Nationwide survey results released in February show that in the fourth quarter of 2010, remodeling activity was on the decline while discretionary spending on convenience and maintenance services — including pest management services — was on the rise by homeowners. The data was collected from ServiceMagic’s Q4 2010 Home Remodeling and Repair Index, containing information compiled from 1.2 million service requests received through the firm’s online marketplace from October to December of 2010, as well as results from a survey of homeowners and service professionals conducted in January of this year.
In the fourth quarter of 2010, homeowners’ service requests for convenience and maintenance services — including pest control (+30.5 percent); lawn and garden care (+21.5 percent); snow removal services (+20 percent); and handyman services (+16 percent) — were up nationally. But those same homeowners appeared to be less willing to invest in remodeling projects with demand in service requests for additions and remodeling declining 30 percent year over year nationally.
“Significant increases in convenience service categories reflect the growing trend of homeowners paying for home services that in the recent past, with tighter economic conditions, they were choosing to do on their own,” said Craig Smith, ServiceMagic’s CEO.
HOME IMPROVEMENT PLANS.
Sentiment towards remodeling activity in 2011 is optimistic with 71 percent of homeowners surveyed indicating they plan to complete a home project in 2011. However, a large majority of these homeowners have longer project timelines with more than 60 percent waiting for 12 or more weeks before beginning their project, an important consideration for PMPs providing “handyman” services. Past survey results have indicated that most homeowners planned to start new projects within six weeks.“Homeowners seem to be cautiously optimistic about investing in remodeling projects and it appears that remodeling activity will pick up towards the second and third quarters of 2011,” Smith said.
“It would have been easy early on in 2010 to hope for the ultimate recovery — perhaps back to 2007 spending levels. But we also observed that, while active, consumers behave differently now,” Smith continued. “It’s a mixed-bag recovery, some strong signs that homeowners plan to stay put for a while and want to increase their home’s live-in value. At the same time, today’s consumer is more discerning and price conscious.”
More Data Available
Visit www.servicemagic.com to download the complete Q4 2010 Home Remodeling and Repair Index, which includes home improvement regional and city data on home project spending trends, as well as specific categories of projects that have seen increases and decreases as compared to the same quarter in the year prior.
This survey was conducted online by ServiceMagic in January 2011. The survey polled 375 service professionals and 1,050 consumers in the ServiceMagic network. ServiceMagic.com data reflects homeowners requesting a professional to hire for home improvement projects. In other words, this data reflects “do-it-for-me” projects and not “do-it-yourself” projects.
With more than 6 million requests from homeowners in 2010, ServiceMagic is a nationwide website connecting consumers with prescreened, customer-rated service professionals.
Changing market conditions are also having an impact on how pest control companies are marketing and delivering their termite control services. The long-standing practice of keeping termite and general pest sales and service separate is giving way to companies adopting universal approaches for selling and servicing pests of all types.
Some of this has been driven by the economic conditions that have impacted the way consumers spend their pest management dollars but for other companies it has been a strategic decision.
Atlanta-based Arrow Exterminators had long been viewed by consumers as a termite-only company, even though it always had offered general pest control services. However, that has changed and, according to Cindy Mannes, chief marketing and strategy officer, the company “has moved from being a termite company to a pest and termite company.”
They have made this transition through the development of the STEPS Total Protection System. The system has a two-fold purpose: to introduce customers to the entire lineup of Arrow’s services — termite, general pest, wildlife, mosquito and fire ant control — and also promote Arrow’s mission to be “leading the way to a friendlier footprint” through extensive use of IPM practices.
“We are not selling pest control. We are not selling them termite control,” said Mannes. “We are selling them a system to protect their home or business.”
The system has caused a shift in thinking internally across Arrow, so much so that the company no longer offers termite inspections but instead offers home evaluations. These evaluations take into consideration all the potential pest services a customer may require, not just termites. “We are selling total protection to the customer for their home or business,” said Mannes.
She also noted that the approach has forced Arrow’s sales team to be more creative when it comes to the sales process and generating leads that encompass the full menu of services.
“During the real estate boom our sales force’s lead boxes were full but the economic realities have caused that to change,” said Mannes. “Even our sales brochure has been adjusted to put general pest before termite to reinforce the fact we offer a wide array of services.”
While Arrow has adopted a diverse strategy for its sales force, it has not gone the universal technician path but that doesn’t mean techs have been left out of this transformation.
Arrow has made a significant commitment to delivering IPM-driven pest management services through its Arrow University, a rigorous training program that technicians take part in to learn the most environmentally-responsible IPM service techniques available, and equipping all technicians with an IPM service kit.
The approach has proved to be popular with consumers — many of whom had no idea that Arrow could service their home or business for anything beyond termites. “We are seeing the results in our sales numbers and customer feedback, and we look forward to continuing our commitment to quality service and sustainability,” said Mannes.
The author is partner of B Communications, an integrated communications/marketing firm specializing in the needs of pest management, lawn care, landscape and golf course management professionals. He can be reached at email@example.com.
How is the termite season going for your firm? Have termites started swarming yet? Will they ever swarm? And how have you positioned your company’s termite services for 2011? In January, PCT magazine surveyed 250 of its readers about this year’s termite season. Here’s what your peers had to say. (Only those firms that perform termite control answered the questions on this page.)
Termite Biology Fun Facts
- Termites are among the most ancient of insects. Their fossilized remains have been found in formations more than 100 million years old.
- In nature, termites are very beneficial since they recycle wood and other cellulose-containing materials that other organisms cannot. Feeding by termites enhances the decomposition of organic matter and the return of nutrients to the soil. Their tunneling helps to aerate soils and promote plant growth.
- As a byproduct of termites’ digestion, termites also produce methane. Since methane is a “greenhouse” gas that accumulates in the upper atmosphere, scientists are hopeful that these insects may one day provide clues concerning global warming and climate change.
- Like other insects, termites have six legs and a body divided into three main regions: head, thorax and abdomen. Situated on the head is a pair of straight antennae made up of tiny bead-like segments. Also on the head is a pair of mandibles used for eating, defense and other functions.
- Individuals within a termite colony may appear quite different and perform specialized tasks. These life forms, known as castes, include workers, soldiers and reproductives. The workers are usually the most numerous individuals in the colony, and the caste that feeds upon wood.
- Termites are not pre-destined at birth to become a member of a particular caste. Rather, caste determination and abundance depend on the continually changing needs of the colony.
- Termites engage in trophallaxis, the mutual exchange of semi-digested food among colony members. Trophallaxis enables the efficient sharing of nutrients, distribution of pheromones involved in caste regulation, recognition among nestmates, and transfer of digestion-aiding microbes
- As is true of all cold-blooded creatures, temperature strongly influences termite activity. Studies have shown that subterranean termites will not forage in areas where upper level soil temperatures are either too hot or too cold. Optimum temperatures for termites range from 75°F-95°F. At temperatures above 100°F or below 25°F, termites may die in a matter of minutes.
- More than 2,300 species of termites exist worldwide. About 50 species occur in the United States, and of these, about 20 are pests of structures.
Source: 10th edition of the Mallis Handbook of Pest Control.
It was appropriate that the U.S. EPA chose Georgetown University to host the second National Bed Bug Summit, Feb. 1-2, since the talk was dominated by the call for more education.
More than 250 people attended the two-day event, which attracted government, regulatory, research, consumers and industry representatives for what was billed as the first step toward establishing a framework for a national policy to combat this widespread pest problem.
“One of our goals is to reduce consumer confusion when it comes to bed bugs,” said Claire Gesalman, chief of EPA’s communications services branch. “We want to close the gap of missing information by establishing a central clearinghouse of information.”
However, tackling the communication issue when it comes to bed bugs is not an easy task considering the number of stakeholders involved. There are consumers, pest management professionals and numerous government agencies at the federal level including EPA, USDA, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Defense, National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as numerous state and local government entities.
The central clearinghouse of information that EPA’s Gesalman spoke of would serve the various constituencies’ needs for communication tools that can be used to help educate consumers on how they can be part of the solution to controlling bed bugs. However, no delivery platform for the dissemination of the information has been decided upon and lack of funding is hampering the effort.
Representatives from public housing authorities in Portland, Ore., and Boston, Mass., both credited successful communication efforts aimed at tenants in helping them with getting the message across about the facts associated with bed bugs. “It is an ongoing process of education for residents and we have had success when we have been able to get the right information into their hands,” said Jonathan Wild, property manager with the Housing Authority of Portland, Ore.
Getting the information into the hands of consumers that are impacted by bed bugs, however, is not as easy as putting up a poster in the laundry room or having a tenant meeting.
“It is a two-headed issue that you have to contend with,” said Dr. Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, IPM specialist/urban entomologist for the New York State IPM Program, who has worked extensively in New York City and Long Island’s Nassau County. “You have social and cultural blockers that lead to challenges in getting the information out there and providing treatment. As a result, people who need the service are falling through the cracks.”
Industry professionals in attendance at the meeting agreed that better communication is part of the solution but time is of the essence.
“This is a serious crisis that we are facing,” said Bob Rosenberg, senior vice president, NPMA, who spoke on a panel at the event. “There is a need for a coordinated response that involves industry and government.”
Stoy Hedges, director of technical services for Terminix, attended the two-day event and feels a central clearinghouse of information would be helpful to both consumers and industry.
“The government, the EPA in this case, is well-suited to being a host for such a clearinghouse,” said Hedges. “Having the ability to link to the latest research papers and other information, as well as forums for getting questions answered would be very useful.”
Hedges cautioned that while a central information source would be helpful, the information provided would have to be verified by EPA before being released for consumption.
“There is a lot of information out there regarding bed bugs and not all of it is accurate,” said Hedges. “Whatever format it is finally presented in, the information needs to be verified so consumers are getting an accurate picture.”
NPMA recently released its Best Management Practices for Bed Bugs, available at www.npmapestworld.org, in order to facilitate the distribution of the latest factual information on bed bug detection and control for consumers. (See the article on NPMA’s BMPs on page 130 of this issue.)
“Consumer protection is very important to the pest management industry,” said Jim Fredericks, director of technical services for NPMA. “Industry professionals have the knowledge and are in the best position to recommend the proper treatment strategies.”
While the event included several presentations on the latest technologies available to treat for bed bugs and updates from the research community on their efforts, no across-the-board treatment remedy is apparent.
“Bugs go where people go and that is part of the problem,” said Rick Cooper, vice president of Bed Bug Central and a researcher at Rutgers University. “Field experience is helping the industry develop the proper treatment methods but there has been overreaction to the problem in some areas.”
For example, encasement of infested items such as clothing or furniture, has proven more effective in some cases than simply throwing the items out in the trash, which was accepted as a standard response when an infestation was discovered. When it comes to combatting bed bugs, Cooper said “it is not about the what, it is about the how.”
Allison Taisey, program coordinator for the Northeastern IPM Center at Cornell University, echoed Cooper’s sentiments saying, “No two bed bug treatments are alike and you can’t simply offer one definitive solution.”
And while industry and government agencies are both driving towards the same goal — getting a handle on a pest that one in five consumers have had or know someone who has had an experience with them — the summit left unanswered questions and some wondering if the government and industry are on the same page.
“We both want the same thing and that is to find solutions to controlling and eliminating bed bugs,” said Rosenberg. “We know that EPA and the other agencies do not have the needed staff or resources to attack this problem as fast as everyone would like.”
Rosenberg cited the fact that the USDA has devoted one researcher to the bed bug effort and that is simply not enough to meet the need.
As for the industry’s desire that EPA relax the barriers for certain product registration requirements and fast-track new products that might help in the fight, Rosenberg said he is hopeful. He indicated the industry is partnering with EPA on several efficacy workgroups to study options for new products, including some currently labeled for agriculture uses that avoid the resistance problems and could prove effective.
“We can work together to find solutions and events like this escalate the awareness of the issue and demonstrate a need for the government to act,” said Rosenberg.
Veteran industry PMP Billy Tesh of Pest Management Systems in Greensboro, N.C., attended the summit and came away concerned about the speed at which EPA was moving to address the issues surrounding bed bugs.
“There seems to be little movement on the main issues with bed bugs,” said Tesh. He acknowledged that EPA and the other government agencies were in a budget crunch but he said that should not stop them from being more resourceful.
“They need to find a way to reallocate and refocus existing resources toward bed bug research and programs to help stem the crisis,” said Tesh.
Like others in the industry he feels establishing a central clearinghouse of information would benefit all the shareholders with a stake in eliminating bed bugs. Tesh would like to see a single entity lead the effort but with representation from the pest management industry, as well as the apartment and housing and hospitality industries.
“If they involve the stakeholders in the effort, the likelihood of the information being beneficial and accurate increases,” said Tesh. “And that will benefit everyone.”
Though not overly optimistic about the prospects, he hopes EPA will take another look at the product registration and re-registration process, and consider allowing certain products not currently labeled for bed bugs to be updated.
“Industry will have to continue to push EPA to take a second look at some of the older chemistry that could help,” said Tesh. “Research has shown that effective control for bed bugs is achieved through a rotation of pesticides, and the more options available the better our chances are of eliminating the problem.”
Entomological Society Posts National Bed Bug Summit Presentations
Presentations from the second National Bed Bug Summit have been made available through the Entomological Society of America‘s (ESA) new urban entomology network site.
To review PDFs of some of the PowerPoint presentations from the Summit, visit http://esanetworks.org/group/urbanandstructuralentomologists/forum/topic/show?id=6295836%3ATopic%3A2808&xg_source=msg.
There is no narration, so you don‘t get the full content of the presentations, but there is still considerable information in the slides. — Mike Merchant, Insects in the City blog, http://insectsinthecity.blogspot.com/
Jeff Fenner is a partner in B Communications, an integrated communications/marketing firm specializing in the needs of pest management, lawn care, landscape and golf course management professionals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.