Back in 2003, when she first founded the company Simply Soothing, she set up her first store in the Pearl Plaza in Muscatine, but within a few months wound up having to move that business back into her home. That experience, as well as the experience of other businesses, helped illustrate to her one of the pitfalls of business ownership — growing too fast too soon.
“That can be the death of a lot of businesses,” Sojka said.
However, time, good advice — and a wildly successful product — has led to steady and increasing growth for the family-owned company, which now includes her husband, Jim, and two of their children, among other family members. With the company’s continued nationwide growth, Simply Soothing has now begun to do business outside of U.S. borders.
The successful product in question is Bug Soother, a natural gnat and bug repellent Sojka developed in 2008 to combat the tiny bugs so often present around the Mississippi River area. They were especially present that year, when extensive flooding sent the banks of the Iowa River into the streets of Columbus Junction.
Since that time, interest in the product has grown along with the business. By 2013, the company was selling more than a quarter million bottles of Bug Soother from 3,000 different locations, including grocery and convenience stores throughout Muscatine and Louisa counties. Even Iowa’s governor took notice of the company and toured its Columbus Junction facilities a little more than a year ago.
Simply Soothing’s international growth began in 2013 when United Kingdom-based entrepreneur and business owner Willie Petrie, who read an online article about the company, contacted them with his interest in selling the product there. Simply Soothing now makes the concentrate ingredients for the Bug Soother and sends it to the UK, where it is bottled and distributed through the UK company Body & Face.
After going as part of a trade mission to Central America last year, Simply Soothing is also working on getting its product into markets in Panama and Colombia. Sojka said those tropical markets would allow for there to be more of a year-round demand for Bug Soothing product.
“We’ve about got it done,” she said. “We need a longer season than here in the Midwest. It’s an ideal situation for us.”
Sojka also credited programs, such as those sponsored by the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the U.S. Department of Commerce, in helping Simply Soothing navigate the ins and outs of doing business in other locations.
“Iowa’s got excellent programs,” she said.
In addition to new areas, Bug Soother is now finding new customers interested in protecting pets and horses from gnats and biting flies. Sojka noted that horses cannot use traditional DEET-based repellent products, and that swarming gnats can even kill chickens.
With all of these new plans, however, Simply Soothing is continuing to make sure that its growth remains sensible and well-planned. Being able to meet customer demand is always an issue with the company; as Sojka recalled, it ran out of Bug Soother product by the end of Iowa’s summer season two years in a row.