Great Barrington — Terri See was waiting at the baggage carousel at LAX when the smell of essential oils began wafting about rather strongly. She just knew what had happened, and then she saw it: her crushed box, coming down the baggage chute.
“Just destroyed,” she said.
See was on her way from her home in Monterey (Massachusetts) to Hollywood, where her organic bug spray was about to make the big time at the Golden Globe Awards gifting event after being spotted at the Monterey General Store by a Golden Globe organizer, who bought one and recommended it for the Golden Globe gift bags. Her harrowing tale of losing her product, courtesy of American Airlines, had a Hollywood ending.
Now Mighty No Bitey is heading to the Oscars. “Ridiculously glamorous for a bug spray,” she said.
It all started in her kitchen in 2015. She began bottling Mighty No Bitey after a friend asked her on Facebook if she would make her the powerful concoction, and as things do on social media, the demand began to multiply.
“All these people I don’t know said ‘can you make it for me?’ ” See said. “And that was the aha moment.”
Until then, the self-described bug magnet had been making the stuff for herself after reading a CDC (Centers for Disease Control) article about how some essential oils are just as effective as DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says DEET is fine, some studies have shown the pesticide to be harmful to human health.
“I had trouble breathing after I used OFF,” she said, adding that she is allergic to “every chemical” and has a sensitive system.” Yet even See’s product has to get EPA approval, and she’s in that process now.
See showed me a bottle of Mighty No Bitey over coffee in town; there’s a boxer on the label, ready to fight insects. She said her product is 100 percent chemical- and GMO-free and plant-based. She has 8 essential oils in there, and her product was recently certified organic, but she can’t tell me the exact recipe yet as she’s still working on her patent. Because she uses organic oils, it isn’t cheap to make, and so runs at $12.99 for 8 ounces.
So three months after she started bottling this in her kitchen, she had a contract with Home Depot. “That’s when I really knew I was on the right track,” she said. She said she is also “grateful” to the Berkshire Co-op Market and the Monterey General Store. “They were the first to buy.”
Big Y has ordered a ton of it, but it’s gotten even bigger than that; fifty stores now carry it, and the U.S. Air Force and Navy use it.
See had to start bottling in a Monterey church basement, but that’s not going to cut it from here on out. So she recently visited a factory in Florida that makes “all natural” products. She’s been approached by more than one investor, and has one interested in helping her build a factory here in the Berkshires.
“I want to keep it Berkshires-made,” she said. “I have some big decisions coming up.”
A giant contract with Home Depot is part of the rush to expand and start hiring help. There is also a second product, just for dogs, that’s pushing her forward. The veterinarian-approved Ruff on Bugs is also getting picked up by chain stores. See says it has kept the ticks and fleas off her three dogs without putting “poison in a dog’s bloodstream,” the way traditional products work. Some of these proceeds will go to Tails of Joy, an animal welfare organization.
Like many an entrepreneur, she’s had some bumps in the road; she had to sue someone who also made a bug spray. That happened last year.
But mostly this former antique dealer says the fast-paced embrace of her product has been an exciting, “surreal” ride.
See had a great time at the Golden Globes despite the carnage she found inside that box of “very expensive” canisters of her product. Mercifully, she said, she had brought extra labels and bottles, “just in case.”
“It was an expensive situation,” she said. “I had to drive all over downtown L.A. to find organic oils in quantity. It’s not like you can buy a gallon.”
She stayed up all night bottling products in her room at the SLS Beverly Hills Hotel, where she had to open the windows to air the scent out.
“I got one hour of sleep in the 48-hours before the event,” she said. “I couldn’t even wear my nice dress because there was no time to get it ironed.”