Jeffrey Busch and Nancy Jack have been close friends for years. They’re both lawyers and Wilton residents who stopped working to stay at home and raise children, so they had a lot in common. But it wasn’t until two years ago, that they took their friendship to the next level—by becoming business partners.

As the creators and owners of Nantucket Spider, a brand of all natural, organic bug repellant, Jeffrey and Nancy have enjoyed building a business and watching it take off.

It started back in 2012, when Jeffrey was in Nantucket. “On a gorgeous day at the beach I got completely bitten up by horseflies. And that evening, still at the beach, I got completely bitten up by mosquitoes. I said, ‘Why don’t they have some natural predator, some Nantucket spider that could eat these guys!’ And Nancy said, ‘You know Jeff, we can make our own Nantucket spider, that won’t eat them but it will keep them away.’”

That kind of pronouncement didn’t surprise Jeffrey, who says, “Nancy is so creative, she has zillions of ideas. She’s probably one of the smartest people I know, and she’s always working on a project.”

Indeed, Nancy had been working on a project, experimenting with making her own bug repellent. Part of that stems from an experience she had years before when she was still working as an environmental lawyer. On a site visit, someone passed her a can of Off bug spray, which she sprayed onto her legs. “It dissolved my nylons,” Nancy recalls.

After that experience she swore she’d never use Off again on herself or her children. “I began to research alternatives, with essential oils and natural ingredients. I had a pretty good idea of what worked and what the EPA allowed and what smelled good,” Nancy says.

Part of what the duo focused on was coming up with something that smelled good:  “Let’s make a bug repellent that doesn’t seem like a necessary evil,” Jeffrey explains, “but something you can feel good about—it smells nice, looks nice, this is something I’d like to spray on me.”

Adds Nancy, “Very often, sunscreen is paired with very positive imagery, but bug spray is never. It’s always sort of lime green with a dead bug on it. We realized it’s an important component to loving the best things about summer. There’s no reason it can’t be associated with happy things. Especially if it smells nice and is nice to use.”

They figured out a good division of labor that works well for them:  Jeffrey oversees marketing and sales, Nancy handles production.

There was a lot of figuring out things via trial and error:  for example, they picked the blue color of their spray bottle and orange label on a color-scouting trip to Whole Foods. That’s when they scoured the store for products in colors that made them feel good, that they wanted to touch and pick up.

As for what’s in Nantucket Spider bug spray?  Natural ingredients like geranium oil, peppermint oil and cedar oil and other natural oils.

“It’s all natural, highly effective for kids aged 3 and older, it’s safe,” says Jeffrey. “And it sprays with such a fine mist that it doesn’t stain your clothes. It doesn’t have DEET, and it’s not a neurotoxin. If you care about your family, you should put something that is safe on them. And if you are going to use something safe, you should use Nantucket Spider, because it’s safe and effective and smells great.”

They knew they had something good when they sold their first bottle in April of 2013—to Village Market.

“The way we knew this was even viable, was we walked in to Village Market with a prototype and asked [manager] Nancy Dolnier if it was something she’d sell in the store. ‘What would you sell it for? And what would you expect to buy it for?’ She looked at me and I said to her, ‘Because whatever you say, it’s what I’m going to make it for!’” Jeffrey describes. The two business partners laugh at the memory of their initial naiveté.

Wilton was Key to Nantucket Spider Success

The two are grateful for Wilton-based relationships like the one with Village Market that helped kick-start their business. They were quickly picked up by other Wilton stores, and know that personal connections go much deeper than just the surface.

“Our second customer was Wilton Hardware. I stopped in a month ago to check if they needed anything. And [owner] Tom [Sato] said, ‘Why don’t you just come in, let’s talk. How’s it going?’ It was so helpful,” Jeffrey says.

Nancy agrees, as she lists other local stores like Outdoor Sports, Splash Car Washes, Wilton Sport Shop, Ambler Farm and the barber shop next to Realty Seven who also carry the spray:  “They’ve been so receptive and so helpful.”

They know too that their support from a Wilton customer base is important. In fact, Jeffrey found that out on one of his recent sales trips, finding himself pitching the owner of a hardware store in Bethel whose father used to run a hardware store in Wilton. What that man told Jeffrey wasn’t surprising:  “He said, ‘Those Wilton residents, they are so loyal to Wilton businesses, you just have to say you’re from Wilton and they love to support a local business.’”

But clearly they’re striking a chord much wider than just in Wilton, as evidenced by how they’ve expanded beyond where they started in 2013, when they were carried in 10 stores. This year they are sold in 128 stores, from Connecticut to all over Long Island, Cape Cod and New York.

What’s more, they’ve grown too large to continue producing out of Nancy’s kitchen; now they’re manufacturing out of a factory in Maryland. They are still trying to keep their homespun charm though—Nancy still hand-makes the wood stands and point-of-purchase sales cases out of her garage workshop.

Focusing on Growing the Business

They’ve expanded the product line to include a spray for dogs, to respond to what customers have asked for. “We did research on what ingredients are toxic to dogs and also what scents the dogs don’t like—certain citrus smells. We added something for fleas, and formulated it, looking for studies on each of the components,” Nancy says.

The duo is working on growing the product line even further. “With some regularity, Nancy says, ‘I have an idea,’” laughs Jeffrey. One of the next products they’re aiming to bring to market will be one to fend off lice.

It’s not like there is a room of scientists in the lab formulating everything, or a team of marketing and sales professionals—it’s still just Nancy and Jeff, testing, creating, brainstorming. 

Which is something that makes their success even more validating, especially in moments such as when they placed their first factory production run of 1,000 cases. What’s also been amazing is realizing the lessons their children are learning from watching them work hard and deliver results.

“It has captured the imagination of my son and of Nancy’s kids too,” Jeff says. “My son, who is 11, has so many questions every day about the business side of it.”

“It lets your children see it’s something they can do one day, and that’s a gift,” Nancy agrees.

It’s also been personally gratifying to Nancy and Jeff, both of whom are grateful they found a way to re-enter the workforce with Nantucket Spider after taking some professional time off to be stay at home parents.

“When you stop what you do to raise your kids, you get worried. You think, ‘Am I ever going to find something meaningful again?’ It’s given me a new something,” Nancy explains.

And when that new something is really a new accomplishment, the feeling, says Jeff, is even more rewarding.

“Once you’ve done something in business, it changes how you see yourself. Nancy and I, we’d done so many other things—we’re both lawyers, I’ve been a judge, Nancy is an environmental lawyer—but neither of us had been in business. It’s really exciting.

And according to Nancy, they’re both thankful for where they were able to accomplish it:

“We’re very, very fortunate to be in a community like Wilton that has embraced us and has given us the chance.”