“The phone is still ringing for bed bug services and in certain markets, especially those in the Southern United States, it’s ringing off the hook,” says Dr. Mike Potter, a researcher at the University of Kentucky who has conducted extensive research and worked with pest management professionals on bed bug issues.
Potter says that pest management professionals receiving fewer calls for bed bugs is not a sign of reduced pest pressure but rather increased competition among PMPs vying for this high ticket service.
“The major gateway cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco experienced heavy bed bug pressure first and it is now spreading to smaller metropolitan areas with the influx of travel and the mobile nature of bed bugs,” adds Potter.
Dr. Susan Jones, a researcher at the Ohio State University, says the bed bug issue is not losing strength despite some observers’ claims that the market has reached a critical mass.
“The bottom line is that bed bugs are going strong and not going away anytime soon,” says Jones, who says multi-family housing and hospitality accounts continue to be unwilling targets for these annoying pests.
DIFFERENT LOCATIONS. Jones says she has seen an uptick in bed bug incidents in office building complexes and the resulting reactions from property managers and human resource personnel have only added fuel to the fire.
“Property managers and HR representatives often have little or no experience dealing with bed bug complaints and the hysteria that ensues does little to solve the problem,” says Jones, who has seen instances where perfectly good, pest-free furniture has been thrown out or employees scrutinized for hygiene issues unnecessarily.
An office building – unlike a high-rise apartment or condominium building or hotel – does not offer a target-rich environment for bed bugs since it lacks their main target – humans at rest for an extended period of time. Survival rates for bed bugs in this setting are low compared to other locations but that doesn’t stop the overreaction from taking place.
Jones suggests PMPs set up surveillance and monitoring programs to reassure clients they on top of the issue and ready to react.
Jones also says there is a strong need for more bed bug education in commercial accounts. Collateral material for clients and town hall meetings for residents of multi-family housing complexes that offer helpful tips on bed bug prevention strategies are some of the strategies that can be deployed.
“It is a budget issue for many property managers but it is too costly not to make the investment in the long run,” adds Jones.
PREVENTIVE OFFERINGS. The interest in marketing preventive bed bug services is also on the rise among pest management professionals. These programs include regular inspections, active mattress liners, mattress encasements and preventive, targeted treatments using non-repellant residual materials directed at suspected harborage locations (i.e., bed frames, under furniture, along the room perimeter, etc.).
Preventive services, however, are proving to be a tougher sell for pest professionals due to cost and a lack of understanding of how a preventive program’s elements work and the benefits.
The University of Kentucky’s Potter says PMPs are finding more success marketing preventive bed bug programs to commercial clients with whom they have established service agreements for other pest services and whose businesses’ brand and bottom line would suffer if an infestation was known to customers.
Bed bug litigation continues to be an issue for pest professionals and thorough documentation of service records is essential.
“Don’t be reluctant to document everything during an inspection or treatment, the more detail the better,” says Potter. “Bed bug services have become similar to termite treatments when it comes to litigation.”
He says insurance carriers for property management companies or hotels will request a pest management company’s service records to review contract structure, list of pre-service requirements, what preventive measures were recommended, what treatments were performed and the effectiveness of those treatments.
PRICING. Another trend that will likely impact the bed bug market in the future is the price it charges for services.
“Consumers want easy, cost-effective solutions for their bed bugs problems and those often are beyond their grasp,” says Jones. “Bed bugs are an expensive pest to treat for because of the labor intensive nature of the work and the fact multiple treatments are necessary. Many consumers are giving up on service or putting it off until they can afford it.”
When it comes to product technology for bed bug control monitoring and surveillance products, traditional pesticides and heat treatments continue to be the tools of choice for PMPs.
Potter says the search for the “magic monitor” continues as do questions about what is the correct number to deploy in an account and how to work around the visibility issue with customers. And while dusts are an effective tool for PMPs, the presence of white powder can be unsettling for clients.
When it comes to traditional pesticides Susan Jones reminds PMPs to rotate insecticides to avoid resistance issues with bed bugs, which have shown a propensity to quickly develop resistance.
• Bed bugs are still a significant pest in the United States. A recent consumer survey indicated more than 70 percent of urban residents indicated they have encountered bed bugs in their home, office or a hotel.
• More customer education is needed to help spread the prevention message.
• Bed bug litigation continues to be an issue for pest professionals and thorough documentation of service records is essential.
• Rotate insecticides to avoid resistance issues with bed bugs.