Bugging the bugs, organically

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As a mother-to-be in 2008, Jayme Bella had a lot going on in her life. A nor'easter that left her North Jersey home flooded and infested with flying insects only added to the chaos.

And then, it set her on a course to entrepreneurship.

Now living in Langhorne, Pa., Ms. Bella is the mother of two and chief operating officer of Greener Days LLC, founded in 2010 with her parents, Alan and Sharon Neiburg. The company's Greenerways Organic Bug Spray has garnered national and international sales and interest from the QVC network.

Greenerways Organic also has ongoing research and development for a biodegradable organic hand-and-surface wipe, as well as what is believed would be the first certified-organic baby wipe.

"It was serendipity," Ms. Bella, 34, said of the storm that sent her out in search of an organic spray to kill the mosquitoes that had become part of her soggy home. "Everything we found was filled with chemicals and DEET."

An article in National Geographic about essential oils and their medicinal uses provided the spark for Greenerways. When the citronella Ms. Bella planted in her North Jersey backyard helped address the post-storm mosquitoes, she talked to her parents about going into the organic bug spray business.

Alan Neiburg, 67, had spent 33 years selling medical/surgical supplies. Sharon Neiburg, 61, is a retired literacy coach for a local school district and now a facilitator for the University of Pennsylvania's Penn Literacy Network.

Ms. Neilburg's 401(k) was used as seed money for Greenerways. She holds the title of company owner, to qualify it for financing and other considerations provided to women-owned businesses.

A certified organic bottler in Gardena, Calif., helped the Neiburgs and Ms. Bella, formerly a sales executive in New York City specializing in jewelry and accessories, figure out the right amounts of oils for their bug spray, which is made from citronella, lemon grass and cedar oils, and triple-filtered water.

Greenerways Organic Bug Spray hit the market in 2011, originally called Bug-It-Off -- until Ms. Bella and her parents learned inclusion of the word "off" was an infringement of SC Johnson & Son Inc.'s trademark for its Off! insect repellent.

So Greenerways opted for the less creative name.

"It cost us a lot of money because we had to change our labels," Mr. Neiburg said. But sales took off as the company's principals headed to trade shows, where they made connections with Australian, Japanese and Chinese distributors.

Revenue grew 160 percent in 2013, Mr. Neiburg said, declining to provide specific sales figures. The company is not yet profitable, "but our losses get far less," he said.

In 2012, sales dropped by a third because Greenerways lost its Chinese distributor after the government there curtailed organic imports, Mr. Neiburg said.

Because bugs are seasonal, cash flow has been inconsistent, Mr. Neiburg said. Securing accounts in Australia has helped even out revenue because bug season there lands when it's fall and winter here.

The seasonal nature of the business is why Greenerways is not expected on QVC until closer to spring.

"The next question is, 'Will the folks who enjoy watching QVC on a daily basis love it?' " said Jeff Oliphant, whose J.W. Oliphant & Associates LLC. in Connecticut brings products to market only at QVC. "We think they will."

Starting in January, an international-business intern from Temple University's Fox School of Business and Management will help Greenerways develop a business plan and crowdfunding campaign for its next product-development phase: the wipes.

Greenerways Organic Bug Spray is available at www.greenerdays.net. The 2-ounce spray sells for $5.24; the 4-ounce size, $7.99.

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