If you had asked me two months ago what I knew about bed bugs and how they can change your life, I would have looked at you with great puzzlement. To me, at that seemingly distant point, "bed bugs," "my life" and "change" were not words I considered congruent parts of a sentence. Then our life was turned upside down by an infestation of bed bugs in our building. Oh my God, I thought, what do I do? I truly considered jumping out of a window at that point. Not only did I know nothing about what a bed bug was, or where they came from or how to get rid of them, I could not get anyone to give me reasonable answers to these most rudimentary questions.
My life went from easy to the most difficult it had been almost overnight. Had I not found this website www.prep4bedbugs.com, I would not have discovered two essentials to living through this experience: 1) proper preparation for the exterminator is the key to ridding one's life of them; and 2) that finding a business run by someone who understands the fears and anxieties of her clients can make a huge difference in how the work gets done.
Yasmine Hecker is the CEO of Prep4BedBugs, LLC. At 52, she is a trim, feisty, sympathetic and bright lesbian. She can connect with her clients as well as her largely male crews and everyone knows she is paying attention and evaluating what she hears. This company has only been in existence since May when she lost her job as a managing agent for a real estate company. After 12 years at that work, she knows what goes on in New York City apartments and what landlords will and will not do for the tenants. Being fired though meant she rushed forward with her new business and has found clients from the start. The reason for that was that her business plan is a good one and the proof of that is how rapidly she has increased her work load. Beginning in May with two jobs, in June she completed five jobs. By the time her crew arrived at our apartment in September she was up to 10 jobs/day with five men/crew. Now that is rapid growth. As I quickly learned, New York City is in the midst of a bed bug epidemic. There is no place too small or too dark for a bed bug to hide and without this kind of service, and hers is the only company in the area to provide it, there is no guarantee that the exterminator called in to kill the bugs will be able to do that.
Our conversation took place in her apartment in the Bronx on October 7th. Ms. Hecker prepared a nice lunch for us and before we could even sit down to eat, she began talking about the training sessions she does every other month in order to find more workers for her crews. Her voice became quite animated as she recounted how the sessions were set up. They are run in a school, with a member of the Department of Health helping to give out information as well. They last for 5 hours with a half hour for lunch. Thirty-eight people showed up to this latest one. She does no advertising and relies on her current crews to spread the word about them. During those 4-5 hours she teaches the participants all they will need to know about the life cycle of the bed bug and how the system she uses works. She makes all of them sign a non-disclosure form as well as a non-compete form. Once she takes on these new recruits, they go on the job with the older members of her crew and she does not charge the client for them. This is her investment in growing her business. It is a smart move because there is much to learn on the job. The contents of our entire apartment ended up in plastic bags, the furniture was steam cleaned, the furniture moved from the walls, the electric sockets insulated as well as all the plumbing. All the cracks and crevices that bugs could use to migrate from apartment to apartment were caulked and there were these white dishes placed under the legs of couches filled with mineral oil and baby powder to kill the bugs. The doorways of the rooms had blue duct tape all around them covered with vaseline to also keep the bugs from migrating from room to room.
We had been given instructions from the exterminator about how to prepare our apartment for their work and it was a couple of pages long but it was nothing compared to what Ms. Hecker's crew did to make sure that if there were any bugs in our place, they would not survive this treatment.
My first direct question to Ms. Hecker was in the form of how did a nice person like you get into a nasty business like this?
Ms. Hecker is completely at ease with herself and as she began recounting her journey from being a real estate management agent to business owner, it was clear that her success was partially predicated on her clear vision as to how this business needed to be organized which was based on the massive amount of research she had conducted before getting started. Of course losing one's job is also a great motivator but had she not done her homework, this kind of rapid success would not have been possible.
One of the negative consequences, though, of having to get to work so quickly was that her initial idea for the business had to be postponed. Originally, she had wanted to set it up as a non-profit so that she could help the elderly and those with special needs get prepared for the exterminator. This is work a landlord does not want to do, she told me. Then she added that when she has been in the apartments of the elderly she has seen what hoarders many have become. And there are also those who cannot do the heavy lifting and arranging that the preparation requires. Someone needs to assist with this and the amount of time is considerable, so a non-profit that offers such a service is a good idea, but for now will have to wait until this new for profit business is settled more. However, this is not to say that she is not at work on setting up the non-profit corporation so it will be in place when she can move on it.
Given how busy she is now, not quite 6 months after starting the business, I asked her how she got clients so quickly.
Yasmine Hecker: I wrote 180 letters to management companies. I got 3 responses but that was all I needed. So in May we had 2 jobs and then in June we had 4 or 5 and we are getting up to doing 10 jobs/per day with 5 members per crew. We have our own equipment and supplies and it is a very labor intensive operation with a perfectionist as its boss.
Deborah Emin: Did you think you would be so busy from the start?
YH: Even though I had a different plan in mind (setting up the non-profit), I knew that landlords do not want to offer this kind of help to their tenants. They don't want the rest of the tenants in the building to know of the bugs so they do not act proactively. They think the tenants will become frightened and leave. And they do leave because landlords do so little to help.
It is short-sighted. If you do not treat the whole building you will be battling the bugs for a long time. They reproduce very quickly. Then you have a major infestation that is much harder to deal with. Part of it too is the stigma of who gets bed bugs and where they come from. Most of that is untrue.
DE: As I watched your crew at my place, I could not believe how much work it takes to prepare a place properly. It is almost a science.
YH: It is a lengthy process and as I knew from having worked for management companies, this is something that can run throughout a building. People do not even know they have bed bugs but they would stand there talking to me and I saw them on their clothing or bodies.
Whether we can ever eradicate the bugs as they did with the use of DDT, I do not know, but with the less powerful pesticides in use these days, these bugs are like bed bugs on steroids. In the past, they would only be within 5 feet of the beds or other areas they lived in, now they can be 100 feet away. They reproduce so fast and the key is to get in there and get them early on before they have had a chance to spread throughout a home or apartment.
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