Mouse to Multi-Million Dollar Company

by Kimberly Singer

They say inspiration can come from anywhere. That couldn’t be more true for inventor, entrepreneur and BSC alum Kari Warberg Block, founder and CEO of Earthkind, a U.S.-based company that develops and manufactures high performance, eco-friendly pest control for households and farms. An unfortunate run-in with a mouse inspired her to develop her first product, Fresh Cab, and a spider bite led her to create one of her company’s most popular products, Stay Away Spiders.

Warberg Block was on a first date with the man who would later become her husband. Before leaving his farm to head to Minot, he needed help jumpstarting a farm truck, so she hopped in the cab. A mouse ran up her leg. She grabbed perfume from her purse. “I instinctively took it out and sprayed it like it was Raid.” The rodent fled and she had what she calls her “aha” moment.

She tried many perfumes to get rid of mice and determined that the woodsy smelling, male colognes worked best, so she turned to nature for answers. “I look at an ecological approach. What in nature repels rodents? Well, trees, because the snow comes down and it protects the ground and the bark protects the trees. Rodents chew on the bark to get them through the winter, and the trees will die. So, trees developed their own pesticide against rodents chewing on the bark.” She took that theory and tested it by giving neighbors sachets of corncobs soaked in wood- and tree-based essential oils. “People were calling it corncob perfume. It was an instant hit, because it worked.”

Warberg Block didn’t set out to create any products beyond Fresh Cab, but later changed her mind due to a near-death experience. “I got bit by a brown recluse spider twice, a year apart exactly, in both legs – same place. The first one, I almost died.”

She ended up in the hospital, was given a shot and then told by her doctor that either she would be fine or her organs would shut down. Thankfully, the medicine did its work and she made a full recovery. Warberg Block realized she was bit immediately the second time it happened, was treated quickly and began research for the product that is now known as Stay Away Spiders.

mouseIn 2007, Warberg Block was able to work full-time for her company. Spurred on by demand, she began developing even more products, such as her household line of Stay Away natural repellents. In addition to rodents and spiders, she created Stay Away products to repel ants, beetles and moths.

As with most businesses, Earthkind has a lot of competition, but she said there are a couple of factors that set it apart from the pack. “We were the first company to ask the question, ‘Why can’t pest control be effective and be safe at the same time?’ So, we’ve changed the market that way. We’re pioneers.” Warberg Block also says it’s her ecological approach that makes her products different and very effective at keeping pests away. Her method is to repel and not kill. This eliminates the need for disposing of dead rodents and insects. And, unlike poison, her products are safe around kids and pets. She said that in the U.S., about 6,000 dogs die each year from accidental poisoning.

Not only is Warberg Block passionate about creating safe, high quality products, she also places a high value on caring for her 32 employees by offering them 100 percent paid health insurance and opportunities to further their education. “It lifts society as a whole when businesses invest in people.”

She is grateful for her college education. Warberg Block earned an associate degree from BSC in Hotel, Motel, Restaurant Management. “I went from Ds in high school, coming into a college setting like that. It turned me around. I got straight As. I graduated second in my class. I absolutely loved it. It was all applicable.”

BSC also helped Warberg Block as she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree. Employed full-time while working toward a degree in Business Management at the University of Mary, she was only able to take one class at a time. That all of her credits transferred was critical to her success. “I never thought I could, and I always wanted to [get a four-year degree]. Going to BSC made that possible.”

Warberg Block is now using her Business Management degree to beat the odds when it comes to women in the business place. She said most women-run businesses don’t reach more than $30,000 in annual sales. Only five percent make it beyond $1 million. “The next big hurdle is over $10 million, which we surpassed. Only one percent of entrepreneurs have done that without outside capital. We’ve done more things right than wrong. We’ve taken more of a slow, methodical approach to growth, but it’s still fast when you look back. We’re growing faster than 95 percent of the companies out there.”

Her success in creating effective and safe products is being noticed. “A European company came to us and said, ‘We have a breakthrough product and we think you’re the company that can bring this to the moms of the world.’ And I said, ‘I can do that.’” That product is a new type of mosquito repellent that will hit shelves in 2018. In addition, she is working on a Stay Away product for a different insect that also poses a public health risk.

“There is absolutely no road map for what any of us are doing. We have to have faith. We have to have confidence. We have to make bold moves despite not knowing how they’re going to turn out. When you have a conviction that you’re doing the right thing for the right purpose, that makes a huge difference.” Warberg Block’s conviction has carried her company further than most, and she eventually hopes to take her company global. With Earthkind products already sold at retail giants, including Lowe’s, Ace Hardware, Amazon, John Deere and target.com, it seems that it’s only a matter of time.