ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Maybe it’s not the very worst call that you can get from your kid’s school, but it is a plenty bad one.
Flunked out? No.
Punched a student? Not that, either.
Brought a pocket knife to school? Not quite.
How about, “Your kid has lice.”
But Lice Happens, which also happens to be the name of an Annapolis, Md., lice-removal company operated by two intrepid nitpickers.
Next-door neighbors M.J. Eckert, 53, and Nancy Fields, 51, run the sprawling business – they have specialists from Connecticut to North Carolina – from their small condo in an office park near the Chesapeake Bay.
Last year, the co-founders earned a $125,000 profit on nearly $700,000 in revenue. That’s a lot of bug removal. They pay themselves about $50,000 each, and roll the $125,000 in profit back into the business.
Not bad for picking bugs off children’s heads. And that’s just the beginning. Eckert and Fields have ambitions to go national. They have four franchises throughout the East Coast.
The barrier to entry?
“There is a huge ‘ick’ factor,” Eckert said. “You would not believe some of the stuff we find in kids’ heads.”
The business started over some champagne on New Year’s Eve in 2009, when Fields was telling Eckert, a school nurse at the time, about her sister’s two children, who had lice.
“Nancy was trying to help her sister, and she was picking the lice out with her fingernails and putting them in the sink and pouring hydrogen peroxide on them to kill them. She had no idea what she was doing. I said, ‘I know how to take care of this. I’m a school nurse.’ ”
Fields, a computer geek, suggested there was a business in lice removal.
At 10 a.m. the next day, New Year’s Day, the two were in Eckert’s living room, pounding on their laptops, researching lice removal, looking up products. They wrote a basic business plan. Eckert knew dozens of nurses, so she could find the children with lice.
They tracked down a chemist in Alabama who made lice combs. They threw around names for their company – Lice-a-Roni, Lice Maids and Nitpickers Are Us. They decided on Lice Happens.
Eckert knew that the most effective way to get rid of the buggers is to comb them out.
“I combed it out of kids at school. I nitpicked.”
Once they had their combs and their foam, they needed to test their skills. So they put an ad on Craigslist offering free lice treatment.
In a few months, with some help from Google AdWords and a local newspaper article, the business started picking up. They raked in $100,000 in revenue in their first year. That amount tripled the next year and kept rising until it reached nearly $700,000 last year.“