Bed bugs remain a consistent source of pain for homeowners, office workers, apartment and condominium dwellers, and the hospitality industry. Despite anecdotal reports that the market may be slowing in some regions of the country, Specialty Consultants reports that bed bug service revenue topped $611 million in 2016, growing 6.6 percent from the previous year. Consequently, PMPs are still receiving a steady stream of calls to eliminate these prolific pests.
Noted researcher and extension entomologist Dr. Phil Koehler of the University of Florida addressed the role prevention plays in bed bug management at the Allergy Technologies’ Florida Bed Bug Symposium, held in three cities throughout the Sunshine State this past summer (Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa).
Koehler told the PMPs that taking preventive action against bed bugs not only delivers higher levels of customer satisfaction but can provide new business opportunities.
Due to their highly mobile nature bed bugs are particularly challenging to manage in multi-tenant apartment and condominium complexes, office buildings and the hospitality industry, where the combination of a high volume of inhabitants and daily coming and going make it easier for bed bugs to be introduced.
“The best approach to bed bug management is to prevent an infestation from occurring in the first place,” Koehler told attendees. “That means putting in place an effective prevention program focused on monitoring, identification and customer education.”
What is the value of preventive action to a commercial customer? Koehler shared a story about a housing manager at the University of Florida who contacted him regarding a bed bug infestation in a dormitory. “He told me they had had bed bugs in the furniture and he had thrown out all of the furniture,” recalled Koehler. “$60,000 later when the replacement furniture arrived and the bed bugs were still there, he called me to ask what I thought he should have done.”
The takeaway from this example is that if the call to Koehler was made before action was taken, a different, potentially less costly solution, could have been found.
In the seminar Koehler discussed the IPM bed bug program used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as one that pest professionals may want to reference and adapt into a bed bug prevention program. Many of the steps will look familiar to PMPs since they likely deploy them in existing preventive programs for other pests. And while bed bugs are a little trickier to eliminate than some of their other creepy and crawling insect brethren, the mind-set to prevention is similar.
What does the HUD IPM bed bug program focus on? It emphasizes the following:
- Inspection and monitoring
- Proper identification
- Establishing acceptable thresholds
- Developing a control plan
- Ensuring the effectiveness of the plan
- Customer education
PMPs have numerous options when it comes to the inspection and monitoring component of their bed bug program, including canines and human inspectors, interceptor traps, active mattress liners and encasements (see related article below).
How often are your apartment or condominium or office building clients proactive when it comes to bed bugs? The answer is most likely not very often.
A pest professional is not usually brought into the mix until a resident or employee contacts their property manager, human resources department or hotel management with a complaint. This is where preventive programs can be a premium upsell to forward-looking clients.
“It is much easier to kill one or two bed bugs that were brought in on a piece of clothing vs. 3,000 ten weeks later,” Koehler told attendees. “It is also more beneficial, both monetarily and reputation wise, to the client to invest in a prevention program.”
In addition to physical monitoring and inspections, pest professionals should make sure residents or employees are part of the program. This includes:
- When an account is at high risk for bed bugs (i.e., it has experienced prior infestations), regular inspections are recommended. A
- ctively engaging residents or employees in efforts to prevent bed bugs. Education and involvement of tenants is a critical component of IPM for bed bugs. Bed bugs may often go undetected and unreported because they are active at night and residents, employees or hotel staff may not be aware of their presence.
- Consider holding town hall or “lunch and learn” sessions to help teach basic identification skills, how to eliminate pest conducive conditions, and to report suspicions of bed bugs as soon as possible. Provide an orientation session for new residents and staff, and post signs and handouts regarding bed bug prevention.
- Provide training for property managers/maintenance staff on pest ID and make sure the preventive steps included in the program are being followed.
The author is a communications and marketing consultant with B Communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.