Head lice. The mere mention makes many people cringe.
Knowing how tough it is to get rid of these bugs, and the stigma that goes with them, two Johnson County sisters have teamed up to fight back.
Cherie Parker, a nurse practitioner, and Susan Truluck, an occupational therapist, own Heartland Healthy Heads: Lice Removal & Resource Center. Situated in a medical office building in Olathe, Heartland Healthy Heads is focused on both treatment of lice and education about the critters.
“There is so much misinformation out there … and we want to reduce the stigma associated with it,” Parker said.
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“Anyone can get head lice,” Truluck said. “They don’t care how old you are or how thick your hair is.”
Lice are tiny, wingless, six-legged parasites that survive only by biting and feeding off blood from the human scalp. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Preventtion, school-age children are the most common victims of lice infestation. Lice are generally spread by direct contact with the hair of the infested person. The CDC estimates there are 6 million to 12 million infestations annually in the United States.
Both women were working full time in other jobs when their cousin — a teacher — ended up with head lice. Seeing how she struggled with the problem, Parker and Truluck saw an opportunity to help others and still be connected with health care.
“Being in the health care field we were in a very good position to take the time we needed to get this off the ground,” Parker said.
They hit the Internet and researched what treatment resources were available in the Kansas City area and found very little out there.
“We researched how could we do this and be the best,” Parker said. That’s when they found the Shepherd Institute in Florida, which trained in one effective method in lice removal. The sisters attended a weeklong certification program.
“It’s very intense,” said Parker of the program. “There’s class time, and we actually treated for head lice.”
After researching what methods they wanted to offer, the women worked with a friend to find a location for their business. “We knew we wanted to be in Olathe because we knew we would be putting in long hours and wanted to be close to home,” Parker said.
The friend helped find their space in Olathe and helped with lease negotiations. Heartland Healthy Heads opened for business in August 2013.
Q: What treatments do you offer?
There are three treatment options at Heartland Healthy Heads. The first is using over-the-counter, non-toxic products that Heartland Healthy Heads sells, which includes a recheck.
The second is the Shepherd method, “which is a methodical combing out of all the nits,” Parker said. The typical treatment takes up to two hours to complete, with two rechecks required.
The third method is using the AirAllé, “an FDA cleared device using controlled heated air that dehydrates the eggs and bugs,” she said. “I believe it’s the most effective. You walk out with no lice and no nits.”
The treatments vary in price, with the AirAllé being the most expensive at $175. Heartland Healthy Heads also offers a lice hotline that is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We know people may find a bug on their child’s head at 10 at night and they’re panicked,” Parker said. “We want to be able to help them and answers questions. We don’t want them to misuse anything in trying to treat it.”
In their office, the sisters have large photos of lice for clients to see, “so we can teach them about the life of lice and what they really look like,” Parker said.
“We also want the kids to see what the bug looks like and understand how it works so things aren’t so scary for them,” Truluck said.
Q: Both of you have health care training; what about the business side of things?
The two sisters had little background in actually running the their operation.
“We were lucky. We flew by the seat of our pants,” Truluck said.
The sisters decided to take the Kauffman FastTrac course to bring them up to speed.
“After we took the course, we decided we didn’t need all the space we had, that we were spending too much money on overhead,” Truluck said.
“That’s when we decided to move into a doctors’ building,” said Parker of Heartland Healthy Heads current location. “We wanted to portray a more clinical, health care image.”
Q: There is a big “ick” factor with lice. How do you market what you do?
“We did different things,” Parker said. “We thought schools were our best target, so we sent mailings of cards, fliers and magnets to tell people about us.”
Local publications published stories about the business. The sisters had a website created for the business that launched simultaneously to the opening of Heartland Healthy Heads. In the beginning, business was slow, but as word of mouth spread traffic increased, Truluck said. To encourage more people to learn what the business is about, Heartland Healthy Heads is offering free head checks until New Year’s.
Heartland Healthy Heads is open Monday through Friday during business hours and by appointment at other times. Business has picked up, and now the sisters have two additional employees.
Q: What has been the most difficult aspect of running your own business?
“Hiring people and finding people we can trust,” Parker said. “We are working with that ick factor. We also work with a lot of kids, and it’s a very technical and detail-oriented job.”
Q: Where do you see your company going from here?
“We’re currently looking for another location in the Northland,” Truluck said. “We will keep these offices smaller but have more of them. … We also want to go west toward Lawrence.”
Both women have returned to working in their previous professions part time while running Heartland Healthy Heads.
“Head lice is definitely the most fun job I’ve ever had,” Parker said. “It’s been a great journey learning the business side of things and helping people.”
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: Heartland Healthy Heads: Lice Removal & Resource Center
ADDRESS: 801 N. Mur-Len Road, Suite 105, Olathe, KS
PHONE: 913-730-NITS (6487)