Three leading companies discuss their bed bug management protocols. What they had to say might surprise you.
At the Global Bed Bug Summit held last December in Denver, Colo., presented by NPMA and BedBug Central, Adam Jones from Massey Services, Orlando, Fla.; Cindy Mannes from Arrow Exterminators, Atlanta; and Jim Skinner from A&C Pest Management, East Meadow, N.Y., shared their companies’ different approaches to bed bug work.
Less Drive, More Production.
Adam Jones, vice president, director of quality assurance, noted Massey has invested heavily in its bed bug services. Unlike many companies that have a large centralized service center with a bed bug division, Massey Services maintains small-scale operations locally in the markets the company services throughout Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. If bed bugs are found at a client property, that treatment becomes the responsibility of the Massey technician who services the account. The goal is to provide services to small territories and Massey grows by increasing route densities near each service center.
“We try to maintain service center operations that minimize our drive time and maximize our service time,” Jones says. “Some companies have one or two people specialize in bed bug treatments and drive from area to area. To us, that is a lot of risk. By diversifying, we spread that risk out across all the service centers.”
The company works to route its trucks and heaters/trailers so they spend a minimum amount of time on the road, also saving fuel costs.
“We believe if we have to drive 20 minutes from our office to your front door, that’s too far. For us, a vehicle driving down the road with a heater trailer attached to it is nothing but a liability for us,” Jones says. “We want it parked in front of the customer’s property so we are making money.”
Within each local service center, bed bug services fall under the general household pest services. As the company brings on bed bug customers, the goal is to turn them into recurring GHP customers.
“About 4 to 5 percent of our GHP revenue is coming out of bed bug services, which equates to about $2.4 million a year spread out across about 73 different service center locations,” Jones says.
Massey offers two types of bed bug services: a traditional chemical service and an electric convection heat remediation. Both start with a thorough inspection, vacuuming and a chemical treatment. Technicians follow up 7, 14 and 21 days after the chemical treatment. Each of those services has what Massey calls production value — or PV — associated with it.
“Let’s say a job is $1,000. That’s broken up into a percentage of the PV based on the time they are going to spend on that initial treatment. Then there is a PV for each follow up, so the technician who does those still gets paid their standard commission,” Jones says. “As part of the service package, the customer gets a guarantee that goes out 45 days.”
Heat treatments also start out with the inspection, vacuuming and chemical treatment, then they follow up the next day to inspect and release the facility back to the owner. The company follows up again seven days later and provides a six-month guarantee for recurring GHP customers.
“If you are not a recurring GHP customer, you will only get a 60-day guarantee,” says Jones. “That’s our way to try to get the additional recurring revenue.”
Traditional treatments are scheduled at the time of the sale, so before the sales person leaves, Massey has the service date and technician booked. Heat treatments are scheduled centrally as Massey has nine heat units that are utilized by all the service centers. The company does not have heat specialists that run the units, so they cross train everyone on how to use them. The service and general managers understand how to use the units and train their personnel.
According to Jones, one of the problems with heat treatments is that there are many expenses, the largest of which is the ongoing maintenance. The electrical components on the units have to be inspected on a regular basis and maintained.
“We manage those expenses centrally and then those costs are divided out among the service centers using the equipment,” Jones says. “No one location is taking the brunt of those expenses.”
While bed bug treatments are a high-profit business for Massey, they also present challenges, particularly if a service center already has fully productive routes already.
“If you have a full route and then you have to fit in two to four hours for a traditional chemical bed bug service or around seven hours for a heat treatment, how do you figure that out? Like how we do everything else in life, we just sandwich it in,” Jones says. “It may mean you spend a Saturday working, or you may have the service manager or sales people help out.”
Massey does get it done as seen by continuous growth of its bed bug services.
“Although it’s not one of those businesses that will quadruple yearly, over the last three years we are up 15 percent year over year,” Jones says. “It’s working for us and it’s a growing business for us.”
Arrow’s Cindy Mannes, chief marketing and strategy officer, says Arrow tends to steer clear of bed bug work as it accounts for less than 1 percent of the company’s $125 million in yearly revenues. About three years ago, the company’s strategic planning team studied the potential profitability of bed bug services and what it would take to invest in offering them, and made the decision to stay focused on its core businesses.
“It’s a positive choice that we’ve made as a company. When they asked us to speak at the Bed Bug Summit, we said that our position is different than most companies, but they said it would be good for others to hear our perspective,” Mannes says.
Arrow will treat for bed bugs at an existing account or if someone calls requesting services, but it does not actively sell or market bed bug services.
“At Arrow, we basically made a conscious choice to focus on our core businesses — termites, pest control, mosquitoes and lawn care. We are growing in double digits with those businesses. And that’s not through acquisition, that’s organic growth,” Mannes says. “To move into the bed bug business in a big way would require our sales people to shift their focus away from what they currently do.”
It’s not that Arrow doesn’t want to offer bed bug services, but until the team can find a way to make it work within the company’s business model, Mannes says they will continue to listen and learn.
“At one time, we didn’t want to do mosquito business, and today we do a great deal of mosquito business,” she says. “It’s forums like this that allow us to learn and determine if it may be appropriate to offer bed bug services in the future to help grow our business.”
On the Flip Side.
A&C Pest Management got in early on bed bug work when outbreaks were becoming more widespread. Jim Skinner, president, says the company has refined its policies and procedures over time and even feels comfortable taking on jobs that other companies don’t want. Additionally, Skinner has become a TV news favorite — his crowning media achievement was an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“Around 2000, we started dealing with bed bug issues in a Manhattan hotel. Because it was the first bed bug incident we ever ran into, I was pretty confident it was an isolated incident and it would not happen again. Anyhow, that wasn’t the case,” Skinner recalls.
At that time, the firm used only chemical treatments, but over time felt the bed bugs were building up resistance. As a result, Skinner began researching other options, and in 2008, the company purchased its first canines and began using thermal remediation treatments.
Because of this new approach, Skinner decided it was appropriate to adjust the company image to one that was more environmentally responsible, changing the name from A&C Exterminating to A&C Pest Management.
“We hired a marketing company for the main reason that we wanted consistent branding and to standardize our look,” says Skinner. “We developed a new brand logo and wanted every piece that came out of our office to look the same way.”
In addition, Skinner considered public relations efforts, but hiring a firm was a hefty investment. Then one morning, a PR consultant who knew Skinner was interested in doing some media relations called to say there was a news conference regarding another matter taking place at the county building. The consultant e-mailed Skinner a flyer inviting the media to meet the company’s bed bug sniffing dog. Skinner handed the flyers out, went home and waited to see what would happen.
“I couldn’t believe the news crews that showed up at my house. We had them lined up outside waiting to come in. Everybody wanted to see the canine and see how it works,” Skinner says. “This is one way you can do PR and it’s relatively cheap, but if you hire a PR firm, they can get you into some news stations you normally couldn’t get into on your own and on a regular basis.”
Soon after, Skinner got a call from Good Morning America and the crew wanted to film the heat treatment in action. It was difficult to find a bed bug customer who was willing to cooperate.
“I ended up giving a customer half off on her treatment,” Skinner says. “Money talks, everything else walks. Do what it takes to get a customer to help so you get the publicity.”
The next steps in growing the company’s bed bug services were to rewrite A&C’s business plan, define its main target market and identify other niche markets it could easily service.
“Our main marketing efforts are geared towards women between the ages of 35 and 65 because at the end of the day they are more likely to be the ones hiring the service. Plus, they like to be green, be safe and do things that are environmentally sound,” Skinner says.
Other targets Skinner considered and now markets to are group homes, senior housing, offices and other pest management companies that either didn’t want to do bed bug work or had problematic cases.
Group homes can be difficult to treat with chemical applications because it’s difficult to prepare the home for treatment and the residents don’t like any disruption of their daily routine. Senior housing presents similar challenges.
“When using heat, we don’t have to prepare the structure, we don’t have to wait for the chemicals to dry and you don’t have to launder everything,” Skinner says. “At the end of the day, targeting group homes worked well for us, and now we have group homes that actually seek us out.”
According to Skinner, offices are an emerging market. To point: there were reports a local news station had to pay for an employee’s home bed bug treatment and pay her for time off to deal with the issues after she picked up bed bugs at work. Companies are starting to take notice and want to be proactive to prevent what might be caught as a small infestation from turning into a large problem.
“It’s tough work through because the technicians and canines often have to do their inspections at night,” Skinner says.
Another unusual approach A&C took was to begin subcontracting jobs from other pest management companies, knowing they’d be taking on some difficult jobs.
“That’s what is nice about heat — we can go in there and solve the problem. We don’t want to take their customers,” Skinner says. “We want to make it as easy as possible for them to do business with us. We put on their shirts, go in to service as their company and send them a bill.”
The author is a frequent writer for PCT magazine. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.