Business

Cedar Rapids company looks to make national headway with all-natural gnat and mosquito repellent 'Bug Protector'

Bug Protector bottles are conveyed after labeling at Raining Rose in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Bug Protector bottles are conveyed after labeling at Raining Rose in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Anyone not convinced of the correlation between persistence and sales should talk to Bob Porazil.

Porazil is national sales manager for Protector Products and he’s been talking to retailers abut Bug Protector, an all-natural gnat and mosquito repellent produced by Raining Rose in Cedar Rapids, a contract manufacturer of all-natural lip balms and other personal care products.

“I try to get in and develop some common ground,” he said. “I think if you always focus on the relationship more than the deal, good things will always come.

“It will take a long time. Just using Dick’s Sporting Goods as an example, it involved between 200 and 300 emails and probably 300 phone calls until I was finally able to do the deal.”

Porazil had just returned from Seattle where he met with REI, a sporting goods, camping gear, travel equipment and clothing retailer.

“I met them two and a half years ago at a trade show and they finally let me in the door yesterday,” he recalled.

The company official “told me that the sales rep for the brand that we will be replacing in their stores next year had not contacted him four times in two years. He said we were the unanimous choice because he hears from me every other week.”

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Porazil told the official that, “once we begin providing product, he will be hearing from even more often. It’s always the follow-up after the sale that’s important as well.”

Bug Protector, a privately owned company, was launched in 2015. It is sold nationally in convenience stores, supermarkets, farm supply, sporting goods and other retail outlets.

The company’s brown bottles have joined — or replaced — the green bottles of Bug Soother on shelves in Ace Hardware, Fareway, Hy-Vee and other regional retailers.

Bug Soother was developed by Freda Soyka in the wake of the 2008 floods as a natural bug repellent. Bug Soother is manufactured and marketed by Simply Soothing, a Columbus Junction natural products company founded in 2003

Mike Wehr, chief operating officer of Raining Rose, said he became interested in Bug Soother as a father of young children seeing other parents using the product on their youngsters.

“We had talks with Freda (Soyka) about manufacturing Bug Soother, but she wanted to keep the jobs in Louisa County and that was completely understood,” Wehr recalled.

“Shortly after that, we were contacted by the vice president of large Iowa-based grocery store chain about producing a private label version of Bug Soother.

“Simply Soothing has a phenomenal product with Bug Soother as gnat repellent, but we felt that where they may have come up short is mosquito protection.”

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Wehr said research to determine an all-natural formula that was effective against gnats, mosquitoes, flies and no-see-ums led to the creation of Bug Protector.

Protector Brands, the corporate parent of Bug Protector, is a separate company from Raining Rose with its own employees.

“Bug Protector’s mosquito repellent has experienced substantial growth since it was introduced in late 2015, and its appeal to moms, families and outdoor enthusiasts has been instrumental in our growth,” sales manager Porazil said.

‘Perfect’ timing

The national insect repellent market has been dominated by two brands — Off! and Cutter — which contain DEET — diethyltoluamide. Wehr said Bug Protector is working to become the national all-natural DEET-free alternative to those brands.

“There is no national natural bug repellent player that has taken the market by storm,” he said. “There is Cutter Natural, but Cutter is not viewed by the public as a naturals company.”

Bug Protector’s research-and-development team started formulating a tick repellent in early 2017. The company unveiled its Tick Repellent spray in July, which is formulated specifically for the deer tick — carrier of Lyme disease — and the dog tick.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports some 300,000 cases of Lyme disease each year in the United States, Porazil said.

Bug Protector also has developed and markets Sun Protector, an all-natural broad spectrum SPF 30 mineral sunscreen lotion.

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Formulated with zinc oxide, Sun Protector does not contain oxyben-zone and octinoxate, chemicals believed to cause harm to marine life and coral reefs.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed a bill last month prohibiting the sale and distribution of sunscreen with those chemicals without a prescription from a licensed health care provider. The bill will take effect Jan. 1, 2021.

“The timing is perfect for our product because some retailers are planning to pull all sunscreen products from their shelves next year if they are not reef safe,” Porazil said.

“Sunscreen is really a year-round product. You can walk into a Hy-Vee in Iowa in January and buy sunscreen because there’s always someone traveling.”

Targeted marketing

Raining Rose manufactures all natural lip balm for a variety of private label customers during the fall and winter months. Wehr said the addition of the Bug Protector products during the spring and summer months provided steady work for the company’s manufacturing employees and eliminated the need to add workers.

“Bug Protector had to add people for sales and marketing,” he said. “The manufacturing side of Raining Rose has always had a certain level of full-time people, and we have filled in with temporary workers during our busier times of the year.

“What this has probably done for us is reduce our temporary staffing.”

Bug Protector, which sells its products on Amazon.com, will continue to work on getting its products into retailers in strategic markets, Wehr said. Typically those retailers compete with much larger chains in a community, such as Walmart.

“We want to get a critical mass of stores in a particular area so that everywhere you turn, you will see our products,” he said. “Our marketing has been more targeted.”

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