By David Gill
Bed bugs have become a major health crisis in some American cities, and not surprisingly consumers are looking for solutions.
Infestations have been reported in various media, in marquee locations such as the Empire State Building, and unexpected places such as the Cincinnati Public Library. Aside from the nation's bedrooms, they have been reported in hotel rooms, clothing stores, public schools and even movie theaters.
Terminix, the pest-control company, posted a list of the top cities with bed-bug infestations, with New York and Philadelphia finishing number one and number two, respectively--but bed-bug populations are reportedly growing in suburbs as well.
Bed bugs live by sucking the blood off mammals. They may pose a health threat to individuals--but to marketers of basic-bedding products that have introduced anti-bed bug pillow and mattress covers, they have brought good (business) health. These companies have enjoyed sales growth and have expanded their reach into new channels of distribution.
Protect-A-Bed first began to offer mattress encasements that protected individuals from bed bugs in 2007, about a year before the media caught on to the problem. The company first marketed its products to the hospitality industry, to pest-control firms and furniture stores. Its product line has since expanded, with the most recent launch being the Bed Bug Protection Kit, with the patented BugLock three-sided zipper and AllerZip seal. So has its distribution reach, which now includes mass retailers, home centers, department stores and pharmaceutical chains.
Alan Eisenberg, senior vice president of sales for Protect-A-Bed, said, "The benefit of our products is that they go over a variety of channels. A lot of our growth will be in non-traditional channels, outside of furniture stores and sleep shops."
The bed-bug problem has given Protect-A-Bed the opportunity to push its brand well into the limelight. Eisenberg said the company has begun a multimedia advertising campaign with appearances on billboards, print, social-media websites and smart-phone applications. "We're looking at TV in the form of infomercials. We're investigating every possible media outlet," he said.
During last September's New York Home Fashions Market, Perfect Industries introduced a new anti-bed bug mattress pad. Two months later, the company announced that it would use that product--along with its anti-microbial technology, an odor-eliminating fabric treatment and its collection of bedding built around is partnership with the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America--to expand into non-traditional customer bases for the company.
Up to this point, Perfect Fit's customer targets have been the big-box retailers. With these products, the company is now pursuing customers in the hospitality and health-care industries. "The innovations we're bringing to retail are a 'perfect fit' with the hospitality and health-care segments," said Dan Hammer, Perfect Fit's chief executive officer. "These are just two of the industries we're targeting for future growth."
Hotels are seen as the natural distribution channel for the collection of mattress and box-spring encasements developed by Valley Forge Fabrics. These products are made with a polyurethane membrane that traps bed bugs inside, where they eventually die with their food source cut off. This means that mattresses and box springs in hotels need not be replaced, saving hotels thousands of dollars, according to Ken Koneck, accredited professional in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating systems for Valley Forge Fabrics.
Koneck described the market potential for this line as "huge. Hotel insiders will tell you the secret of staving off a major bed-bug infestation is good training of the housekeeping staff and preventative measures such as encasement products." What makes this particularly crucial for hotels is that the bed is "the centerpiece of the guestroom," Koneck said. "It is the main reason a guest chooses that hotel brand or boutique hotel experience."
Aside from the hospitality and health-care markets, homeowners remain a major opportunity for the vendors of anti-bed bug products. "Consumers understand the need to protect their bedding, and they are being proactive, protecting their mattresses and pillows even if they do not currently have a bed-bug issue," said Amanda Keller, licensing manager for London Luxury.
London Luxury offers the AllergyLuxe Arm & Hammer Bed Bug Barrier line, which encompasses mattress protectors and pillow protectors. The line is designed with reinforced fabric and seams and a micro-zipper technology intended to provide a secure encasement and protection from bed bugs. It also features an anti-microbial shield to reduce odors and guard against bacteria, mold and mildew.
Noting that London Luxury has been marketing bed-bug barrier products for almost a decade, Keller added that company is always searching for innovations in this category. "We will continue to explore new opportunities with traditional and non-traditional retailers alike," she said.