Kansas City pest control companies see surge in bedbug calls to businesses, homes

Kansas City Business Journal
Monday, June 6, 2011

Bedbugs once again are showing up in hotels, homes and businesses in the Kansas City metro area - and that means big business for pest control companies.

Darryl Franke, owner of Kansas City-based SOS Pest Control, said he has seen an "amazing increase" in bedbug calls.

"We've done as much business in May as we did all of last year," he said.

Franke gets 15 to 20 phone calls about bedbugs a week - as many bedbug calls as he received in all of 2007.

Franke projected that he will make $500,000 to $750,000 this year from bedbug work alone. Four years ago, bedbug work brought in about $25,000.

According to the National Pest Management Association, 95 percent of pest control companies have encountered bedbugs during the past year. Before the turn of the millennium, 25 percent of companies reported encounters with the pests.

"Before 2000, pest control companies probably didn't know what to look for," said Leo Williams, sales manager for Kansas City Terminix.

Bedbugs were reintroduced to the United States in recent years, he said.

Compared with last year, Terminix has seen a 100 percent increase in the number of calls concerning bedbug extermination, Williams said.

Through May 31 this year, Terminix received 242 calls about bedbugs in residential and commercial locations. During the same period in 2010, the company recorded 104 bedbug calls.

Revenue rose 114 percent during the period, Williams said, though he didn't provide an exact figure.

Bedbug calls have been a "pretty steady mix" of homes and businesses, he said, adding that any place with a high turnover of people is likely to be at risk, including hotels, apartments, nursing homes, homeless shelters and others.

Part of the increase is due to a decreasing stigma about bedbugs, Williams said. Three to five years ago, he said, people were embarrassed to admit they had bedbugs. Now, they just want to get rid of them and have it over with.

But "bedbugs are some of the best hitchhikers in the world," he said, which means they could be eradicated yet show up again a year later.

If infestations happen six or seven months apart, it's probably a new infestation, Williams said.

Franke said peak bedbug season isn't until August. Traditionally, pest control companies make two-thirds of their bedbug calls between August and October.

And there's no prevention method.

"For now, it's 100 percent reactive," Williams said. "We can't treat them unless we know they're there."

Biting back

Exterminating bedbugs isn't cheap, but different approaches vary in cost.
Multifaceted approaches such as Terminix uses typically cost $500 to $700 a room for a commercial building, said Leo Williams, sales manager for Terminix Kansas City. It involves pesticides, vacuuming, steaming and education. The cost can add up depending on the size of the infestation.
An approach used by SOS Pest Control involves using technology to heat a structure to 130 degrees. Owner Darryl Franke said a bedbug dies in one minute in temperatures of 122 degrees. Franke said the average cost of heating a 1,500-square-foot infested location is about $1,200. The price can increase or decrease based on the size of the infested area and how crammed it is with furniture.
But no matter the approach, both agreed that education is important. The consumer should know where the bedbugs came from and how to prevent a new infestation, they said.
"You don't want to treat it until you know the cause," Franke said.