The September feature “Buchanan is Burning!” is Jim McHale’s recount of a 2007 incident in which six JP McHale service vehicles went up in flames. The article describes McHale’s actions during and after the fire and lessons he’s learned from that incident. Click here to view photos of the burned out service vehicles.
I knew I was officially an adult the day my wife and I sat down with an attorney to prepare our last will and testament. As anyone who has gone through this challenging, yet ultimately essential exercise will attest, it’s a bit daunting to arrive at a decision about who will raise your kids or be awarded your assets in the event of your untimely death. (Although, to be quite honest, I would describe any day I find myself face-to-face with the Grim Reaper as "untimely.") However, just because something is uncomfortable – even something as universally distressing as preparing a will – doesn’t mean it should be ignored. After all, isn’t that what being a responsible adult is all about? At least that’s what I always thought.
As my middle-aged brother-in-law said at Thanksgiving dinner last year while dispensing some unsolicited advice to my youngest daughter, who was about to graduate from college, "Prepare yourself, responsibility stinks" ... with an emphasis on "stinks" for the appropriate dramatic effect. Everyone around the table laughed and, if I’m being totally honest, I’m sure I nodded unconsciously in agreement. But there also are rewards in planning ahead, mostly in the form of the peace of mind that comes with taking your responsibilities as a business owner seriously, which is the point of this month’s cover story, "When Disaster Strikes" (page 50).
This month’s issue highlights the experiences of two well-known PMPs who faced significant business challenges recently through no fault of their own, but because they planned ahead, the long-term impacts of those challenges were minimal. In the first article, Genma Holmes, owner of Holmes Pest Control, Hermitage, Tenn., describes how a comprehensive emergency response plan can mean the difference between waking up one morning without a business or surviving a natural disaster to serve one’s customers another day. And she knows what she’s talking about, having weathered the massive flooding in Nashville, Tenn., earlier this year when the Cumberland River crested at 52 feet, its highest level since 1937, causing more than $1.5 billion in damage. Fortunately, her business survived unscathed, but Holmes was prepared if "Mother Nature" had turned its ire on Holmes Pest Control, having created an emergency preparedness plan after hearing industry colleague Bob Kunst, owner of Fischer Environmental Services, Mandeville, La., share his story about how Hurricane Katrina had impacted his business five years ago. In this month’s issue of PCT, Holmes shares the key components of her plan, along with additional insights from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
A second article chronicles how veteran PMP Jim McHale, president of JP McHale Pest Management, Buchanan, N.Y., was awakened early one morning in 2007 by a phone call from a police officer who informed him that six of his vehicles had been destroyed by a fire. "As I threw on some clothes my mind was racing. I hopped in my automobile and raced to the scene while pondering my options," he recalls. "As I pulled in, the flames seemed to reach heights of 100 feet. Firefighters were all over and noisy fire trucks with flashing lights littered the area. As I exited my vehicle I heard these incredibly loud POP, POP, POPS. My first thought was the vehicles were exploding. I was told just the tires were popping from the extreme heat. My building was less than 10 feet away from the fire’s origin, which roared away as firefighters sprayed water. It was madness!"
McHale’s experience – much like those of PMPs in Nashville earlier this year – reinforces the value of preparing for the unexpected. In his first-person account of the fire, McHale offers a checklist of what PMPs can do to plan for the inevitable accidents that occur in virtually every business ("Buchanan is Burning," page 56). If you haven’t done so already, consider creating your own emergency preparedness plan, taking Holmes’ and McHale’s suggestions to heart. Responsibility may stink, but the alternative is worse.
The author is publisher of PCT magazine.
My company has five trucks. I knew where four of them were.
The other truck was missing, along with the technician that my business partner and I had just hired at our company, Arrow American Pest & Termite, La Plata, Md. The employee had completed a termite control job hours before, and was supposed to return to the office promptly. At the time, we didn’t have GPS devices in our vehicles.
Did the technician get into a traffic accident? Was he knocking on doors, explaining our company’s pest control program to prospective clients? Or was he just taking a joyride?
A friend of mine spotted the truck in a place that seemed suspicious, and called to inform me. I soon reached the employee on his cell phone. He seemed unconcerned and said, "I’ll be back in a few minutes." I told him I was disappointed, and that we had much to discuss.
He showed up three hours later.
Maybe the incident shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, many small-business owners face new-hire headaches. But mine have felt like migraines.
One morning, I received a phone call from the police, asking if I employed a man who was being questioned in a burglary and attempted drug-theft case. (Yes, the person worked for us. No, it didn’t sound like something he would do.) Charges against the employee were eventually dropped, but I asked him to take a drug test. It came back positive for heroin and marijuana.
I’m positive that service and accountability are vital in the pest control industry, so any breach of conduct by a team member is a big deal. I believe the best asset a company can have is trust — not only from commercial and residential clients seeking pest management solutions, but also from each other.
My biggest mistake has been hiring new employees unsystematically. Until recently, we placed newspaper ads, but didn’t have a process for maximizing the use of our networking groups. We interviewed candidates, but didn’t ask questions that elicited thought-provoking answers. We scanned résumés, but didn’t approach them with a skeptic’s eye. We overlooked a harsh truth about small companies: We’re only as good as our weakest link.
Hiring is one of the pest control industry’s most serious challenges. It’s difficult to weed out the people who want to grow from the people who simply want a paycheck, and making a bad choice is costly to a company’s reputation as well as its bottom line. In fact, the U.S. Department of Labor calculates that it costs one-third of a new hire’s annual salary to replace him. These figures include money spent on recruitment, selection and training, plus costs due to decreased productivity as other employees fill in to take up the slack.
I’m keeping that in mind today, as Arrow American searches for a new sales representative who can also serve as a technician. We’re looking for an inquisitive self-starter who understands the importance of customer service and attention to detail.
This time, my business partner and I are taking a more judicious, structured approach to the selection process. Believing relationships are more valuable than classified ads, we’ve reached out to members of our business groups for referrals. We’re also formulating a better job description that details the list of required personal attributes needed to succeed in the role.
When we interview candidates, we’ll pay closer attention to what they ask us (or don’t ask us) instead of only what we ask them. We’ll push for details and examples, hoping candidates can show their qualities instead of just naming them.
We can’t control someone else’s actions or attitudes, but we can take a slower, more thorough approach to hiring, so it’s more likely the new hire’s behavior will represent the company in the way we expect.
We feel our measured approach will help us find someone who can bring our company more productivity and profitability. That’s better than needing to find a truck.
—As told to Darin Painter
Faster than a Speeding Bullet…
Stronger than a Dung Beetle?
According to a report on msnbc.com earlier this year, after months of grueling tests, a species of horned dung beetle took the title for world’s strongest insect. The beetle, Onthophagus taurus, was found to be able to pull a whopping 1,141 times its own body weight, which is the equivalent of a 150-pound (70-kilogram) person lifting six full double-decker buses.
This is great news for the Rodney Dangerfield of the insect world. It’s about time the dung beetle got some respect, don’t you think?
Inventor Hopes 6-Foot-Tall Inflatable Cockroach Catches On as a Quirky Marketing Tool
Whether it’s attention-grabbing billboards, splashy fliers, funny radio and/or TV commercials, clever use of social media, etc., PCOs are ever-increasingly pushing the envelope when it comes to creative marketing.
Atlanta entrepreneur (and Irish tenor banjo player) Lee Nicholson is trying to tap into this industry trend with a "Pop Art" inflatable cockroach that stands 6 feet tall, measures 40 inches across, and can be used as a swimming pool or beach float.
"Having worked for years as a sales rep for companies and having to work many, many trade shows I figured a 6-foot-tall inflatable cockroach with the company logo imprinted on it would be a dead ringer for (suppliers) as well as a great gift for employees and favorite customers of pest control companies that deal with the public," Nicholson said.
The idea came to Nicholson while he was attending an Old Time music festival taking place alongside a river. As part of the festival, attendees were using a multitude of items and ideas to make flotation devices. "It seemed a silly thing to do but I knew how large the pest industry is and it sort of went on its way from there," he said. While Nicholson said he has long had the idea to offer such an item to the pest control industry, he couldn’t figure out the right business model until the advent of the Internet. His website, www.giantcockroach.com, serves not only as a marketing vehicle but as portal for placing orders.
Almost apologetically, Nicholson explained that he has to have the cockroach floats imported from China because no U.S. factory produces an inflatable pool or beach float. His business plan is to sell the units in bulk. "The custom logo of a company can only be applied when the cockroach is being made. It has to be flat to do that. It takes a substantial order to make this happen — a thousand or so units," he says. "The cockroach has to travel 7,000 miles to get here and is on the water for 30 days (following the 30 days it takes to manufacturer it). There is a lot of work that goes into the design. They are not easy to make."
But Nicholson says the Giant Cockroach also could be appealing to smaller companies not looking to buy them in such large quantities. Although small-quantity orders would not include an imprinted name/logo/phone number, an option available to them is having Nicholson place a sticker on the cockroach float box that says "Compliments of [insert company name]."
So what are Nicholson’s future plans? Perhaps it’s the answer you would expect from a guy with such a whacky invention: "My future plans right now are to survive and be able to play a tune I just learned called ‘Speed The Plow’ up to speed on Irish Tenor Banjo," he said.
— Brad Harbison
When pest management professionals hear the words "invasive fire ant species," New England is generally not the area of the country from which they expect to hear these reports. But news that a pair of yards in a Cambridge, Mass., neighborhood were invaded in late July by Myrmica rubra, the European fire ant, serves as a reminder that the Northeast is susceptible to this troublesome invader.
George Williams, general manager and staff entomologist for Environmental Health Services, Norwood, Mass., says Myrmica rubra has been in New England for more than 100 years, but the reports from Cambridge have refocused attention on this pest.
"Up until literally right now this ant was not a problem for homeowners. They are usually found in grassy, marshland areas," Williams said. "In the case of (the Cambridge properties) the ants were spreading aggressively on the properties, in areas where children were playing, in the garden and under the deck."
It’s believed the Myrmica rubra in Cambridge hitched a ride in hostas that a neighbor brought back from Maine. Williams and Harvard University Entomologist Gary Alpert, Ph.D, have been studying this recent outbreak. Alpert told WBZ-TV that the area could experience what he calls a second wave that "is probably unique for Massachusetts."
Alpert also told WBZ -TV that once the females mate, they drop their wings and travel to a new nest, spreading from one yard to the next. "Think of it like a cancer. It doesn’t metastasize, it’s like one big tumor that just keeps spreading and spreading and spreading."
There are several important behavioral differences between Myrmica rubra and the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) — which is the invasive fire ant species most prevalent throughout the U.S. For example, Solenopsis invicta will construct complex mounds, whereas Williams says there is "no rhyme or reason" for how Myrmica rubra will behave on a property.
"Carpenter ants, for example, will forage along trails, while (Myrmica rubra) will be found everywhere throughout a property — in bushes, up in trees, under stones, in railroad ties, rock walls, open lawn areas, under patio blocks, etc. In instances with supercolonies it will appear as if ‘the ground is moving.’"
In terms of identification, Myrmica rubra is a two-node ant that is reddish-brown in color. In addition to having the ability to sting, another important distinguishing feature is Myrmica rubra’s propodeum (the first abdominal segment fused anteriorly to the thorax) has two spines pointing backwards, which is one of the main differences with other native ants (not of the genus Myrmica) in the northeastern U.S., according to the University of Florida Department of Entomology website.
Williams said baits show the greatest potential for controlling Myrmica rubra, however there are several challenges with baits. "We are not sure of the efficacy of commercially available brands as sugars are consumed by workers whereas proteins go to the queens."
Williams said that there are no current fire ant baits registered for use in Massachusetts. "Broadcasting granular baits would pose the easiest application method vs. liquid and gel formulations since the application area is expansive and placement baiting outdoors would be labor intensive," he said. "I would expect the non-repellent liquid products to work well on this species; however, this is not a low-impact application as non-target and beneficial insects are at risk due to the propensity of Myrmica rubra to forage on foliage, lawns and trees."
Williams and Alpert will be conducting a baiting study that they hope will shed additional light on the best ways to treat Myrmica rubra.
The author is Internet editor and managing editor of PCT and can be contacted at email@example.com.
European Fire Ant
Myrmica rubra Linnaeus
Size: 1/8 to 3/16 inch
This species is widely distributed in Europe and was likely introduced into the northeastern U.S. in the early 1900s in imported plant materials. It has become a nuisance pest along coastal Maine and is also reported in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and parts of southeast Canada.
Where they occur, Myrmica rubra are a health concern due to the painful stings they can inflict. Stings occur when people are outside enjoying their yard or a park or when gardening and disturb the workers or the colony. This ant also may impact the biodiversity in areas where it becomes established, outcompeting native ant species and attacking small animals.
Colony Structure. The colonies are moderate to large in size and contain multiple queens (polygynous). A colony may contain more than 20,000 workers and 600 queens. Colonies are also polydomous with multiple, interconnected nests.
Nesting Habits. A key factor in nest site location seems to be high humidity so nests are typically located under woody debris and leaf litter that retain moisture. Nest densities can be high with up to 1.5 nests per square meter. Like many pest ants, the colonies are highly mobile and quickly can be moved to areas with better resources. Nests are also possible in the soil of potted plants.
Foraging Behavior. Little is known about this species’ foraging behavior.
Feeding Habits. These ants are omnivorous, feeding on dead insects and the honeydew produced by homopterous insects (e.g., aphids, mealybugs and scale insects).
Colony Propagation. New colonies are formed by swarming reproductives. In the U.S., mating flights likely occur in late summer.
Source: PCT Field Guide for the Management of
Structure-Infesting Ants, Third Edition