There was a time when bed bug treatment necessitated an extraordinary amount of effort on the part of tenants or homeowners. PMPs were charged with the dubious task of handing an extensive list of preparation activities — turning beds on end, bagging clothes, emptying dresser drawers, etc. — to their customers. The reality was that customers almost never did everything they were supposed to do, and when they did, they didn’t do it according to instruction. This left PMPs weighing the alternatives of treating the residence anyway or postponing the project until their requirements had been met.
Then came the introduction of BedBug Central’s low-prep approach, a program based on the idea that customers shouldn’t have to, and in reality don’t need to, do all of that preparation. The program combines targeted application of insecticides, steam and vacuuming with the use of mattress and box spring encasements, interception devices and monitors, while limiting customer involvement to cleaning their living space. Cooper Pest Solutions had been using this protocol with great success for a couple of years, to the delight of customers throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They decided to share their customer-friendly approach with pest management companies nationwide through BedBug University, the educational arm of BedBug Central.
“When we started the program about six years ago, PMPs came here to spend a couple of hours with Jeff White [director of innovation at BedBug Central and Cooper Pest Solutions], who introduced them to the low-prep approach, and then spent the remainder of the day observing Cooper technicians actually doing the bed bug work,” says Rob DiJoseph, vice president of operations at BedBug Central. “When 20 companies came through in a matter of just a few months, we recognized that there was a real need for this type of education. That’s when we developed a more structured program — BedBug Boot Camp — which expanded the learning experience to four days.”
In the past five years, 225 companies have gone through Boot Camp training. The BedBug Central team organizes two to four camps a year, with each accommodating up to 15 participants.
“Our goal is not necessarily to have PMPs follow our protocol to the last detail, but rather to present them with all of the information and give them the opportunity to incorporate the aspects of the program that make the most sense within their own protocols,” says Danny White, account manager at Cooper Pest Solutions. “We want everyone who comes through the program to become the best in their markets.”
When BedBug Central first started talking about the low-prep approach, the industry was skeptical — yet hopeful. Of course it would be great to be able to tell customers they wouldn’t have to do all of that prep work, but it sounded too good to be true. If you want to eradicate bed bugs, you have to ask residents to empty their closets and drawers, remove their linens and set their beds on end, don’t you?
Turns out you really don’t. PMPs have found in practice that when the contents of a home are undisturbed, it’s much easier to identify the source and location of the bed bugs so you can target treatments to areas where they will do the most good. In fact, moving things around can cause you to lose control of an infestation.
Peter Gataric, vice president of Chicago’s EcoTech Pest Control, explains it this way: “We look at an infested house like it’s a crime scene, scanning each room for evidence of bugs and their hiding places. If residents move things around before you get there, they disrupt the bed bugs’ habitat. Then you have no idea where to apply the steam, where to focus your treatment. We can get a much clearer picture of what’s going on when the contents of the home are undisturbed.”
Even skeptics have come around to praise the low-prep approach. David Poplin, of Legion Pest Management in Southern California, shares, “Before I went to Boot Camp and learned the protocol in 2013, I wasn’t convinced this approach would work. But I came back and tried it and found it provided the same, if not better, efficacy. That’s important because I have a lot of senior customers who can’t be flipping beds. I’ve tried a lot of different bed bug protocols, and this is the only one that offers a practical solution. Today I’m 100 percent sold on the low-prep approach.”
Encasements and Interception Devices: Critical to Success
How important are mattress and box spring encasements and interception devices to the battle on bed bugs? They’re so important that BedBug Central recommends including them in your pricing structure and that many pest management companies provide information about them on their websites.
JP Pest Services of Milford, N.H., is one of those companies. “We rely on these tools to help us detect and treat bed bugs early and efficiently,” says Joe Maguire, Bed Bug Department manager. “Encasements and Blackout monitors help us isolate the bed, taking the mattress out of the equation so we can focus treatment on the bed frame, nightstands and other areas of infestation. Customers need to recognize the important role of these tools in eliminating their bed bug problems.”
Jeff White of BedBug Central and Cooper Pest Solutions adds, “Leaving the decision of whether to use encasements and interception devices up to the customer is a mistake, because they aren’t likely to understand their full value. At Cooper Pest Solutions, we build the cost of encasements and interception devices into our quote (at cost). We believe strongly that you are doing a disservice to your client and yourself if you’re not using them.”
The Sales Advantage.
The low-prep treatment option, as earning Bed Bug Central’s bedbugFREE designation, offers a number of sales advantages for pest control companies. “Although PMPs do have to pass an exam to earn bedbugFREE status,” DiJoseph says, “this isn’t a certification process. Being bedbugFree means that a company adheres to the same philosophies on bed bug treatment as we do here at BedBug Central. We include these companies’ names on our website and give them the use of the bedbugFREE logo. We also serve as an ongoing resource for them, whether they have questions about treatment protocols, marketing or other aspects of doing bed bug work.”
From a sales perspective, PMPs who tout their bedbugFREE status say that it is a true differentiator. “We had gone into Boot Camp because we wanted to learn the treatment techniques; we hadn’t really thought about using this as a marketing advantage,” says Mark Hassman of Hassman Termite and Pest Control in Central Kansas. “But Rob talked to us about advertising the benefits to customers — minimal prep, no hassle, no bugs, no bites — so we tried it. Our message is really resonating. Customers love the idea that they don’t have to do half the work.”
Jeremy Ecker, whose Rest Easy Pest Control serves Long Island and New York City, adds, “The low-prep approach is a definite selling point for us. Property managers love it because they are no longer challenged with trying to get cooperation from their tenants. It’s a home run with homeowners, too: Nobody wants to live out of plastic bags. We get a lot of business based on the minimal prep our services require.”
“I’ve been doing bed bug work since 1965, and finally I have a service I can stand behind,” says Ken Perry, general manager of Pied Piper Pest Control. “When I found out I could offer a 90-day warranty at the end of service, I knew this was the answer to the heavy infestations we get here. The low-prep approach and my bedbugFREE status have helped make me Alaska’s go-to bed bug guy.”
Donna Defranco, a freelance writer based in Cleveland, Ohio, is a frequent editorial contributor to PCT magazine.