New business works out the bugs
PASADENA, Calif. -- For Evan Parker and Frank Campos, business is pretty lousey these days -- and that's just fine. The pair started their in-home lice removal service, Lousey Nitpickers, in July, budgeting $8,000 to launch a Web site and buy a s...
PASADENA, Calif. -- For Evan Parker and Frank Campos, business is pretty lousey these days -- and that's just fine.
The pair started their in-home lice removal service, Lousey Nitpickers, in July, budgeting $8,000 to launch a Web site and buy a supply of hair-care products, towels and nit combs.
Six months later, the company's revenue is still very small. And like most fledgling entrepreneurs, Parker and Campos face several tough challenges in creating a sustainable and profitable venture, business consultants said.
But with sales steadily expanding, Parker and Campos are optimistic that their business will continue to grow, given the demand from frantic parents who discover their children have head lice.
The company fields an average of 10 calls a day, some days as many as 25. Most are direct referrals from past customers.
"People don't tend to book us in advance," Parker said. "By the time they call, their child's been sent home from school and they want treatment that day."
Accommodating as many as 90 itchy customers a month can keep Campos, the company's chief nitpicker, another full-timer and three part-time employees busy from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., shuttling to homes across the Los Angeles area.
The bugs are as old as civilization itself, with references in the Old Testament to "the plague of lice." The insects pick no favorites or seasons and plague people of any age, said Vermont pediatrician Barbara Frankowski, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics' council on school health. But infestations spread most easily among preschool- and school-age children, she said.
"Little kids hug each other and snuggle up close on the bean bag chair in the classroom to read together," she said.
The result: Six million to 12 million Americans are infested with head lice each year, according to the National Science Foundation.
The strong demand for nitpickers is also because of the development of so-called super lice, which have grown resistant to commercial and prescription products in recent years.
Lice have developed a tolerance to insecticide-based shampoos because the products haven't always been left in the hair long enough or been repeatedly used as directed, Frankowski said. "The same thing happened with antibiotics," she said.
That's why Campos and his colleagues rely more on painstaking nitpicking to end the infestation.
Parker initially expected that the company's printed materials and Web site, louseynitpickers.com, would be its best marketing tool. But by the third month, he said, referrals from customers and schools began multiplying almost as fast as lice themselves and now generate at least 40 percent of new customers. In hindsight, he said, he wishes he hadn't ordered so many pamphlets.
Jim Lee found Lousey Nitpickers -- and his family's deliverance from weeks of lice -- by going online.
Lee's 4-year-old Karissa started scratching first, in mid-October, then 2-year-old Micah and finally Monica Lee, 40.
The family had tried a prescription shampoo and two commercial products to kill the pinhead-sized critters. For good measure, Monica cut several inches from Karissa's long hair. She also slathered her own long hair with mayonnaise and covered her scalp with a plastic bag, one of several home remedies some believe can suffocate the bugs.
When all that failed, Jim searched on the Internet for lice removal service.
"I figured there's got to be someone who does this," said Jim, 42, head chaplain at Oaks Christian School in Westlake Village. "And if not, I said I'll start the business myself."
Campos answered the Lee family's call, in an unmarked Honda sedan. (Parker said he frequently had to reassure embarrassed customers who ask, "You're not going to show up with a big louse on the roof of your car, are you?")
Desperate families such as the Lees who say they're only too happy to pay have pushed the company's revenue to a projected $21,000 in the fourth quarter of 2006, from $12,000 in its first three months of operation.