San Diego : NEW PRODUCTS : Plenty of Bugs in New Gadget

It may not rival the telescope, semiconductor or internal combustion engine in universal importance, but the Bug Vac, a new product distributed by HTC International of San Diego, has already found--perhaps even created--a market niche.

The Bug Vac is a hand-held, battery-driven suction device that vacuums up unwelcome insects such as flies, mosquitoes, spiders and small cockroaches. HTC partner Philip Welp said the product is designed for people who can't bear the sight or touch of bugs, even dead ones: Bugs are sucked into a disposable cartridge containing up to 40 insects.

Retailing for $20, the Bug Vac has been marketed through the Sharper Image retail chain and catalogue since March with sales so far exceeding 5,000 units. The device is also available at Future Tronics retail outlets.

"When you have a spider or insect crawling around, instead of actually picking it up or squashing it and making a mess, you can quickly and cleanly dispose of him by sucking him up in the disposable filter," said Welp, 24, who recently earned a graduate business degree at University of San Diego. The package of four plastic filters sells for $2.95.

The product is manufactured by a separate company in Placerville which has signed over worldwide distribution rights to HTC. Welp and his parents run HTC as an import, export and distribution company. Welp's father, Hans, was a longtime international tobacco importer.

HTC distributes 15 other products, most of them gift and novelty products geared for executives. HTC's products include a fold-up executive putter, a bicycle alarm and an electronic golf scorekeeper.

But the Bug Vac shows signs of becoming HTC's best selling product ever, Welp said. The reason: the aversion many people have to "unsightly insects." HTC will begin marketing the product in Europe and Asia next year, he said.

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