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Big bite

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 11:00 a.m. May 6, 2016
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
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Can anyone ever be safe from the scourge of summer, mosquitoes?

Craig Blethen thinks so.

He is at the helm of a company, Sarasota-based Matrix24 Laboratories, which he believes is behind an industry-changing natural pest-control product, EverSafe.

A decade in the making, EverSafe is a pouch filled with a little less than two ounces of pellets. The pellets, after adding warm water, release an insect-friendly scent that can attract mosquitoes from up to 100 feet away. The proprietary plant-based formula, non-toxic and DEET free, then blocks and confuses the insect's receptors. The mosquitoes, thwarted, fly away and stop searching for blood.

Each pouch, say company officials, can protect one-third of an acre, about the size of an average backyard, for up to a week. The retail price for one pouch is $10.

Just coming out of test mode, the company had $300,000 in sales of EverSafe last year. But Blethen believes so much in the EverSafe formula he thinks it can be a $1.5 million business by the end of 2016 and a $40 million business by 2019.

To get there, EverSafe needs to address a common, yet perplexing issue that comes up often in consumer products: a crowded market filled with multiple next best things — in this case something to eradicate mosquitoes. “There is some fatigue out there,” Blethen says. “But we expect our product to be a home run, once people figure out what it is.”

EverSafe includes Blethen, his wife, Donna, and several of the couple's 10 children. To address the challenge of getting heard among the noise, and boost sales, the company has big plans for the upcoming summer. It recently began to air radio ads in Southeast markets, and a new advertising and marketing campaign, focusing on testimonials, is also in the works.
The company has spent about $50,000 on the campaign so far.

The idea for EverSafe dates back to 2005, when Donna Blethen, a New York native, asked her husband if there was anything he could do to curtail Florida's most infamous pest. An executive with a firm that invests in oil and gas companies and a part-time inventor, Craig Blethen tinkered around with formulas in his backyard for eight years.

After unofficial yet successful backyard tests with neighbors and friends, the Blethens began to consider the business opportunities. Through private investors, Blethen raised around $350,000 in 2013 to bring EverSafe to market. The product debuted in summer 2014, and through a friend of a friend, says Craig Blethen, the company landed a deal to get in 350 Home Depot stores nationwide.

That coup didn't come without some hurdles. Home Depot corporate buyers, for example, told Blethen the company's pyramid package design wouldn't work for the store's shelves.
The company invested at least $30,000 in testing new packages before settling on the current pouch system.

In late 2014 Blethen made another investment in the company: He and Harry Neal, a fellow executive with the oil and gas company, bought a 17,000-square-foot building just east of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. Blethen and Neal, through Ken Neal Corp., records show, paid $825,000 for the industrial building, a former lawn mower supply shop.
Blethen has since spent more to reconfigure the building properly to manufacture and package EverSafe.

Another way Matrix24 Laboratories attempts to deal with market saturation is somewhat counterintuitive, albeit risky: to flood the market with its product, particularly in the summer, to
build sales and buzz. Blethen says the company is close to deals with Wal-Mart and Target, for example, and it recently signed an agreement with Central Garden & Pet, a large national distribution company. (Matrix24 also has a flea control product.)

Matrix24 COO Sarah Ferragu, also the Blethens' daughter, says the company also looks beyond big-box stores. It eventually wants to find partners to bring the products to Brazil and countries in Africa, where the need to deter mosquitoes is dire. “We aren't just about Home Depot,” says Ferragu. “We are thinking bigger.”

Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon


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