Bedbugs are tenacious. These little guys are one of the most notoriously difficult bugs to eliminate. For this reason, starting your own bedbug business or bedbug franchise can be quite profitable. Unlike other pests, bedbugs require a highly specialized treatment, and it's not cheap. Services can cost around $100 to $500 per room or $2,000 to $4,000 for heat treatments. So, how do you go about building a business off the back of the most annoying of all pests? Put your business plan together and get the ball rolling.
A business plan is the heart and soul of a successful company. Before you hit the ground running, you need to detail in a business plan exactly the kind of bedbug business you want to create. Not every bedbug franchise or business is the same. Some focus on removal, while others focus on detection. You may want to offer:
- Chemical treatments
- Heat or freezing treatments
- Visual inspections or inspections via electronic monitors
- Dog inspections
According to Henry Perez, owner of Trace:K9, dogs are a highly effective method of detection because they have 220 million scent receptors, whereas humans have just 5 million. This is one of the leading methods of detection. As far as eradication, heat and freezing are often preferable in homes over the use of harsh chemicals.
Bedbug businesses typically thrive in highly populated areas. Bedbugs spread faster in large offices and apartment buildings than they would elsewhere. That’s not to say a residential or rural area is the wrong choice. Your best bet is operating in a town without much competition.
“The best advice I would have for someone looking to start up their own pest control business is to look at areas that aren't oversaturated with other pest control companies,” said Kenny Wellbank, a former pest control technician at Cooper Pest Solutions. For example, if you notice a lot of bedbug businesses in the area using pesticides, you may want to launch a business using nonchemical methods.
The type of equipment you need to run a bedbug company varies depending on your model, and it can be quite expensive. You'll likely need to secure some investments or a business loan if you're not independently wealthy. As far as equipment goes, you could need everything from heating units and pesticides to fully trained dogs. According to Brad Thorstenson, owner of Interstate Pest Management, heat treatment is often the most effective but requires more equipment than simple contact formulas, residuals and dust insecticides.
“[Heat treatment] requires heat assault or electric units to heat the home to a temperature that bedbugs can't survive in,” he said. “There are also equipment options that use freezing temperatures to destroy bedbug populations, and you'll need to do your research to figure out what you want to use.”
Finding equipment was slightly different for Perez. He had to adopt a fleet of highly trained beagles, which he claims they use because the pups adapt to training very well and are natural-born hunters. This process was long. Each pup cost between $7,000 and $12,000, and it took around three months for a dog be trained plus an additional four days for Perez to get the proper certification. Still, he wouldn't change a thing. Perez believes the key to a successful K9 bedbug company is to choose the right K9 academy.
“There are several K9 academies in the country, but we went with one in Florida because of their reputation and their strict guidelines for handling a dog,” he said. “Most trainers at the Florida facility are retired K9 law enforcement officers. We felt the [more] stringent the rules, the better the training. Some companies out there are too lenient and will pass your training without the proper handling instructions which can then lead to the dog giving false positives, which can ultimately negatively affect your business.”
Cutting corners is always attractive when you’re trying to launch a business and don’t yet have a solid stream of customers or revenue. Unfortunately, this is where a lot of bedbug companies ruin their reputation. According to Perez, you need to protect your investment by investing in top of the line equipment, even if that equipment is a fuzzy friend.
“The best advice I can give you is to invest in a well-trained dog, even if it costs more,” he said. “You will have a highly trained dog and your business will thrive. I know of someone who, in an attempt to save money, bought a dog from a subpar training school, and the dog was put down a year later. The investment was a total loss. Your dog is the life of your business. Take good care of it like it was a child.”
Most businesses need a business license to operate. You’ll have to apply for this in your municipality at the local city or town clerk’s office before you can start taking on customers. You also may be need to acquire a separate license from your state’s regulatory agency. More often than not, you’ll need to contact the Department of Health or Department of Agriculture if you’re dealing with pesticides, particularly pesticides that contain lead. It all depends on your business model, but pesticides aren’t actually a very popular method for bedbug extermination.
Wellbank believes customers often prefer treatments that don’t require excessive amounts of potentially hazardous chemicals. “There are simple and chemical-free solutions to many pest issues, and even though they may require a little more elbow grease, they will go a long way with a customer who is concerned about chemical usage,” he said.
For this reason, heat and freezing are among the most common bedbug treatments. You most likely will not be subject to licensing or regulatory requirements, even if your equipment must reach 120 degrees to effectively eradicate bedbugs. Fewer than 20 states require a license for nonchemical bedbug services.
Things are a little different if you’re operating a K9 business. Dogs should be certified through the National Entomology Scent Detection Canine Association to ensure both the handler and dog have the proper skills. According to Perez, the certification course took four days.
Once you’ve gotten your bedbug company off the ground, it’s time to start marketing yourself. You may wish to launch a website and use services like Yelp and Google to list your business online. The best and most cost-effective form of marketing is always word of mouth. This is why customer service is key.
Thorstenson recommends offering free inspections to entice new customers and always having a speedy delivery. “The sooner you can inspect their home and determine the extent of their infestation, the better,” he said. “It also gives you a chance to instill trust and offer a solution face to face rather than having a CSR share an expensive treatment option over the phone.”
Thorstenson also recommends giving your customer a guarantee, like a free follow-up inspection. “Bedbugs are an uncomfortable topic for most homeowners, and it's an expensive problem to have. Your customers deserve to know that they're putting their money in a team that can get the job done correctly. Do the job right and stand behind the work you do,” he said. “Any profit you lose out on from having to retreat [a home] is still cheaper than a tarnished reputation from unsatisfied customers.”