A number of pros with specialized skills have hung up shingles of late. Their goal: Help manufacturers, distributors and pest management companies of every size improve their game. How can they help you?
Ask 20 consultants what being a “consultant” means and you’ll get 20 different answers.
Some conduct technical training and product field trials. Others help companies increase profitability or serve as expert witnesses. Each has a niche: working with a specific pest like rodents or bed bugs, developing new products or business strategy, or serving the needs of unique clients like museums, start-ups or animal-rearing facilities.
One thing’s clear: Consultants love what they do. For a good many, consulting is a second act following retirement or corporate downsizing; now, they (finally) have the freedom to pursue what interests them most in the field.
The pest management industry has much to gain from their collective wisdom. “There’s probably more need for some targeted consultative help than companies totally appreciate,” said Josh Weeks, a former Bayer vice president who started a business strategy consultancy in 2012.
Even the best company managers may not see the weak link in a strong chain, agreed Robert Corrigan, an internationally recognized urban rodent expert. Consultants point out weaknesses, opportunities and issues that need attention. “An independent, third-party” analysis by a person with credentials gives pest management professionals “all kinds of credibility,” he said.
How to Hire the Right Consultant and Make the Relationship Pay Off
Find the right fit — Look for someone you’re comfortable dealing with and who fits your organizational culture, advised Doug Mampe, DM Associates. A consultant should take time to ask questions, learn about your products, processes and guarantees and ride along with technicians, not “come in like a bull in a china shop” and tell you what to do even if it doesn’t fit your business model, said Austin Frishman, AMF Pest Management Services.
Consider credentials — Depending on the job, credentials matter. “Sometimes a degree is very important,” especially for an expert witness, said Mampe. Customers usually want someone with an advanced degree to weigh in before they invest in costly pest remediation or prevention measures.
Look for hands-on experience — Consultants must be “truly knowledgeable people of our industry,” said Paul Hardy, J Paul Hardy Consulting. Look for “across the board experience” in field service, management and sales, or a specific talent like product development, he said.
Seek out a consultant with a good reputation and history of success. Michael McDermott, MMCD Consulting, helped basic manufacturers launch top-category products; he also learned a lot from “some major failures” that today helps his clients avoid the same mistakes, he said.
Seek objectivity — Like a referee in a ball game, consultants should have total objectivity, said Robert Corrigan, RMC Pest Management Consulting. A “true,” independent consultant should not be allied with chemical companies or be offering pest management services, said Tom Parker, Pest Control Services. Look for conflicts of interest, he said.
Define the project — For best results, clearly define what you want the consultant to achieve. Corrigan requires “a pretty good profile of the issue,” including lots of data, before accepting a project.
Don’t ask a consultant to “come talk about roaches,” said Jeff Tucker, Entomology Associates. Conduct a needs analysis to identify issues people are struggling with so the consultant can “tailor the message and actually achieve something” that can be measured, such as a reduction in complaint calls or an improvement in customer service skills. “If you don’t have objectives, how in the world are you going to know whether you got anything for your money,” he asked.
McDermott drafts a detailed proposal that includes a situation analysis, objectives, methodology, and identifies “what success looks like” and the roles of both client and consultant. Keep the scope narrow; companies that try to do too many things at one time end up doing nothing outstanding, advised Josh Weeks, Joshua H. Weeks Consulting.
Grant access — Consultants want to “get to know your company pretty well,” from the senior managers to front-line technicians, so they can develop the most effective ways to teach new skills, said George Rambo, who has consulted since 1990 and operates a Critter Control franchise in Northern Virginia. Give consultants the time and freedom they need to learn about your people and processes; restricting access shows a company is not ready to embrace change, he said.
Don’t worry about distance — Smartphones, tablets and Wi-Fi make it easy to connect with consultants regardless of location. Hardy has guided technicians in crawlspaces and identified the source of a hornet swarm without being on site, though he’s happy to run down the road to help local companies in person.
Frishman advised seeking out local experts. Some consultants are well-known in the field because they write for magazines and get on association programs, but each region boasts “quieter” consultants who are “very good” at what they do, he said.
Industry consultants can help an organization in a number of different ways including:
Offering a second technical opinion — Small and mid-sized businesses may not be able to support a full-time technical person but can hire a consultant to fill that role when needed. Consultants give advice by phone and email — smartphones make sending them images from the field a snap — and work on retainer. “I’m surprised more don’t take advantage of this affordable service,” said Larry Pinto, Pinto & Associates, Mechanicsville, Md. Experts can be retained for government contracts, which often require that an entomologist be on call. Some troubleshoot challenging pest problems in the field.
Training employees to do better — Consultants conduct programs on managing specific pests and using products, equipment and Integrated Pest Management practices. When bed bugs reappeared, industry pioneer Austin Frishman, who started consulting in 1967, and Paul Bello of PJB Consulting, trained PMPs in 60 cities over 18 months, Bello recalled. As new technology and methodology develop, consultants bring the industry up to speed, said Frishman.
Experts like Stoy Hedges, former senior technical professional at Terminix, specialize in developing training programs that integrate new technology to meet increasing state requirements for continuing education (see related article, bottom table).
Don’t overlook the value of business training, advised Doug Mampe, an industry icon who started consulting in 1980. PMPs who only attend technical sessions remain small shops; those who learn about bigger business issues grow into mid-size operations, he said.
Improving internal processes — Training, alone, won’t resolve callbacks, customer complaints or staffing issues. That takes a “re-engineering of the job,” said Jeff Tucker of Entomology Associates, in Houston. By spending time on site and riding along with technicians, consultants ferret out roadblocks to success and suggest improvements. “Every company needs an outside look every once in a while” to “see where the holes are” in its procedures, treatment protocols and internal training programs, said Pinto.
Providing third-party perspective — An outside voice lends “weight of evidence” that helps advance a project or stops a “non-starter idea,” said Steve Sims, former senior research entomologist and product development manager at BASF/Whitmire Micro-Gen. After years of working in the industry, consultants have “seen 95 percent of the problems” and can tell you if an initiative is worth pursuing, he said. Clients usually want input from a third-party expert before signing off on costly pest prevention measures, noted Eric Smith, former technical director at Dodson Pest Control, Lynchburg, Va.
Keeping the future in focus — It’s easy to miss trends when caught up in the daily grind. Consultants help companies prepare for change so they can maintain a competitive edge; they know what trends have staying power and how to adjust the company accordingly, said Corrigan. The “big time” shift away from rodenticide use by Walmart, for example, will change how many PMPs perform rodent control for their commercial customers, he said.
Developing competitiveness — Companies face a “stewing pot of increased pressure” from regulatory issues to public perception and need “very clear and cogent strategies and the ability to implement them,” said Weeks. Business consultants “sharpen that pencil” so companies are more focused and better competitors, he said. Small companies stand to gain, too. Some consultants work specifically with small to mid-size family businesses.
Consultants: Then and Now
“In the last three years there’s been a plethora of consultants going into the industry,” said Austin Frishman, one of the industry’s first consultants and a mentor to many. “That’s healthy. That means our industry recognizes the need for specialists,” he said.
This wasn’t always the case. In the 1970s and ’80s, a small group of professionals – Tom Parker, Doug Mampe, Frishman, Larry Pinto, Bill Jackson, Ted Granovsky and John Beck, to name a few — had to convince the industry it needed their services.
“As consulting became a more accepted practice and there were lots of opportunities, more people decided to become consultants,” said Mampe. The eyes of pest management professionals were opened; they saw they could benefit from these services, he explained.
More universities began offering graduate training in urban entomology and more well-trained people entered the urban pest management field, recalled John Owens, former compliance audit program director and regulatory affairs expert at S.C. Johnson. Grads were hired by chemical companies, which now could perform more urban pest research and field work themselves; university labs also began picking up research projects previously done by consultants, said Frishman.
As time went on the number of consultants decreased. Some retired and passed on; opportunities to conduct field tests, write product manuals and labels, and speak to industry groups dried up.
“The consulting business, per se, has suffered significantly because the manufacturers are not putting money into the market as they did at one time,” said Mampe. Consolidation is one reason; another is “because they don’t have any new molecules” to introduce to the marketplace, he said.
Pinto once had four to five contracts with manufacturers at any given time, from supervising field tests to writing newsletters. “We have none now and haven’t for five years,” he said. “Nobody’s doing the kind of work you used to be able to do.” George Rambo, who began consulting in 1990 and once performed numerous field tests for new products, agreed. “A lot of that work has been cut back,” he said.
Perhaps industry needs are changing. Lean manufacturers and emerging start-ups are turning to consultants who previously worked for chemical companies for project-based help with product development. Companies tap knowledge and experience without adding to the head count.
Technology is changing the training dynamic. Back in the day, Frishman traveled 125,000 to 150,000 miles a year doing training. Now technicians can access training in the field with smart devices, from on-demand courses to mini-video clips to online pest identification guides. “That’s the future of training for us,” said Jeff McGovern, Pest Coach.
Clients may come from new sources, too. Paul Bello, PJB Consulting, has seen an uptick in calls directly from consumers and commercial businesses. He advises homeowners, referring them to reputable local firms, and works with commercial clients on developing strategy and solving pest problems with the help of local pest management companies under his guidance.
Although more specialists have turned to consulting due to supplier downsizing, the ranks of full-time field consultants remain thin. When someone asks Robert Corrigan, RMC Pest Management Consulting, to do a job and he’s already booked, “I don’t have too many options of where to send them,” he said.
And a number of field consultants are no longer choosing to crawl under houses or climb up on roofs. Pinto, 68, is moving away from roach and rodent field work to more technical writing and expert witnessing. He only takes “interesting” field cases, like when drywood termites were found in New York City’s Greenwich Village or when a hospital operating room had fly issues.
“When I look over my shoulder there’s nobody that’s like, 45 years old,” noted Bello. “They’re all near retirement.”
Ensuring compliance — Keeping up with fast-changing local, state and federal rules, as well as global food safety regulations, is a growing challenge. A new regulation concerning direct supervision in Massachusetts, for example, is a “minefield” that will be “easy to screw up and get in trouble,” said Richard Berman, RCBerman in Boston and former Waltham Services technical director who sits on the state pesticide board. Consultants provide the training and practical advice that keeps you and your clients in compliance.
Creating a value proposition — “Unless a company can show value, it’s going to fail,” said Jeff McGovern, Pest Coach, Palatka, Fla. Value is not selling service at a low price. A lower price is just a lower price; nobody wins, he explained. Instead, consultants help PMPs “become part of the team that protects that firm’s brand name,” said McGovern. “If we can show value in brand protection with our specialty in pest control, they’ll never fire us,” he said.
Sparking innovation — “If you can use a consultant to innovate, you should,” said David Naffziger of DHN Solutions, Chesterfield, Mo. Companies are full of distractions that prevent people from innovating and are too focused on what they’ve sold today instead of “what the industry is going to need in 15 years,” said the former senior research scientist at BASF/Whitmire Micro-Gen. Consultants guide manufacturers in developing formulations that meet the industry’s near-future needs. “We’re not going to be spraying some of the stuff we are right now,” said Naffziger, looking five years out.
Developing new products — The hurdles for creating blockbuster products are getting higher. “If you’re placing R&D bets, you need to be focused tactically where you place them,” said Weeks. Consultants help manufacturers “make hard decisions” and dismiss unrealistic expectations.
Sometimes big manufacturers “are run by people so high up they forget what’s going on, and they come out with a formulation that costs too much or has too much in the container; it smells and they never really tested it in the field,” said Frishman. Consultants provide needed feedback and help get labels expanded for new and invasive pests, he said.
Universities today emphasize basic research over applied research and “aren’t training the people with the background needed to provide these services,” added Gary Braness, Yosemite Environmental Services, Fresno, Calif., and a former R&D specialist at Bayer. Consultants fill this void.
Getting things done faster and cheaper — Using a consultant’s contacts, knowledge and experience helps emerging manufacturers get up and running “a lot faster than if they tried to do it on their own,” said Michael McDermott, MMCD Consulting, Bernardsville, N.J., and former global business leader of DuPont Professional Products. Companies tap specific experience and talents at a lower cost than hiring someone full time; those that have down-sized can bring in consultants for special projects without adding to the head count.
Filling the knowledge gap — As baby boomers exit the industry, consultants are “bridging some of the gaps in terms of leadership” until the next generations fill in, said Weeks. Some consultants, like Bello, handle companies’ more complex customer service questions, such as how a product applied in the home might affect a customer’s autoimmune disease.
Others, like Randy Moser, a former Syngenta executive who is now an independent franchisee of AdviCoach, offers business coaching and sales training to PMPs. “My role as a business coach is three-fold,” he said. “I work with businesses to identify any blind spots that are creating barriers for growth/profitability. I share best practices when appropriate and finally, after getting to know the business owner, I hold them accountable to themselves in reaching their goals and dreams.”
Testifying in court — When bed bugs rebounded, litigation involving pest control companies was rare, said Richard Kramer, who has consulted since 1996 and is president of Innovative Pest Management, a pest control company in Brookeville, Md. “Now every lawsuit names the pest control company servicing the property,” he said. The volume of litigation is growing, agreed consultants who work as expert witnesses. Some are hired by companies that insure the industry; others represent plaintiffs. Beside bed bugs, suits involve termites, personal injury and pesticide misapplication.
Paul Hardy, J Paul Hardy Consulting, Smyrna, Ga., and former longtime Orkin senior technical director, works behind the scenes to help parties settle issues before going to court. His objective is to “resolve the problem and restore the industry,” he said.
Stoy Hedges to Develop New PCT Distance Learning Center
Stoy Hedges’ new consulting venture is off to a robust start: Sixty percent of his time is booked developing the PCT Distance Learning Center, which will provide innovative, professional training for pest management professionals.
The first online course, label training, will be unveiled this summer. Subsequent modules will address general household pests, termites and wood-destroying organisms, commercial pest control and fumigation, as well as public health and turf and ornamental pest management. Modules on specific pests like ants, spiders, flies and structure-infesting beetles will be based on PCT’s popular field guide publications. Continuing education credits (CEUs) will be available to those who complete each module.
The interactive training programs will emphasize problem solving and incorporate games that teach and entertain. Integrated, on-demand videos will illustrate key points. The modules will appeal to different modes of learning. “It can’t all be reading and taking quizzes,” said Hedges. He said information will be presented in fun and interesting ways, which takes a lot of creativity on the programming side. “It’s going to be innovative,” Hedges said.
Technology that wasn’t accessible five years ago (tablets, smartphones, high-speed wireless, streaming video) has changed the training dynamic. As a result, training is only going to get better, said Hedges.
Training modules will make full use of GIE Media’s (PCT magazine’s parent company) rich content and tap the creativity of GIE’s award-winning designers to give pest management professionals a state-of-the-art approach to learning.
“I think it’s going to be a very beneficial thing for the industry,” said Hedges.
Developing the PCT Distance Learning Center is “right in my wheelhouse of things I love to do: creating training programs that focus on entomology and teaching people,” said Hedges. “That’s what I enjoy.”
The author is an editorial contributor to PCT magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: PCT contacted many consultants for this article but with so many individuals serving the marketplace, we likely missed some. If you’re an industry consultant and would like to be featured in an upcoming article, please send an email to PCT Editor Jodi Dorsch at firstname.lastname@example.org with your contact information and details about the services you offer.