Vendor Spotlight 59: Choice Botanicals



How Choice Botanicals went from one man’s journey of self-healing to one of the major players in the kratom market. Now, Choice fights against government regulation to keep its products available to customers.

When Billy Cosgrove’s eyes opened that morning, it was quite literally an awakening.

The previous day, he’d been in a smoke shop in the Pacific Northwest and someone offered him a shot of kratom extract. “It’s good for pain relief,” she told him.

Cosgrove knew about pain. Just ask all the hardware in his leg. He’d fractured a femur and tore a quad, so after that, all he knew was chronic pain. Did he want to try this things that would supposedly help relieve his pain? Of course he did.

That night he slept 14 hours. He woke up the next morning and he felt great. His eyes were now open — both literally and figuratively.

“That’s how I was introduced to it,” Cosgrove says. “Then I realized, hey, I could probably start a business with this. It was an epiphany. I knew there was a market for consumable products in the smoke-shop industry.”

That was six years ago. And not only did Cosgrove start that business, it’s flourishing today. Choice Botanicals — that’s his company — sells kratom, CBD and other such 100 percent natural products. He brought in his best friend, Chris Durbin, to be COO in 2014 and ever since, things keep soaring to new heights. Kratom is from the same family as coffee and its green leaves grow in Southeast Asia. From there, it’s either turned into a green powder that goes in capsules or a liquid that’s drinken like a tea.

“I realized a long time ago,” Cosgrove says, “You gotta have something different. We knew our products were good.

“I didn’t go to school to build a business,” Cosgrove continues. “I went to cooking school and kratom just kinda found me.”

He originally started the business in his apartment in Austin, Tx., but eventually moved to Houston. The first couple years weren’t easy. He thought he had a quality product, but he had trouble finding any traction for it.

“They have that expression paying your dues,” Cosgrove says. “Well I really paid my dues.”

That all changed in 2013, when he attended a trade show at the same time the FDA had just cracked down on another kratom company he knew well. Right then and there, he had a choice. How much did he believe in kratom? Enough to take the risk of attending a trade show and putting his business in the crosshairs?

“There was 10 other kratom companies,” Cosgrove said. “Everyone flaked out.”

But not him. That’s when he changed his company’s name from Choice Kratom to Choice Botanicals — by hand, right before the show — and went to work.

“Every show that I had done at that point, I’d always been overshadowed,” he said. “There were feelings of fear, but I figured that was my time to shine.”

The gamble worked. Choice grabbed plenty of new clients. Soon after, the company relocated to Houston with Durbin coming aboard to oversee operations. Both he and Cosgrove are hands-on, not-afraid-to-get-dirty type of bosses.

“He’s way smarter than me,” Cosgrove says.

They started to completely overhaul the business. They focused on adding more SKUs, on getting complete control of their production and manufacturing, that way their costs would be lower and their quality would be higher. They expanded their product line and eventually purchased a supplement company, Choice Nutrition, to expand their reach.

“We just run at a different level,” Cosgrove says. “Some companies are in it for the quick buck. We’re in it for the long term.”

That’s not just lip service. Choice pays nearly $200 monthly for every employee’s health care. The company offers 401Ks too.

“We’ve doubled down,” Cosgrove says. “We’ve poured all our money back into our products, the machines to make our products and our people.”

The biggest thing getting in the way of Choice is the law. Kratom has been demonized in some American states. In some places, kratom bans were sought. The DEA tried to have kratom listed as a Schedule-1 drug, the same as LSD and heroin. The kratom battle has gotten both large and expensive.

“We’re involved in the fight,” Cosgrove says. “We’re spending thousands for lobbying. We’re actively involved in the longevity of keeping things the way they were. We want industry oversight but not regulation.”

He said the DEA wasn’t ready for the uprising from the public that happened when kratom was under attack. They showed up in person and online, standing up for themselves.

“Three million people take kratom,” Cosgrove says. “They rallied. They marched on Washington. The industry banded together in its darkest time and we were able to buy some more time.”

The kratom fight goes on, as another example of people advocating for their own medicine against government regulation. Cosgrove and Choice will continue the fight, because he believes in the power of kratom that much.

He also believes in the potential for his business.

“Our goal is to be in Whole Foods and be on the self in major retailers,” Cosgrove says. “But we have a long way to go because of the politics of it. It comes down to politics and money.”

Choice Botanicals, Inc.




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