About 10 years ago Gina Grillo found a tick embedded in her scalp after taking a walk in the woods behind her Greenwich home.
She felt ill for days and later found out she had contracted Lyme disease. While recovering from the sickness, Grillo looked for non-toxic bug spray to ward off tick bites but came up empty-handed.
“I couldn’t find anything,” she said.
Grillo decided to make her own at home. She had four criteria: the repellent had to be all-natural, effective, pleasant-smelling and packaged to travel easily. She also added black flies and mosquitoes to the list of target insects. After mixing eight essential oils, including lemongrass and lavender, with fractionated coconut oil and grapefruit seed extract, Grillo set off once again for a walk in her backyard.
This time, the ticks stayed away.
She spent the next few years testing the product on friends and family and researching bug repellent classifications to meet Environmental Protection Agency requirements. Last spring she started cold-calling retailers to get the product on shelves.
“Natural repellent is very difficult to find,” Grillo said. “There’s such a need for it. IT really sells itself.”
The bug repellent is now available at more than 45 stores in five states, including the Honest Weight Food co-op in Albany, Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs and the Niskayuna co-op. People can also buy the product, which costs $14.95 and comes in a roll-on glass tube, online.
Through her business, Grillo Essentials, Grillo also sells moth repellent sachets and kits, misting spray and pillows.
In September she was named one of three top prize winners in the SCORE American Small Business Championship. The award included $25,000 to help expand her business and mentoring opportunities. SCORE is a national nonprofit group that helps small businesses and entrepreneurs.
“It was just a huge honor, and it’s really helped spread the word about my business,” Grillo said.
She recently hired two part-time employees and hopes to move operations from her home to a studio by spring. She plans to use the money to develop and market new repellents with different application methods.
“Almost weekly I hear from people who are enjoying my repellent,” she said. “Word of mouth is a huge seller for this product. If it works, people share their results.”