Making money with maggots: Lessons from the bug trade

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Jan Dietrick, general manager of Rincon-Vitova Insectaries Inc. recently received a call from Fox TV. They were looking for 5,000 maggots immediately for a new reality TV show, "Truth or Consequences." They had to be clean maggots, according to Ms. Dietrick. "I was informed that the contestants had to eat them." She responded to the request and got to work. "We'll wash them, put them in deli containers, and have them ready for you in the morning," she informed the network.

The bug industry is growing these days -- and reality TV is just the beginning. The boom in organic gardening has turned bugs into big business. According to the Wall Street Journal, The Association of Natural Biocontrol Producers, a trade group that represents the 30 biggest insectaries in the land, estimates that about $200 million in commercial bugs are sold each year with the demand growing about 10% annually. And that does not include the order for millions of ladybugs that were poured over the actress Thandie Newton in the film "Beloved."

The fastest growing part of the business? Bug-eating-bugs. More insects are growing resistant to pesticides and more consumers are demanding organic. Farmers are buying ladybugs, wasps, lacewings and others to control insect pests on crops. And there is big money in bugs. Growers can charge as much as 40 cents each for some ladybugs with some insectaries charging up to $1 each for certain weed-eating bugs.

Who would have thought that bugs could be so profitable? I have actually been killing most that I come in contact with. The bug business is a good example of seeing a niche and offering the services to fill it. Someone was paying attention. How can you expand your business by discovering new niches? Here are some ideas:

  • Periodically meet with key customers to listen to their concerns. What problems are they having? Evaluate whether you can provide the solution. Even if these solutions are out of your current product line or expertise, these may be opportunities to expand your business.

  • Are you hearing recurrent themes from several customers? This could represent the possibility of a new product line or group of services. Explore the possibility of a joint venture with the customer or pilot an initial program and evaluate the results.

  • Don't think too small. The one mistake I have made consistently is thinking too small. Maximize opportunities to take one product and turn it into many.

  • Remember the maggots. Who would have thought that maggots make money? When faced with a new opportunity, at least think it over before you say NO.

As American financier Bernard Baruch once said, "Nobody ever lost money by taking a profit."

Barbara Bartlein is the People Pro. She offers keynotes, presentations and consulting to help you build your business and balance your life. She is the author of Why Did I Marry You Anyway? Overcoming the Myths That Hinder a Happy Marriage. For Barb's FREE e-mail newsletter, please visit: The People Pro.

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