HR Lubricating Jelly was the leading name in its industry for more than 70 years, until the patent and formula were bought out, then lost.
But in 2007, a York County man in the horse-breeding business bought the “original vaginal jelly” used by medical professionals and in hospitals and revived it in 2010. It's become a money-maker for Jon Wiesman, president and CEO of HR Pharmaceuticals, the company created to sell the product. The company is on pace to have $4.3 million in sales this year, he said.
The jelly is sold worldwide, including places such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It is one of very few products to have pre-amendment status from the Food and Drug Administration, because it was first developed in the 1920s. It also has two ISO certifications and is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union.
There are plans in the works to relocate the manufacturing from New Jersey to York, bringing 20 to 25 jobs. The goal is to consolidate even more by 2018, bringing the mixing operations from Philadelphia to York.
“We are not a huge company, although our growth is significant to where the HR brand is now distributed by every major medical distributor in the U.S.,” Wiesman said.
Rise, fall, rise
The formula for the product came from Germany in 1925, and Holland-Rantos Co. Inc. trademarked “HR” in 1931. The company was sold to Youngs Rubber Co. in the 1940s, then to the Carter-Wallace Co. in 1985. That company was bought out by Church & Dwight Co. in 1999, Wiesman said.
The last batch of lubricant was made in 1999 and the last of the product was sold by 2001, Wiesman said. The patent, formula and related materials were put in a safe in the former headquarters in New Jersey, he said.
As the inventor of a semen and embryo transport device for horses and dogs, Wiesman was at a conference in Texas when he learned that HR had gone off the market. Thinking he could use the product for livestock purposes, he tried to buy the rights to it.
But every time he called, he said, Church & Dwight would not sell.
Until 2007, when he was told for the first time the necessary documents had been lost but were relocated in the safe in New Jersey after the old headquarters caught fire.
“You can see where the heat got to some of them,” Wiesman said of the documents.
He declined to say how much he paid for them, but said, “I mortgaged my farm and my first born to buy it.” The company made a profit in April 2013.
He soon learned HR's history and, seeing an opportunity, switched hats from livestock to the medical industry.
Things still weren't easy: Wiesman incorporated HR a month before the start of the Great Recession. The product went back on the market not long after Obamacare was signed into law.
Rebuilding the brand
But things have been steadily improving. The firm went from Wiesman's barn to an office on West Philadelphia Street in York and a staff of nine. The operation moved to a new location at the former Sun Trust Bank building on Carnegie Road last month.
Currently, the product is made by a subcontractor in New Jersey. Several factors, including price increases and the ability to better control quality, have led HR to seek opening a manufacturing and distribution center in the York area. The details haven't been finalized, said Colby Wiesman, Jon's son and the company's COO. The plan is to have the facility handling processing and distribution by the first quarter of 2015.
“I get excited when any company, particularly an entrepreneur-run company that is based in York County, is bringing jobs into the area,” said Jack Bardol, the interim executive director of the York-based Manufacturers' Association. “I'd rather see 10 of those guys than one Fortune 500 company that comes in and we see the state do the big splash.
“I've been in Fortune 500 companies — they don't dial into the community like the local company will.”
Barry Sparks, spokesman for WellSpan, said the product, used in the organization's medical group practices for Pap smears, was the best value.
“We determined it was the same quality as what we were using and a lower price,” he said. ”And so we started using that.”