BedBug Central (BBC), Lawrenceville, N.J., a recognized source for bed bug information, celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2019. The company has come a long way since its early days, which, not coincidentally, were the early days of a bed bug resurgence.
“It all started by throwing ‘spaghetti at the wall’ to see what would stick,” said Robert DiJoseph, president of BedBug Central. “In 2008, then CEO, Phil Cooper had some broad ideas on how to develop BedBug Central and what it could become, but he recognized we were learning on the fly when we launched in 2009.
“When we first launched the BBC website in 2008, there was so much erroneous bed bug information circulating on the internet that we wanted to be a credible, central resource that both consumers and pest management professionals sought out,” DiJoseph said. “To get started we used Richard Cooper’s research and compiled the information into a comprehensive package, entitled ‘BedBugs 101.’”
Although bedbugcentral.com launched in 2008, the company wasn’t “official” until January 2009 with Phil Cooper, Rick Cooper and DiJoseph as the key players.
Despite the help from Phil Cooper and his company Cooper Pest Solutions, DiJoseph said manpower was a huge obstacle that they faced in the beginning.
“Phil had to protect his core business so his role was sporadic,” he said. “We leveraged Rick’s media appearances early on, but he went off to Rutgers to get his Ph.D., which is when Jeff White came on board to fill his role. Meanwhile, I was the face of BedBug Central to the industry at all the conferences but our bandwidth was stretched very thin in the beginning.”
Even though BedBug Central was originally created to be an educational source, both DiJoseph and White said they quickly came to realize they needed additional revenue streams.
“When we first started BedBug Central it was originally intended to be an education-based company but we quickly learned that generating enough revenue to support a business on education alone was tough,” White said.
DiJoseph added, “Our only source of revenue in the beginning was a modest portfolio of bed bug products sold on our website and a handful of commercial accounts to affected verticals.”
Despite struggling with revenue and manpower in the beginning, White quickly took over Rick Cooper’s vast media appearances, creating many episodes for the YouTube series “BedBug TV” to expand BedBug Central’s brand.
“A colleague introduced me to Wine Library TV back in 2008, which was a wine review video created by Gary Vaynerchuk,” White explained. “We took the concept behind that show and applied it to bed bugs and away we went!”
BedBug TV rapidly gained popularity and notoriety with more than 4 million views on YouTube and more than 7,000 subscribers. The informative-yet-lighthearted series continues to draw views and subscribers, especially on episodes featuring how to inspect a bed for bed bugs or travel-related episodes.
“Bed bugs can be a very upsetting topic for those dealing with infestation in their house,” White said. “Our BedBug TV episodes have created a platform that resonates with viewers and helps them deal with their infestations.”
With the vast amount of information on bedbugcentral.com and BedBugTV exploding in popularity, DiJoseph and White were faced with a large consumer-driven market who were looking for bed bug services.
“Consumers frequented the website to learn about bed bugs and purchase products, which we expected,” DiJoseph said. “But they also frequently would request service, which we did not expect and were unable to fulfill.”
BEDBUGFREE. Due to the volume of service requests, BedBug Central decided to create a network of pest control companies called “bedbugFREE” in November 2009, who perform bed bug services under the protocols outlined by BedBug Central.
“The idea was to create a network of companies, who were philosophically aligned with our treatment methodologies, and promote and refer them on the BedBug Central site,” DiJoseph said. “Also, the pest management industry was hungry for a variety of resources, including approvals, endorsements or certifications as a way of differentiating themselves in their marketplace. The industry felt aligning themselves with the experts at BedBug Central would serve all of those.”
DiJoseph noted that creating the “bedbugFREE” network of companies was one of his most significant achievements early on with the company.
“The 300+ companies, which we are proud to call our ‘bedbugFREE’ community, continue to be key strategic partners for us,” he said. “Crucially serving as our sandbox to bounce ideas off, discuss industry trends, and assist in our product innovation and a variety of other valuable aspects.”
After launching the bedbugFREE network, the desire for bed bug educational consultation increased and White found himself traveling all across the country delivering bed bug training sessions to pest management professionals.
Deciding to capitalize on the need in the industry for hands-on, interactive bed bug training, BedBug Central expanded once again to include the BedBug University brand in December 2009. BedBug University became the go-to educational source for bed bug biology, treatment, products and prevention methods. The educational arm of BedBug Central included traveling road shows in partnership with both state pest management associations and industry distributors, “on-the-job” training sessions, and the popular Bed Bug Boot Camp training session hosted at BBC headquarters in New Jersey.
“After we started to provide road shows we realized we really had a group of different offerings that we could turn into a complete University so we decided to create BedBug University,” White said.
“All of our class offerings have helped pest control companies all over the world improve their bed bug programs, which has been a primary factor in providing us a strong brand and clout within the industry.”
BED BUG BOOT CAMP. Perhaps one of the most successful educational offerings from BedBug University was the Bed Bug Boot Camp. Offered only twice a year, a limited number of attendees receive classroom training on bed bug basics, biology and the “No Prep” unique methodology, as well as hands-on field training with bed bug technicians.
“One of the most attractive aspects of Bed Bug Boot Camp is the field day where attendees can see the protocols being implemented in the field,” White said. “That aspect created the opportunity to have successful classes at our New Jersey headquarters for 10 years and counting.”
As the speaking engagements and training sessions were increasing, White and DiJoseph realized they needed to increase manpower and thus White’s brother, Danny White, was recruited as a national account manager for BedBug Central.
Danny White, who has been heavily involved with BedBug University, said that even though it might be an obstacle at times, he enjoys “educating PMPs on the ‘No Prep’ philosophy and helping each of them differentiate themselves from the competition.”
As bed bugs continued to steal the media’s attention in 2010, BedBug Central decided to offer an industry unique event specifically devoted to anything and everything bed bugs, and that’s how the North American Bed Bug Summit (NABBS) was created.
“I thought it was an idea that presented an interesting opportunity as long as we made the experience unique to attendees while providing truly valuable content,” White said of the NABBS. “At the time that NABBS was launched there was definitely a need for an all bed bug conference as new aspects of the bug were being found every year and an outlet for that information was needed.”
BedBug Central, which founded the event in September 2010, was unprepared for the immense national media attention that was drawn to the event, as well as the number of attendees. “We had no idea what to expect,” DiJoseph said. “We figured it would get some attention but not quite the media circus that surrounded the event.”
For the inaugural NABBS, more than 450 attendees came to the conference that was held in Chicago that year, as well as more than 50 vendors and numerous major media outlets looking to cover the event.
“At the time, it felt like a circus with Phil and Jeff jumping between various media interviews but it made for an incredibly memorable event for all who were a part of it,” DiJoseph said.
After completing their first NABBS, BedBug Central continued to thrive, however, they were at a point where they needed to reevaluate their source of revenue.
“Our business couldn’t survive off of educational offerings alone,” White said. “So we saw some opportunities and voids in the bed bug market where we thought we could fill them with some simple and easy-to-use products.”
PRODUCT INTRODUCTIONS. In November 2012, after the third NABBS, BedBug Central had enough experience, testing and product development to launch the BlackOut Bed Bug Detector.
“It really was a turning point for the company when we launched BlackOut because we shifted into becoming a product innovator and manufacturer,” said White. “From the experience, I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoy innovating new products, then seeing them created and used.”
White explained that the one thing he learned when he created the BlackOut was how much time it takes from conception to physical design. “I’ve been the primary mind behind the development of the products but it’s a team effort from concept to shelf,” he said. “I’m still amazed at how long it takes to develop products. From concept to shelf you are typically looking at a year or more and sometimes multiple years…and remember these are mostly plastic products. If they were pesticides who knows how long it would take!”
In December 2013, three years after the inaugural NABBS, a turning point arose.
“It was in 2013 that we decided to hand over the reins for the NABBS to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA),” DiJoseph said. “From day one, they have been and continue to be an amazing partner. Putting together informative and entertaining conferences is what they do best so we knew ‘our baby’ was in great hands.”
Once NPMA took over the NABBS, it was renamed the Global Bed Bug Summit, which still occurs every two years. The event, which continues to draw large numbers of pest control and affected vertical market attendees, has evolved slightly over the years but continues to have the same feel as the first NABBS. Of all the NPMA Global Bed Bug Summits over the years, BedBug Central employees unanimously agree that the 2018 Global Bed Bug Summit was one of the most memorable conferences. “The 2018 Denver Summit was by far the best,” Danny White said. “After doing it for so many years we were concerned that it may lose steam but it was the best one we have ever had. With over 500 attendees, the PMPs are still eager to learn and the affected industries are starting to get more and more involved.”
It wasn’t long after the first Global Bed Bug Summit that White decided to expand BedBug Central’s product development with the launch of the SenSci product line.
SenSci, short for Sensible Science, first debuted in August 2014 with its SenSci Activ Bed Bug Lure and SenSci Volcano free-standing bed bug interceptor. “I can still remember the day and roundtable where the name SenSci happened,” White said. “I think the name SenSci really encapsulates who we are and what we want to be in the future. A company that makes good, cost-effective and easy to use products.” The SenSci products fulfilled a unique need in the bed bug market by offering a passive lure that worked seamlessly with a discreet, maintenance-free bed bug monitor.
Although it only currently includes bed bug products, White explained that he plans to expand the SenSci product line into more pests in the future. “While the product line hasn’t changed a lot to date,” he said, “we are looking to expand beyond bed bugs starting this year, so changes are on the horizon!”
Looking back on the past 10 years is a whirlwind of emotions for the BedBug Central team, but they all agree that it’s the culture that BedBug Central has created over the years that makes the environment more than just work, it’s family. “BedBug Central believes we have a unique, relaxed yet hard-working culture that combines hard work and fun into a progressive culture,” White said. “I believe one of the secrets to life is enjoying what you do for a living as you spend a huge part of your life working. Who wants to wake up in the morning and have to spend 50 hours a week hating your job and those you work with?”
The future aspirations for BedBug Central are more than just being a profitable company, it’s about making a difference in the markets and communities they serve.
“We hope to continue growing the company, bringing on more talented and fun-to-work-with employees and helping pest control companies grow their businesses,” White said. “In addition to the pest control industry, we are also planning on getting more involved with other industries such as affordable housing and helping communities all over the world provide improved living conditions for their residents.”
DiJoseph added, “It’s truly amazing to look back and see how far we have come, still standing and still growing. However, none of this would be possible without the hardworking talent we have within the walls of BedBug Central, the pest control providers who believe in our ‘No Prep’ philosophy and all of our supporters over the years.”
The author is director of marketing and communications for BedBug Central.