ORGANIC RAT EXTERMINATION NEWMARKET FLEA SPRAY DEVONPORT
ORGANIC PEST CONTROL TITIRANGI MOUSE REMOVAL BEACH HAVEN
Kari Warberg Block was living in Western North Dakota, dating her farmer boyfriend, and selling fragrances at the local department cosmetics counter. “Every evening I would come home with a headache from being around the perfume,” says Block, who never wore the stuff she sold.
BED BUG CONTROL CENTRAL AUCKLAND
However, she happened to have a big bottle of flowery fragrance in her purse when, one day, her boyfriend asked her to help start a truck that had stalled. The vehicle, it turns out, was infested with mice, which promptly ran from the engine, into the cab and into the crotch of shorts-wearing Block. “I grabbed the bottle of perfume out of my purse and sprayed them, sending them running to the floorboards,” says Block. “I figured if it gave me headaches, it would give them headaches, too.”
Block and the farmer eventually married. One of her jobs on the farm was to maintain the equipment, which suffered a major rodent infestation. The standard cure — poison — was hardly optimal, as it was dangerous to the farm pets and the couple’s two children. “Plus, with poison, you have to clean up the dead bodies,” she says. The obvious alternative was to deter the pests, “a female approach to an old problem,” she says.
Her mission became creating an effective, organic, no-kill pest control product. There was no such thing on the market at the time, she says.
Remembering the effectiveness of the perfume spritz, Block started experimenting, spraying fragrances on pine cones and tossing them into the cabs of farm vehicles. It worked. She gave them to neighboring farmers. They loved it. She started working with the local state university to develop a no-kill, organic pest control sachet product for market, winning in 1993 a $5,000 farm diversification grant from the state of North Dakota (the family was living on $12,000 per year in income from the farm), and creating a patented product.
It was then she realized her work was now in the territory of the Environmental Protection Agency, which requires extensive studies proving efficacy before it can be sold commercially. Block was told this process would cost no less than $2 million.
“I went home and cried. I gave up,” she remembers. “Then it hit me — I can’t give up. Somebody has to do this. It might as well be me.”
It took five years, and $200,000 (not $2 million), which mostly came from state grants, but the sale of Block’s horse, camper and working farmers markets where she sold produce and homemade potpourri. The EPA required she reproduce her research three times to prove that her product and its balsam fir needle oil did in fact keep away pests (“We tried all different smells. I hoped mint would work, but it didn’t. I thought, ‘The best-selling fragrance is those little fir trees people hang from their car mirrors.’ That was the scent that was most effective, it turns out.”). In 2007 she finally earned the EPA registration for her product, which is today sold as the brand Earthkind. “That was just the beginning.”
Next challenge: Distribution and sales.
Block started with what she knew, and approached local farm implement dealers. She gave the owners and managers free samples and instructed them to toss the sachets into the most rat-infested tractor cabs they knew of, and to call her if it worked. They called and ordered. Block and her kids made and packaged the product (the base is corn cobs) in their living room. That was 2008, and she grossed $150,000 in sales. Based on the success of these smaller independent businesses, a year later leading farm equipment manufacturer John Deere. From there, Block went to hardware stores, to big box, and today Earthkind is available in 15,000 retail locations, including Ace Hardware, True Value Hardware, Menards, and Tractor Supply Company. Also, early on the company focused on its search engine rank, and selling direct to customers googling humane and organic pest control.
“The best thing you can do is have a happy customer,” says Block. “Then you will have repeat customers, and you can take their testimony to the next customer. Since we started, 90 percent of people who use the product come back.” Sales are expected to hit $10 million this year.
Scaling from a $3 million to a $10 million company had its growing pains. For many years did not have an executive team. “I had to give up control so I could focus on what I was good at,” says Block. Three years ago she hired first a CFO, then a sales VP and operations manager. “I hired people with experience as entrepreneurs with fast-growth companies, who could execute ahead of the curve,” she says. With those hires, sales quadrupled in a few years.
Today, the company plan is headquartered in Bismark, N.D., while manufacturing and its 45 employees are located in North Carolina, near client Lowe’s headquarters and distribution hub, as well as the concentration of the U.S. population.
In her personal life, Block, 52, divorced the farmer, and remarried. Her children are now aged 26 and 27, with families and careers of their own. “When they were younger I wanted my kids to see me building this business and making a difference, so they knew it would be possible to take on tough challenges and figure it out,” Block says.
Today, Block is proudest that she has built a business that is true to her original mission to create that effective, humane and safe product. When she started Earthkind, the no-kill products were just 2 percent of the pest-c0ntrol market, she says. Today, that figure is 10 percent. She also revels in her ability to build a company with a generous bonus program, commitment to 20 percent handicap employment, and flexible schedules that makes a difference in her employees lives. “When they drive up in a new car, or take the afternoon off to buy their first home, that makes me feel good,” she says. So does the fact that her products are made from ingredients grown by U.S. farmers, and the company is 98 percent carbon-free.
Her advice to other moms with brilliant ideas? “You can make up your own rules,” Block says. “Consultants and educators say you have to do things a certain way because it worked for someone else. In the entrepreneurs who are the true gems, they do it their own way.”
-edited from Emma Johnsons article