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  • Jennifer Marks

Buggin' Out

NEW YORK - Media hype over a growing national bed bug population has galvanized the protector segment of the utility bedding business.
"There is a true epidemic. Now the media takes that and creates an additional frenzy." -ALAN EISENBERG, Protect-a-Bed
     The public has become so alarmed over bed bugs that the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month created a new search tool on its website to advise consumers about which pesticides can be used to safely deal with the problem.
     American Textile Company - which has been in the protector business for 85 years - has received such an uptick in inquiries about bed bugs that it added staff to its customer service call center.
     "We had a product on the market in October '08, but it wasn't getting a lot of reception at retail because most people hadn't heard about bed bugs," said Jack Ouellette, president and ceo. "Once they started to hear about it in the news this summer then we started hearing from them."
     Protect-a-Bed has been promoting its anti-bed bug bedding for four years, operating an aggressive consumer marketing campaign on billboards, in magazines and newspapers, on public transportation and on its website and through social media. Its latest introduction is a bag that can be used to store linens so bed bugs can't get to them or to dispose of linens in case infestation has already occurred.
     "There is a true epidemic," said Alan Eisenberg, senior vp of sales. "Now the media takes that and creates an additional frenzy."
     Royal Heritage Home Basics LLC's AllergyGuardDirect.com division has seen its online sales shoot up 400% and its wholesale business with retailers grow 75% over the past 12 months owing to media coverage of the bedbug epidemic.
     "We are out there trying to solve a problem, and we're dealing directly with consumers who have major bed-bug issues. We've been inundated with calls from consumers looking to us for help," explained Jeff Tauber, ceo of Royal Heritage.
     AllergyGuardDirect.com has always sold anti-bed bug mattress encasements, "and they are still very popular," Tauber said.
     But in September, during the Home Fashion New York Market, the company introduced a new product: sheet sets made using a proprietary fi ber technology called zero Micron, which prevents bed bugs from biting through the fabric. Additionally, the sheets are waterproof.
     The sheets, which are made in Asia, are scheduled to start shopping to retailers in mid November, Tauber said.
At the recent New York Home Fashions Market, Kensington introduced Sweep, a system that includes box spring covers, an under-mattress pad for platform beds, a bed band that wraps around the mattress as well as bed skirts and headboard backing. The EPA-approved application kills bed bags as opposed to keeping them from climbing off the mattress and onto skin.
"There is a true epidemic. Now the media takes that and creates an additional frenzy." -ALAN EISENBERG, Protect-a-Bed
     "They become increasingly frantic as they spend more time on [the fabric]," said Phil Anderson, vp. "If they stay long enough, it makes them dead. It's a neurotoxin to them."
Perfect Fit Industries also has an EPA-approved system, Expel, this one using extracts from chrysanthemums to kill the critters.
     "It keeps bed bugs away from the bed - up to one meter uncovered," said Jeff Chilton, president.
     Expel bedding will ship early next year, and Perfect Fit is looking to extend the technology into outdoor furniture, laundry bags and luggage inserts. "It's got a lot of end uses," said Chilton.
     Hudson Industries has long offered anti-allergen, anti-microbial bedding that was also constructed to prevent bed bugs from getting from mattress to sleeping humans, but always emphasized the anti-allergen properties. That changed as customers asked the company to play up the anti-bed bug angle on packaging.
     "That's what our customers are wanting right now - the big, disgusting bug," said Lonnie Schepps, senior vp. "The stuff is going through the roof."

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