's an idea....?  What made you think it might be enough to make a living from it? 

Back in 1996 when Scott and I were working at the Ayurvedic Institute, we frequently received requests from health practitioners looking for a source for Ayurvedic herbs. There were very few options at that time. We knew from our own experiences that we wanted access to better quality herbs and with better service so after hearing it enough times, we thought hey, let's do this. We did not know if we could make a living at it or not. We just knew there was a need in the Ayurvedic community here in the U.S. and that it was going to continue to grow. Given that we loved Ayurveda and the herbs, we set out to be the solution. 

2. In the beginning, did you guys follow the business plan idea or just wing it as you went along? Did you have a core vision the whole time through of what you wanted to create or did you need to shift it over time? 

We did go through the exercise of creating a business plan. Its a useful process to help ensure your ideas are sound and that the financial aspects of the business make sense on paper. We were pretty clear from the get go that we wanted to provide the best quality herbs and products and to do it while providing excellent customer service. That has not shifted at all, how we go about it and the details are what continue to shift. For example, in the first few years people would come to us with all kinds of requests for different herbs and herbal products and we would do everything we could to fulfill that request. Overtime we realized that we could not be everything to everyone and had to learn to say "no, we don't do that" occasionally. This allowed us to focus energy on what we could do best and get even better at it.

3. Were there moments when you thought it might not work out?  

We did not spend much time thinking about whether or not it would work. I think we knew that if we provided a useful service and did it well, people would come back. 

4. What kept you guys going through the tough times? 

Scott and I had a lot of fun together figuring it out. The tough times were mostly from making poor business decisions but we just learned from those and continued to refine our model. The Ayurvedic community was relatively small back then and were very supportive.

5. Have you noticed a personal growth through the ownership of your own business? 

Absolutely. Everyday there are new challenges in terms of choices- staying true to core values, communication and leadership. We had an advisor early on that used to say "Your business is growing 30% a year, are you?" We really had to grow personally to keep up with the growth and change happening in the business.

scott cote, co owner of banyan botanicals harvesting shatavari

scott cote, co owner of banyan botanicals harvesting shatavari

turmeric and hibiscus

turmeric and hibiscus

kevin casey, co owner of banyan botanicals harvesting ginger

kevin casey, co owner of banyan botanicals harvesting ginger

6. The issue of sustainability is a topic most people are familiar with as the permaculture movement becomes more mainstream. Was this always part of the plan to promote the sustainability of herbs you sell?  It seems you guys head to India regularly enough to keep contact with your supply source.  Would love to know about the relationships you've formed there, as in, are they long term and how that influences your perspective on how you conduct business. 

When we first started we knew that we wanted to have as high a quality of herbs as possible. I think we will always be learning about how to improve in that area. The notion of sustainability came about from traveling to India and meeting with people that made us aware that there was a problem. Traditionally Ayurvedic herbs are harvested from the wild. The population is rapidly increasing in India and the forests are getting smaller. At the same time the demand for Ayurvedic herbs is also growing rapidly. Many herbs are being over harvested and are becoming increasingly threatened. Many herbs have completely disappeared from certain regions where they would normally be found. Because we are also highly committed to providing certified organic herbs, we began working with farmers that were cultivating herbs and thus supporting situations that were putting less strain on the plants in the wild. We also supported projects with farms that had privately owned forests where the farmers had been trained to harvest the herbs in a way that would not jeopardize the long term health of the species. That was almost 15 years ago and we still have our same partners and are working with some of the original farms even as the number of farms we support continues to grow.

7. As an ayurvedic practitioner, I've often wondered whether we can offer more than traditional practitioner/client relationships as we are trained to do through school. Do you see parts of society that Ayurveda could be helpful in to encourage new graduates to explore?  

Ayurveda is so new to our culture, we are only beginning to benefit from what it has to offer! As the science of creating health through self-awareness and creating harmony, I see opportunities everywhere. Ayurveda can shine in the areas of food service, hospitality, travel, and in the workplace. What aspect of our lives could not benefit from infusing some Ayurvedic wisdom? From prenatal care to super senior care, there are all kinds of niches to serve others that could benefit from Ayurveda. The challenge is to be able to meet people where they are at and to gently, compassionately be there to assist them to take the next step on their healing journey if and when they are ready. It could be through providing education, a service or a product. Where ever there is dis-ease an opportunity beckons. 

8. What do you want to say to new graduates? 

Congratulations! The world needs you, and there are abundant opportunities  to serve just about everywhere. There is so much suffering in this world. How best can you play a role in helping to ease it? What are you passionate about? How can you assist others in becoming more aware and empower them to play an active role in creating their health? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done growing food, herbs, making medicines, teaching, caring, and comforting. Pay attention to what grabs your heart and go for it!

9. The partnership with the Pearl group seemed to have brought in a fresh vibe with clear marketing and a modern feel.  I'd love to know your opinion on how we merge an ancient tradition to a modern world, as my message is trying to present. 

A little over 4 years ago, Scott and I brought on some new partners that had common values and a shared enthusiasm for supporting Ayurveda in the West. This immediately made our team stronger by adding expertise and experience in a number of areas. This strength and depth has allowed us to further all aspects of the company including our marketing. From our perspective Ayurveda is a living science and we are seeking to embody its spirit by living healthy, balanced and harmonious lives to the extent we are able to. In our marketing we are sharing the photos and stories of our staff, our customers and our ambassadors in the hope of inspiring and motivating others to explore the benefits of Ayurveda.

BIO:

Kevin Casey is the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Banyan Botanicals. He and the marketing/customer service team work out of the company's office in Ashland, Oregon. They are passionate about living and sharing the benefits of an Ayurvedic lifestyle.

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