DENVER, Colo. — As part of his presentation during the last week’s Global Bed Bug Summit in Denver, Colo., presented by NPMA and BedBug Central, University of Kentucky researcher Dr. Michael Potter framed the next two day’s worth of discussions by asking this question: “Are we making progress?”
Perhaps the most accurate answer is “yes and no.” From the time these pests re-emerged in large numbers in the mid-2000s until today, the pest control community — including university researchers, pest management professionals and manufacturers — has made great strides in better understanding bed bug biology and behavior; refining training, policies and procedures (as well as business models); and introducing new and innovative products.
Despite these strides, bed bugs remain problem pest No. 1 for many pest management professionals. Potter cited a 2010 NPMA and University of Kentucky bed bug survey in which 76% of PMPs surveyed responded that bed bugs were THE most difficult pest to control; that same survey was repeated in 2013 and, again, 76% responded that bed bugs were THE most difficult pest control. And bed bugs are being found in more non-residential areas. Again, Potter cited the NPMA/University of Kentucky bed bug surveys from 2010 and 2013 to illustrate this point. Here’s how respondents answered the question “Where have you found bed bugs?” in 2013 (with 2010 results in parenthesis).
• Hotels/motels - 75 percent (67 percent in 2010)
• College dorms - 47 percent (35 percent in 2010)
• Nursing homes - 46 percent (25 percent in 2010)
• Office buildings - 36 percent (18 percent in 2010)
• Schools and day care centers - 41 percent (10 percent in 2010)
• Hospitals - 33 percent (12 percent in 2010)
• Transportation (train/bus/taxi) - 21 percent (9 percent in 2010)
• Movie theaters - 10 percent (4 percent in 2010)
It’s for this reason that industry events like the previous Bed Bug Summits have served as great forums for opening dialogue and BedBug Central President Phil Cooper noted that partnering with NPMA for this year’s Summit has brought new participants and perspectives. During this year’s Global Bed Bug Summit, industry experts addressed the global bed bug challenge from a research, field and business perspective.
The pest control industry seems to view bed bugs as a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, beg bug management is a service in demand; on the other hand it requires significant capital investments (e.g., heat equipment and trailers); additional labor costs; and companies run the risk of getting so wrapped up in bed bug work they lose focus on their core service offerings. “The mantra for many companies is, ‘Bed bugs are 10 percent of our revenues but take 50 percent of our effort — it is the only business where you have to spend $1 million to make $1 million,’” Potter said.
Refining bed bug business models to make this offering more profitable was the focus of a panel consisting of John Zimmerman, GM of Buffalo Exterminating, Orchard Park, N.Y.; Russ Ives, president, Rose Pest Solutions, Troy, Mich; and Phil Cooper, president, Cooper Pest Solutions, Lawrenceville, N.J. Zimmerman said Buffalo Exterminating re-examined what it could and couldn’t control when it came to bed bug costs. Some of the changes they instituted included: using propane gas heaters (which they found to be more efficient than electric); reducing follow-up visits from three to two; reducing the number of technicians for follow up visits from two to one; using handheld equipment to track results. Similarly, Ives said Rose Pest Solutions re-examined routing to keep down expenses associated with transporting heating equipment via truck/trailer. He also said three years ago Rose Pest Solutions brought its canine division in-house; previously, they outsourced canine inspections with mixed results. Cooper said his company has experienced similar challenges and made similar adjustments; for 2014, he said, the company is positioning itself to move from a reactive bed bug model to a recurring one, focusing largely on early detection, including the use of interceptor devices.
Other highlights from the conference included:
• Industry consultant Larry Pinto led a session titled “Prepared for the Worst: What to Expect if Your Customer is Sued.” Pinto, an entomologist by trade, has been called as a witness in more than 30 cases. Among the advice he gave to PMPs was that they review their practices to ensure they provide “effective and reasonable service,” meaning they: act reasonably; don’t overpromise; use scientific, defensible tactics; have clear protocols and policies; do not mandate disposal; and define customer responsibilities. He also said they need to require reasonable preparation requirements. “I’ve seen many times where the defense attorney pulls out [the client preparation checklist] and says, ‘You are expecting a 70-year-old woman to be able to move their furniture three feet from the wall? To stand up their mattress and box spring? To wash all their clothes?” Pinto also stressed the importance of documentation, and recommended that PCOs keep their paperwork on file for 10 years.
• A panel discussion provided three very different approaches to bed bug work from Massey Services, Orlando, Fla.; Arrow Exterminators, Atlanta; and A&C Pest Management, East Meadow, N.Y. Massey’s Adam Jones noted that Massey has invested heavily in its bed bug services. Unlike many companies, Massey does not have a separate bed bug division, rather if bed bugs are found at the resident (or commercial facility) of a Massey client, that bed bug work becomes the responsibility of the Massey technician(s) who services the account. Jones added that Massey works hard at routing so that its trucks and heaters/trailers spend a minimum amount of time on the road, thus reducing risk and saving fuel costs. “The goal is for our trucks to be on the road no more than 20 minutes,” he said. Arrow’s Cindy Mannes said Arrow has mostly steered clear of bed bug work (it only accounts for less than 1 percent of the company’s $125 million in yearly revenues). Arrow will treat for bed bugs at its existing accounts, or if a new customer calls requesting bed bug services then Arrow will accept the work, but the company does not actively sell/market its bed bug services. Mannes said Arrow does not want bed bug work to take focus from its core offerings. On the flip side is A&C’s Jim Skinner, whose company got in early on this line of work in the mid 2000s when outbreaks were becoming more widespread. Skinner said the company has refined its policies and procedures and he even feels comfortable taking on jobs that other pest control companies subcontract to A&C (which tend to be problematic). Additionally, the high-energy, charismatic Skinner has become a TV news favorite and his crowning media achievement was an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
• A trio of pest management professionals – Judy Black (Steritech), Eric Braun (Rentokil) and Billy Tesh (PMi) provided case studies of some of their most challenging bed bug jobs. Black related the story of Steritech treating a heavily infested hotel that featured beds made of knotty pines and faux wood-paneled walls (areas with lots of cracks and crevices). Through some trial and error and vigilance, Steritech was able to get the infestation largely under control. However, weeks after the treatment the company was getting calls. Two areas near the end of the hall on the second and third floors of the building were particularly problematic. After repeatedly questioning the hotel staff, Black learned that these areas were where linens were dropped off at the hotel (the hotel used an outside service to launder certain items). It turns out the linen carts and vehicles transporting the linens were infested with bed bugs. Black said the lesson here is that many times you have to ask clients the same question several times in order to get all of the clues needed to pinpoint an infestation. Braun related a challenging account residential account in which clutter was proving problematic for the company’s heat treatment. He said Rentokil used a 4-step approach to overcome this challenge: (1) arranging clutter to optimize airflow; (2) search for colds spots more frequently; (3) extending hold time; and (4) heating objects separately. Tesh discussed how his company overcame challenges of treating a severely infested 11-story multifamily building. It was a massive undertaking that required a significant amount of client cooperation. Tesh explained to this technicians that it was important they treat each of the residents with respect, and he thinks this went a long way towards getting their cooperation. Additionally, Tesh paid to have lunch brought in and provided free of charge on the day each resident had their apartment treated.
• In addition to the many sessions, attendees had numerous networking opportunities and got a first-hand look at the latest bed bug products from leading manufacturers at the exhibit all. The Global Bed Bug Summit was sponsored by ActiveGuard (Platinum level); Syngenta (Gold level); AP&G; Rentokil; Terramera; Temp-Air; WDDO; and Zoecon.
PCT will have additional coverage of the Global Bed Bug Summit in future issues of PCT and online at www.pctonline.com.