About three years ago I started receiving nasty emails from people unhappy with the way Berkeley was handling its supplement business. Most were displeased with the products because they weren't working, so they, understandably, wanted their money back. On top of that, customers were steamed about their credit cards continuing to be charged without their permission.
Now, keep in mind that these people were not using Nutraceuticals World as a forum in which to vent their frustrations-I wasn't functioning as their shoulder to cry on-these customers thought Nutraceuticals World was part of Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals. And this is why I cannot share some of the specific comments because they were rather explicit in nature. After getting over the fact that they weren't directing their comments to me, Becky Wright, but rather Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, the $200 million supplement company based in Ohio, I could hardly blame them for stringing together several expletives in one sentence. These people were losing at least $70 at a clip and most of the time much more than that.
Some of Berkeley's customers explained that they first tried to go about the situation diplomatically before firing off their scathing emails, letters or phone calls. In one case I felt so bad for a woman that I took a letter she sent me (mistakenly), wrote another one myself, repackaged her used supplement packs, sent it to Berkeley and demanded a refund for her. It was the least I could do.
Interestingly enough, an executive from Berkeley called me a few months ago to talk about a new product it was launching. I told them I was interested in the product but that I also wanted to talk about what was happening with Steve Warshak, Berkeley's "fearless" founder and CEO, who, by the way, was pretty much absent throughout his tenure at the company, according to former employees. Not surprisingly, I never heard from them again.
It was a relief to finally see government agencies respond in full force to this matter. My only question is, what took them so long? Berkeley has been on the national scene since "Smiling Bob" entered our living rooms in the Enzyte commercials several years ago. In other words, the company wasn't exactly flying under the radar (like so many in this industry)-it was right there for the taking. Instead, it took millions of dollars from consumers.
And it's not only Berkeley's customers that are sickened by the way it carried out its business. In fact, plenty of former sales employees and customer service reps claim today that they were equally ticked off and ethically challenged on many occasions. One former employee voicing her displeasure on ripoffreport.com even went so far as to call Mr. Warshak the anti-Christ, but I think that's a little excessive.
So far a handful of executives, including Mr. Warshak's mother, have pled guilty on several counts of fraud and product mislabeling. Mr. Warshak, however, continues to stand his ground.
I have talked a lot in past editorials about the barriers to entry in this marketplace and the more things change, the more they stay the same. We can seek solace in the fact that Berkeley's days will eventually come to a bitter end, but we can't let things like this happen in the future. This isn't only the government's fault, it's ours as well. We too watched this company take millions of dollars from our consumers and erode an already battered reputation. Our days are numbered as long as this kind of activity persists. And personally, I'm sick of the vicious emails.