Made in Eastern Iowa: Bug Soother's 'natural' rise in business

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COLUMBUS JUNCTION, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- Freda Sojka looked around at her unfortunate position during the Flood of 2008. She lived at the confluence of two rivers that were both bursting out of their banks -- the Iowa and the Cedar and where they meet near Columbus Junction.

Simply Soothing, in Columbus Junction, created Bug Soother, a product that took off in 2014 throughout the region.

"I wanted to make a bug repellant for a grandson, my 5-month-old grandson, that didn't have DEET in it," said Sojka, who worked at Monsanto during that time. "I researched a few ingredients, threw it together and we used it. They were measuring for the flood water on the Cedar and my sister had flooding. So I loaned her a bottle to try and it worked."

Sometimes the best ideas get shelved before they dominate store shelves. That is what happened with Sojka's idea for Bug Soother, from her Simply Soothing operation in town.

"We sold it to little shops in the beginning and here in town," said Sojka. "We had a grocery store in Wapello, Iowa, that sold 700 bottles in one year and that was pretty fantastic. So he set us up with a distributor and we made our first pallets and that was 2012."

For anyone who remembers the summer of 2014, that became the summer of the Bug Soother, at least in Eastern Iowa.

Word-of-mouth advertising helped spread the product around and the stores followed the demand.

"In 2014, we had store managers helping pack it into the boxes down here and drive it into the stores because they needed it," Sojka said. "We can make it quickly. We can make 16,000 bottles, the way that we are set up, in a seven-hour period. We can go to more shifts."

TV9 drove down to Columbus Junction to see the process at work, with Sojka, the president and CEO of Simply Soothing, offering some hints at the production.

The company has three modest buildings but does have some land to expand, if the trend continues.

This was, clearly, a right place at the right time journey for Bug Soother, a product made out of a need, but one that sticks tighter than even a mosquito.

"We didn't need it to be as strong as DEET," Sojka said of the initial idea. "We needed an alternative that was softer and milder. People loved the smell. Ninety-nine percent of the time people go 'that can't be a bug repellant'."

The next step for Simply Soothing is looking into 2018. The fall is a slow time, but Sojka noted that a major distribution deal could be in place to expand the Bug Soother's reach well beyond Eastern Iowa.

Sojka said Simply Soothing is currently registered in 44 of the 50 states for resale. This could be changing for next year but she said some states, such as Mississippi, do not allow certain ingredients for resale.

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