Bugging the Bugs Organically

By Diane Mastrull
The Philadelphia Inquirer

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, Bella is the mother of two and chief operating officer of Greener Days L.L.C., 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 QVC. There is a plan to launch a hand-and-surface spray cleaner in early 2014.

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,” Bella, 34, said of that nor’easter, which 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 Bella planted in her North Jersey backyard helped address the post-storm mosquitoes, she asked her parents about going into the organic bug spray business.

Alan Neiburg, 67, had spent 33 years selling medical/surgical supplies. His grandchildren, who now total four, were his motivation for stepping out of retirement and into the organic-products business.

For his wife, it was the grandchildren, plus what she noticed in her teaching career — “all the sicknesses that go on and all the allergies that have been prevalent,” said Sharon Neiburg, 61, a retired literacy coach for the Neshaminy School District and now a facilitator for the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Literacy Network.

Sharon’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 Bella, formerly a sales executive in Manhattan 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 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,” Alan Neiburg said. But sales took off as the company’s principals headed to trade shows, where they made fruitful connections with Australian, Japanese, and Chinese distributors.

Revenue grew 160 percent in 2013, Alan 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, Alan Neiburg said.

Locally, Greenerways Organic Bug Spray is available at Giant Food Stores, McCaffrey’s, and Whole Foods, and at The 2-ounce spray sells for $5.24; the 4-ounce size, $7.99.

At Greenerways, organic does not mean paying a premium, because “we want everybody to be able to afford it,” Bella said.

Because bugs are seasonal, cash flow has been inconsistent, Alan 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 in this country.

“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 L.L.C. in Connecticut brings products to market only at QVC. “We think they will.”

He came to that conclusion after watching 250 mosquitoes sharing a box with an arm treated with Greenerways repellant stay away from the limb.

If there is any obstacle to the company’s success on QVC, Oliphant said, it’s “how exciting, how useful, how new, how fresh, how ‘I’ve got to have it’ that we can make this live airing.”

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.

The company also would welcome an investor with organic-products expertise, Alan Neiburg said.
Sharon Neiburg has one particular pool in mind:

“I’m dying to get on Shark Tank,” she said.

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