September 7, 1997 - Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois)

Dino Miliotis Press News
Dino Miliotis Press News

A success story built on putting the bite on bugs

By Kelly Womer
Special to the Tribune

Dino Miliotis knew it couldn’t get any worse. One morning, the Roselle resident was standing in front of his bathroom mirror shaving before a job interview when the power suddenly fizzled out.

The electric company had pulled the switch because he wasn’t paying his bills. He had to light a candle and finish shaving by its dim flicker. He was so broke in 1993 that he raided his then 5-year-old son’s piggy bank for gas money.
“I had hit rock bottom,” Miliotis said.

Fast-forward to today. Miliotis’ phone is constantly ringing. He’s getting ready to go to Hawaii for his first vacation in five years. He has popped up everywhere from CNN to People magazine. His family goes house hunting every weekend, recently eyeing a 12,000-square-foot home in South Barrington.

He certainly doesn’t worry about paying the electric bills, and he has more than repaid the spare change to his son. In fact, nothing seems to bug Miliotis anymore.

And it’s all because of a plastic wristband that is designed to repel mosquitoes but has attracted fans around the world. Bug-Ban the latest craze among golfers, tourists, picnickers, gardeners and other outdoor adventurers has buzzed Miliotis right into the business big leagues and made this marketing whiz a multimillionaire in slightly more than a year.

By the end of this month, he will have sold about 20 million wristbands since the product was launched in April 1996. In July, he appeared on QVC home shopping network, where 1,900 Bug-Bans were sold in 7 minutes. This year, Miliotis expects to sell about $20 million worth of the wristbands through his company, DPM Enterprises. Like the mosquito population, there seems to be no end to the market or demand.

“There isn’t any place you can go to that doesn’t have a mosquito problem,” he said. “And there isn’t a person on earth who likes being bitten.”

Some have called Bug-Ban a flea collar for humans. It’s just as simple a concept. The non-toxic wristband contains a blend of geranium scent, lemongrass and citronella that lasts as long as 40 hours and can be stored in a “vapor-barrier” bag for reuse. Its promotional materials claim that it emits a natural, fragrant odor that flying insects hate and eliminates the need for those annoying sprays and oily lotions that many people dislike.

Unlike most repellent sprays, Bug-Ban doesn’t contain the toxic chemical known as DEET.

“I didn’t expect to be the Bug-Ban king of the world,” Miliotis said. “I just saw an opportunity.”

In 1994, Miliotis was selling autographed sports memorabilia during a convention at Chicago’s McCormick Place. In the neighboring booth was Bill Canale, inventor of Bug-Ban and owner of his own company, Eco-Tech, in Lake George, N.Y.
They struck a friendship and kept in touch; Miliotis said Canale would continuously bug him to help market the wristbands. In April 1996, Miliotis finally agreed and was granted global distribution rights.

“I’m a manufacturer, not a marketer,” Canale said. “It took someone like Dino to make the product like it should be. I had been approached by three-piece suit guys to market Bug-Ban, but none of them came through. Then here came Dino out of the woodwork, and he said, I know I can do it.’ It took a person like him to get it into the buyer’s hands.”

Miliotis received 100 samples and had absolutely no idea what to do with them. He hauled them to a celebrity golf outing at Medi-nah Country Club. The next day, one of the golfers ordered 7,500 for her company’s promotional events.
Motorola ordered some for the Western Open. Other major companies followed suit Miliotis appeared at major events such as Taste of Chicago and built up networks of people who liked the product and persuaded them to sell it.
Folks like Judy Howell have turned Bug-Ban into a career.

“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” said Howell, a widowed mother living near St. Paul, Minn., who became a senior marketing representative for Bug-Ban. “The product sells itself because people love it and it works. Bug-Ban is safe for kids, which is so important”

Howell likes telling the story of a mother who put the wristband on her daughter before she went outside to play. The daughter returned, sadly announcing: “Mommy, bugs don’t like me anymore.”

Bug-Ban, which retails for $2.49 to $2.99, is now sold in 23 countries at outlets including Wal-Mart, Venture, golf pro shops and 10,000 health-food stores.
“There’s not any other competition,” Miliotis said. “We’re working on making it, a household name.”

Canale said the partnership with Miliotis has been “financially gratifying.”
“The best product isn’t worth two cents unless you sell it,” Canale said. “Dino has done a world of good.”

Bug-Ban is winning rave reviews from golfers, including Lou Guzzi, a PGA professional in Flourtown, Pa., who began using the wristband earlier this year.
“Bug-Ban is great for golfers who are very sensitive about getting chemicals and sprays on their hand, which causes slippage of the golf clubs,” Guzzi said. “This is the perfect solution for that.”

Guzzi often attaches the Bug-Ban to the back of his hat or belt buckle.

“When we’re playing, we don’t want to be annoyed by bugs,” he said. “With Bug-Ban, I have had less annoyance and bites.” As for Miliotis, he always sports a bracelet a gold one, that is.

Last Christmas, several of his distributors presented him with the bracelet inscribed with the nickname “The Bug Man.”

“Every day is like Christmas,” he said. “I’m having the time of my life.” He’s expanding beyond Bug-Ban.

This month, he is launching his latest product. He is distributing four different Christmas ornaments made by Eco-Tech that can trim artificial trees and make the house smell like evergreens. The ornaments will retail for $2 to $3.

“It’s really practical and something that hasn’t been mastered in the past 25 years by artificial Christmas tree manufacturers,” he said.

Bug bracelets and scented ornaments aren’t exactly what Miliotis expected after graduating in 1989 from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a degree in business management. He also didn’t expect to discover that a diploma didn’t equal a big-time job. He started his career as a telemarketer.

“You want a nice and cushy 9-to-5 job, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” he said.

But he had an entrepreneurial streak, and he wanted to work for himself. So he tried seven different business ventures, all of which he said failed miserably, including running a bartending school in Dallas. He had to sell his desk for $115 just to get a one-way train ticket back to Chicago.

“It taught me not to quit just to keep going,” he said. “It all makes you stronger and more street smart.”

DPM Enterprises now has 12 employees and a home office in Homewood, with other distribution centers in Wood Dale and Itasca. He has established trust funds for his 4- and 10-year-old sons.

“Aside from buying anything you want, this has changed me and made me more serious about the decisions I make,” he said. “Other people are depending on me.”
Only the bugs wish Miliotis would go away.