As Dow AgroSciences celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Sentricon System this year, PMPs reflect on how this innovative technology turned termite control on its head.
If you were fortunate enough to be sitting in the room at the Lake Buena Vista, Fla., launch of the Sentricon System in 1995, you probably remember the sense of anticipation and excitement as the Beatles’ “Revolution” blared from every speaker to let attendees know that this was no ordinary meeting. Those who knew what was coming were delighted that years of research had finally come to fruition; those who did not were about to be amazed — or perhaps a little puzzled.
“I looked out over the crowd and saw a lot of head-scratching going on as the audience started to wrap their heads around this new idea of using baits to control termites,” says Phil Howard, global project leader for Dow AgroSciences. “On the surface, the technology didn’t seem intuitive; it was based on termite biology and behaviors, which weren’t as commonly studied as they are today. It was a challenge to get some PMPs to understand how much good this new technology could bring to their business and to the industry overall.”
Why the hesitation? In short, liquid barrier treatments had been working well for more than 60 years. Now PMPs were being asked to trust that termites would not only find bait stations and feed on the bait but also take it back to the colony to wipe out their family and friends. This represented quite a leap of faith.
Nonetheless, a few early adopters agreed to try this new technology, which had been developed by Dr. Nan-Yao Su of the University of Florida in cooperation with DowElanco (predecessor of Dow AgroSciences).
“Our Dow rep asked us to identify two of our nightmare accounts as test sites,” recalls Louis Witherington, CEO and technical director of Falcon Termite and Pest Control, who had been following the research and was excited it was finally coming to market. “We installed the Sentricon System around a home and a commercial building where we had spent five or six years trying to control the termites without success. We saw activity in the bait stations right away, and gained control in less than six months. Swarming season came and went with no signs of activity. The customers were elated.”
Atlanta-based Arrow Exterminators Senior Executive Vice President and COO Tim Pollard shares a similar experience: “With our trial uses of Sentricon, Arrow resolved longstanding termite issues where existing technology had simply not succeeded. We recognized the business opportunity: Suddenly we had a service to offer that could solve infestation issues that had been unsolvable.”
And so the paradigm shift, leading to a new generation of termite management, began.
Getting Customers on Board.
Once convinced themselves, PMPs set out to convince their customers that termite baiting was the way to go. It wasn’t always an easy sell, particularly because the price tag was a bit higher, but PMPs certified with the Sentricon System helped customers understand the system’s three benefits: (1) colony elimination, (2) environmental soundness and (3) its nonintrusive nature to homes and other structures.
“In the beginning, we likened termite baiting to something customers were already familiar with: fire ant baiting,” says Witherington. “We explained that ants and termites are both social insects and that they carry the bait back to their colonies. We tended to lose them if we went so far as to start explaining the science behind the active ingredient [the Dow AgroSciences-developed IGR hexaflumuron], so we learned to keep the story brief.”
On the environmental side, Sentricon has been a fairly easy sell all along, because hexaflumuron was the first termite treatment active ingredient accepted for registration under the EPA’s Reduced Risk Pesticide Initiative, based on its low impact on human health, low toxicity to non-target organisms and low potential for groundwater contamination, Dow AgroSciences says. It remains the only termite control product to receive the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award (in 2000).
Sentricon also gave pest management professionals an entrée into the preventive market. “We made a conscious decision to reach beyond swarming activity and help PMPs market termite protection as a preventive measure,” says David Maurer, portfolio marketing leader, Dow AgroSciences. “At that time, termite protection with the Sentricon System was 10 percent preventive and 90 percent curative. Today that ratio is 50/50, which keeps business much steadier and profitable for PMPs.”
Evolution of Baiting.
The concept of termite baiting has remained steady from the start: Get the bait to the colony and stop termites at their source. The evolution of the Sentricon System, however, is another story. “Not a single physical component of the system is the same as it was 20 years ago,” says Howard. “We’ve updated the station, bait top cap, top cap key, bait matrix — you name it.”
Every one of these changes has been aimed at reducing labor costs. In the beginning, bait station monitoring was a time-intensive practice. Early stations, which needed to be checked monthly, included a wooden monitoring device that needed to be replaced with a bait cartridge when termites were detected. Evolution to a system in which the bait is always in place, and of the active ingredient, from the chitin inhibitor hexaflumuron to the more powerful and long-lasting chitin inhibitor noviflumuron, has reduced the need for monitoring to once a year.
Linda Prentice, director of training at Environmental Pest Service, which operates under the brands Arrow Environmental Services, Bug Out Service and Skyline Pest Solutions, says, “It has been amazing to watch this system evolve from the days when we had to check every station, pulling out each wooden stake and inspecting it for activity. Since the system changed (in 2010) to the Sentricon System with Always Active technology (Recruit HD), we have been able to integrate our termite efforts with our pest management efforts so that our universal service professionals can provide termite and pest control services in one stop.”
Adds Pollard, “We have more than 150,000 sites on Sentricon, so the move to Always Active was huge for us from a labor perspective. The introduction of this bait enabled us to continue growing our business.”
In fact, Always Active, which remains in place at all times to eliminate termite colonies and protect against future infestations, was adopted more rapidly than any other product in termite management history, according to Maurer.
How Dow Agrosciences Supports the Industry
PMPs who want to add Sentricon to their arsenal of treatment options must become certified. Certified Sentricon Specialists are required by Dow AgroSciences to undergo frequent comprehensive training, to use state-of-the-art data management tools and to pass annual quality reviews. Currently about 3 percent of PMPs in the United States are certified to use the Sentricon System.
For these companies, Dow AgroSciences says it offers a wide range of support beyond certification training — developing marketing and sales materials, including customized support literature, for example, and ensuring that every technician feels knowledgeable and confident discussing termite protection with customers.
On a larger scale, Dow AgroSciences commits substantial resources to supporting the broader pest management industry. “We believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, so we invest in efforts that raise the profile of pest management and help those in the business become strong ambassadors for the industry,” says Portfolio Marketing Leader David Maurer. Among these investments are support of the Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA) and various National Pest Management Association (NPMA) initiatives including the Academy, the Leadership Development Group and keynote speakers at the annual PestWorld and Legislative Day conferences.
Today, the Sentricon System is being used in 33 countries. In the United States, Sentricon protects some of the country’s most treasured structures, including The White House, the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. Capitol Building, Independence Hall, Ellis Island, My Old Kentucky Home and Iolani Palace in Honolulu.
But look for the system to continue evolving. Howard says Dow AgroSciences continues to work on bait optimization to eliminate colonies even faster and to work more effectively in countries where termites are tougher to kill. The company is also planning to launch a new, flexible above-ground station in 2015.
Certified Sentricon Specialists look forward to whatever comes next, but seem more than satisfied with the results to date.
“While liquid treatment is still preferable in some cases, depending on a customer’s specific needs, baiting has become our No. 1 termite treatment because it gets the job done,” says Prentice. “Callbacks are extremely low, and customers are happy. Just as importantly, as participants in the Pest Environmental Stewardship Program and GreenPro, we value the environmental aspects of Sentricon.”
Pollard concludes, “Today, Sentricon represents a large percentage of our annual revenues because it represents 85 percent of our new termite treatments. It continues to provide Arrow Exterminators and our peers with new business opportunities — just as it did 20 years ago.”
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT magazine. E-mail her at email@example.com.