COLUMBUS JUNCTION — When Freda Sojka founded her business in 2003, she never would have expected it to be as successful as it’s become.
“We kind had a fairy tale beginning, but that doesn’t happen often,” Sojka said.
Sojka, now 66, founded Simply Soothing, a natural product manufacturer in Columbus Junction. With the help of the company’s most popular product — Bug Soother, a bug repellent developed by Sojka — the company has made about $5.5 million in sales over the past four years, Sojka said.
As floodwaters washed through Iowa and the Midwest in June 2008, Sojka — who has no background in chemistry or science — said she wanted to create a bug repellent without any harsh chemicals for her then-five-month-old grandson. So she began research on natural ingredient that repel insects.
From there, Bug Soother, was born. The product — its recipe is classified as a secret, Sojka says — contains a blend of castor oil, vitamin E and essential oils.
Bug Soother experienced an explosion of sales in 2008 and in 2014 that has continued to grow.
“We were totally caught by surprise,” she recalled.
This past year, Sojka said her product has been purchased across the country, and even overseas such as in Afghanistan.
Simply Soothing has eight employees and three consultants during the seven months of the year the company is at its lowest production rate. It has upward of 25 employees when in full production.
Four of the offseason employees are women who are in roles including chief operating officer and head of marketing.
Now as a CEO, Sojka said she does what she can to promote her female employees.
“It’s very important to me,” she said. ”I want them to do better, too.”
Sojka decided to start her own business while working at Monsanto Co. in Muscatine. She had been hired in 1981 and remained at the company for 23 years.
In 2001, she began work as a training coordinator for the plant’s central lab, where she implemented new polices and strategies, such as requiring chemistry classes for lab employees. But Sojka said the job was given to a male employee who had seniority over her.
“It devastated me,” she said. “They say sometimes the worst thing that can happen to you is the best thing. I don’t think I would have left had that not happened. It was kind of the final straw. I just started looking at something else.”
Sojka never filed a formal complaint.
Monsanto did not wish to comment.
“When I went out in my own business (in 2004), part of that was that I will live and die by my own efforts,” Sojka said. “What I do, it’s solely me. What I don’t do is solely me.”
Now as a small-business owner, she said it’s fair across the board with all entrepreneurs — you can make it or you can’t make it, it all depends on what you put into it.
“That’s the overwhelming connecting thread for any business. It’s got nothing to do with gender,” she said.
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