By creating a niche pest and weed control business, Bug & Weed Mart owner Jim LaBrie has weathered the economic storm and the threat of big box stores for more than 30 years in the East Valley.
“When it comes to pests, it isn’t necessarily about the money,” LaBrie said. “You want it done right.”
When it comes to getting it done right, LaBrie believes homeowners are the better option over the professional exterminator.
“You know your house and you’re willing to put in maybe a little bit more time,” he said.
Instead of paying someone to spray your house, the average homeowner can treat their home with professional-quality chemicals, he said.
“And it’s easy,” LaBrie said. “The only thing I wouldn’t recommend doing yourself is tenting a house. Virtually everything else, you can do yourself.”
Employees recommend products, demonstrate the correct way to treat a pest problem and write the correct dosage on the bottle for every customer.
Bug & Weed Mart first started in 1979 in Mesa, later opening a store in Tempe, LaBrie said. Over the last three decades, it has expanded to three more stores in Gilbert, Scottsdale and Phoenix.
By providing quality customer service, Bug & Weed Mart has been able to rely on word of mouth and quality experience to drive people to their store, LaBrie said.
“We’ll have someone come in and we’ll ask how they heard about us,” LaBrie said. “A number of times, they’ll say, ‘Well, my dad always came here.’”
And while that isn’t always the case, some families have been coming to Bug & Weed Mart for three generations.
“When we first started, we didn’t really know what we were doing,” LaBrie said laughing.
He had left a career as a pharmaceutical sales representative to run the store, looking for the freedom of self-employment.
“In the Valley, there are more than 5,000 pest control guys,” LaBrie said. “But we saw there was a way to do this, knowing that you can do a far better job yourself.”
In Arizona, consumers are able to buy and use professional strength chemicals to treat their own homes and yards. Teaching customers how to use the professional-strength products is the basis for LaBrie’s business.
One major change over the last 30-plus years in business has been the increase in people looking to get rid of bed bugs, LaBrie said.
“Even six or seven years ago, we’d only have about one customer a year coming in for bed bugs,” he said. “Now, it’s at least one a day.”
And while treating bed bugs is difficult, it’s not impossible, he said.
“Some people spend upwards of $2,000 or $3,000 and they still have bed bugs,” LaBrie said.
The best way to treat the parasitic insects is to treat each room, one at a time. That often means looking closely at all the upholstery and the bed frame. Sometimes professionals don’t have or take the time to effectively treat every nook and cranny.
As for preventing them while you’re on your trip, the store offers odorless chemicals to treat your luggage before you go, LaBrie said. But most often there’s a free solution.
“I always tell people to put their luggage in the bathtub” while staying in a hotel, he said. “It sounds funny, but they can’t move on porcelain or slick surfaces.”
Another problem LaBrie hears often is that people are told they can’t get rid of scorpions, except by taking away their food source.
“But that’s not further from the truth,” he said.
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