Out in Rosemnot, at the O'Hare Hyatt Regency, plenty of entrepreneurs are getting creepy, crawly.
They're talking about bed bugs at The North American Bed Bug Summit. Believe it or not, those unwanted pests are big business.
Northbrook entrepreneur Adam Greenberg is the founder of USBedBugs.com, but when he went into business for himself years prior, parasites weren't exactly at the forefront of his mind.
Greenberg actually started off with a medical-supply website, and over time, realized that his customers were using his mattress covers to protect against bed bugs, instead of what they were intended for -- incontinence.
Yes, it's a potentially stomach-turning way to make it but what matters as an entrepreneur is the bottom line, and if you're helping people, all the better. What's more, there's a lot of money in the bed-bug market. Sunday through Tuesday, the Bed Bug Summit will be taking place at the Hyatt near O'Hare in Rosemont. The hotel will be infested with vendors displaying products to keep those pesky bugs at bay.
To get a better idea of what this field is like, I gave Greenberg a call.
How did you wind up working in the bed-bug market?
Adam Greenberg: I ran a medical-supply company under the name NorthShore Care Supply, selling customers supplies over the Internet for almost 10 years now. Roughly about five, six years ago our customers who saw we had mattress protectors started asking for mattress protectors for bed bugs. Obviously it was something that wasn't very much in the news back then, so we found some products that were available for keeping the bed bugs out of mattresses and we started hearing these horror stories of people living through bed-bug infestations. The only people we talked to [back then] already had them. Nobody was buying products for prevention back then.
You just listen to these stories about how it took people months and months to get rid of them, they had trouble sleeping, and it was costing people thousands of dollars. Exterminators back then had very few tools to deal with them even at that time. They would say to us, "Okay, you zipped up our mattress, because that's the only product that's available for bed bugs, but what can we do to prevent bringing them back the next time we travel?" We started investigating and doing some research, and we came up with one travel product that's our own invention called the BugZip Travel Protector, and we started developing these products to put on our website to help people detect bed bugs at home, to prevent bringing them home.
I understand that before people starting asking you, they were just buying your products and using them against bed bugs, which wasn't their intended purposes. Can you speak a little about how you mentally made the shift to meet a new market segment you hadn't previously considered?
Adam Greenberg: We obviously selected products that the manufacturers were repurposing and went through testing to assure that their products were effective on dealing with this problem. There are a lot of products out there that I feel haven't gone through adequate testing to repurpose -- we definitely steer clear of those. We do our own internal testing as well to make sure that anything put on our site doesn't just have the word "bed bug" on it but is effective and can't be misused.
I don't want to give people products that people are going to misuse and it can put them at risk. Even though you could buy them over-the-counter, we recommend they seek professional guidance for applying those kinds of things. We're very careful about the products we select. When we redirected our focus and added this new niche, we saw an opportunity that really fit in with our staying business practices. Being set up for home delivery really works well, because discrete home delivery is something that bed-bug customers want. They don't want their neighbors knowing that they're dealing with a problem, or in some cases, their family. Customer service over the Internet, advising people on which is the right product, not just giving them a list and sending them to Amazon.
How can people be aware of unexpected niches like you've stumbled upon?
Adam Greenberg: For us, it really comes down to staying close with the customers. We haven't outsourced our customer service. We have all our products here. We have all our people here. So when customers start asking for these other applications of existing products, we're able to get that feedback right away and start investigating. Get that feedback from the customer-service level, and don't lose it.