How do you go from teaching English to devoting your career to eradicating bugs and weeds?
In Jim LaBrie’s case, pure necessity made him do it.
And today, 40 years later, LaBrie runs Bug & Weed Mart, a DIY pest control retail chain, with his son Joe and daughter Cara.
From his first store in Mesa, LaBrie grew his business into a retail mini-giant in the East Valley after opening his sixth store. The company now has stores in Mesa, Scottsdale, Tempe, Gilbert and Central Phoenix.
It all started when LaBrie was teaching English, making $600 a month “and we had bugs,” he recalled.
“I couldn’t afford a pest controller. So, I went to a hardware store and bought some stuff and it really didn’t do anything. And I thought there had to be a better way,” he said.
So he set out to find sure-kill products – “not the over-the-counter stuff that really isn’t that strong” – and his business was born.
“We carry the exact same products the professional pest control companies should be bringing on their trucks,” said son Joe LaBrie, director of retail operations.
“There are about 150-200 products in the store essentially to answer the call for, ‘how do I get rid of this pest?’ or ‘how do I control this weed that is growing?’” he added.
Unlike big-box retailers, Bug & Weed Mart personnel teach customers how to use their products and write out the directions.
That’s where Jim’s English background has been beneficial.
“The thing that I noticed instantly is that you just can’t take a product, read the label and use it correctly in many cases,” said Jim. “There are many, many subtleties that don’t show up on the label.
“We learned all of this by mistake. Of course, since I did teach a number of years, I thought the best way would be to show and teach people what to do and let them make the decision on whether they want to use the product or not. And the results have been pretty good.”
“Good” in the sense, he said, that “we have a niche market for those who want something better than the grocery stores and don’t want or can’t afford the cost of a pest controller.”
But while LaBrie is proud of his competitive edge, his son stressed, “We don’t focus so much on our competition as we do with our customers and where they’re coming from.”
“We do find a lot of people have been frustrated with their efforts, as good do-it-yourselfers, by using products that didn’t live up to their expectations,” Joe added.
“Very often, they don’t know how to read a label so we do all of that. We show people how to do it right.”
The Sonoran desert has a variety of bugs – which is good news for Bug & Weed Mart.
“We are the buggiest state,” said Joe. “We have a lot of diversity in the types of bugs people are going to find. I’d like to think one bug spray treats everything. Sometimes, that’s not the case. So, we’re here to help people sort through that and yeah, we can find solutions for them.”
Home Depot has even referred customers to Bug & Weed Mart and the retailer has a good relationship with pest control companies.
“Once in a while, they stumble into our store because they heard about it and they look around and to them, it’s like Disneyland,” said Joe. “It’s like, ‘wow, this is great. I didn’t know you guys had this product.’ So, they realize this is a place where if they’re in a pinch, they can get something from us.”
Sometimes those same pest control companies return the favor, Joe added, explaining:
“A lot of good pest controllers send their customers to Bug & Weed Mart…to save them money. We constantly have people coming in saying, ‘hey, my pest controller does a great job spraying. I hear you have great granules. Can you show me what those are?’….The pest control industry has been really good about helping us out.”
Aside from the typical pests lurking around houses, Bug & Weed Mart also has solutions for other types of creatures such as snakes.
“You don’t want to kill a snake, even a rattlesnake,” said Jim. “You can’t imagine how many rodents that thing eats. They pay their rent.”
So, he recommends a product called SnakeAway.
“It’s totally safe. You just sprinkle it out and the snake won’t cross it.”
Bug & Weed Mart also has products to keep away bats, javelina and even bobcats.
“We learned about it by hook and crook,” said Jim. “Out in North Scottsdale, a bobcat kept walking along a high fence between the various acre lots and it was scaring people for good reason. And we really didn’t know what to do exactly because there’s nothing that mentions bobcat in the label.
“So, we used a very common repellant, oddly enough, for birds. It’s sticky stuff. We had the homeowner put it on the fence and when the bobcat walked over it, it got on its paws, it didn’t like it, made a lot of noise and never came back.”