It's A Dog's Life

Posted on Jun 1, 2011 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photo by Patrick Ferron

“Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

That familiar bedtime refrain became big news last year when the media jumped on the surge of bedbug infestations — creating a wave of panic among travelers nationwide.
And while Wil-Kil Pest Control was founded more than 80 years ago, these fears created a new
business opportunity for the pest management company, which serves Wisconsin, Minnesota
and several neighboring states.

“We had to formulate a treatment plan for that infestation,” says Randy Allen, regional manager of Wil-Kil, who added their phones started ringing about four years ago with calls from hotel chains and property managers concerned about bedbugs. Now, he says, he talks to someone just about every day about those annoying, yet almost microscopic, little pests.

Two years ago, Wil-Kil made an innovative investment in that portion of their business, adding a unit for dogs to detect the presence of bedbugs. Max, a beagle trained in bedbug detection, joined Wil-Kil in 2009.

In the first year, Allen says, “Max and his handler far exceeded what our initial expectations were in terms of inspection-driven revenue. Since obtaining Max, our bedbug services have increased by 75 percent.”

Because of that success, the company recently added a second dog, Daisy, to the brigade. Both beagles were trained at J&K Canine Academy in Florida to find live bedbugs and viable eggs.
“Once the bedbugs are detected, one of our specialists will treat the bedbugs with our heat treatment process,” which kills the bugs, Allen says.

Now that more people and companies are aware of the presence of bedbugs, Allen says, Wil-Kil is seeing businesses be more proactive in their approach. He says about 85 percent of the clientele in this division are commercial businesses.

The investment in the canine division was pricey; Wil-Kil marketing manager Craig Rohde estimates in the six figures. Costs included not only the dogs, but veterinary checks, remediation vehicles and equipment and salaries (each dog has a dedicated handler).

“We took the issue (bedbugs) and made some serious investments,” Allen says. “There was no way to know, but we just saw something evolving. We created a business plan to keep up with demand.”
And Wil-Kil isn’t the only company to see such demand. J&K Canine Academy started training bedbug detection dogs in 2007 and, according to Nicole Ammon, manager in the Florida office, “The demand has increased. We have sold almost 250 dogs so far.”

But before creating new divisions or expanding to meet demand, Rohde recommends others do their research before jumping in.

“If it’s a business that already exists,” he says, “see if you can talk to someone who’s doing it.
“See if it’s right for you,” he adds. “Make sure it fits your business model, and financially, you will find a return on your investment. Doing due diligence really prepared us.”
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