This month’s feature story “Out on Limb” describes how Palmetto Exterminators termite technicians are inspecting and treating trees infested with Formosan termites. Inspection work includes use of digital photographs (to record caulking and paint issues and moisture presence) while treatments include drilling the base of the tree and injecting termiticide. Click here to view additional photos from Palmetto Exterminators.
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.
In our technology-driven world of smart phones and social media, it is easy to forget that just a few years ago, most businesses didn’t even have their own websites. Oh, how times have changed!
A 2010 Consumer Pest Control Attitudes and Usage Survey by the Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA) suggests the Internet is no longer an optional frontier for pest management companies. In the study, 47 percent of respondents cited the Internet as a resource they "do, have or would use to look for a professional pest control company," up from only 29 percent in the 2005 version of the same study.
The Internet is a close second only to the telephone book/Yellow Pages, which 52 percent of consumers said they do, have or would use to look for a professional pest control company. But the survey results also indicate that the use of the telephone book and Yellow Pages is falling in popularity, as just five years ago it far outpaced the Internet as resource in their search.
While this shift in the way consumers seek pest control services may not be surprising, it does confirm that having a strong presence on the Internet is imperative in today’s marketplace. Your company website is a valuable sales tool and should be seen as a cornerstone of any comprehensive online marketing plan, which may include social media tactics like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, paid online advertising and/or search engine optimization (SEO) efforts.
Of course, running a successful website for your pest management business is easier said than done. Sure, you can slap up a logo and phone number, but what are customers really looking for when they arrive at your site? How can you optimize your company’s online presence to ensure your website is attracting customers and growing your business? Here’s a rundown of some of the key elements your business’ website should include:
1. The Services You Offer and the Area(s) You Serve
It sounds simple enough, but it’s important to keep in mind that when someone stumbles upon your website for the first time, they are able to quickly and clearly identify what your company does, where you do it, and for whom. Do you have specialties (termites, bed bugs) or additional services (lawn care, wildlife management)? Do you serve one city, a region or the whole country? Do you serve residential or commercial customers, or both? Make it a priority to provide at least general information about your company and services on your home page so it’s one of the first things people see. You can save the more specific information for "FAQs," "About Us" and "Services" pages.
2. Accreditations & Awards
Are you a member of the National Pest Management Association, a state association or your local chamber? Were you voted Best Pest Management Company by your city’s newspaper? Do you sponsor a youth athletics organization or other non-profit? Your website is the perfect place to brag about your experience, certifications and recognitions, because customers will be looking for this assurance when selecting a pest management company.
3. Client Testimonials or Other Third-Party Endorsement
The popularity of websites like Angie’s List (angieslist.com) has shown that consumers base a lot of trust in peer reviews of businesses and services. According to the results of PPMA’s Pest Control Attitudes and Usage Survey, 45 percent of consumers have or would rely on a friend’s recommendation when looking for a professional pest management company. So although you don’t always have control over word-of-mouth recommendations for your business, you can replicate the concept on your site by sharing positive feedback, testimonials or case studies from your existing customers. If you don’t already have one, consider setting up a feedback form on your site that encourages customers to share their experience.
4. Contact Information
One of the most basic and essential, but oft-neglected, components of any company website is providing complete contact information. Once you’ve sold them on your services, make it as easy and as pain-free as possible for a customer to contact you and schedule an appointment. Provide a contact form on the site, an e-mail address (that someone from your business checks regularly!) and a phone number, as well as physical address if possible.
5. Links to Your Other Content on the Web
Do you have a Twitter account or Facebook fan page for your company? Consider adding buttons to your homepage that link directly to your accounts elsewhere on the web, so your customers can easily follow you, friend you, fan you or otherwise keep up with the information your business is sharing.
Was your business mentioned recently in the press? Why not create a "news" section on your website to profile any press your company receives as well as any news — new hires, promotions, expansions — you want to share with the public.
6. Up-to-date Content and Easy Navigation
Your company’s website represents your business, so it’s important to make a good first impression. One sure way to turn-off potential customers is to drive them to a website that seems out of date or is hard to navigate. Like it or not, customers will associate a poorly managed website with a poorly managed company, so it’s in your best interest to ensure it’s user-friendly and visually appealing.
You can take the idea a step further by including a search function or site map on your website, so that users can quickly find the information they are looking for. In addition, spend some time analyzing your web traffic (you can do this using free online tools like Google.com/analytics) and ensure that the most popular features on the site are especially easy to find.
7. Helpful, Relevant Content
One of the biggest challenges is standing out from the other resources on the Web that compete for your customers’ attention. Filling your site with interesting, relevant information will increase the likelihood that your audience spends more than a few seconds on your site and keeps coming back to it time and time again.
Consider adding video content and linking to external resources that share additional information as a way to continue to engage your site’s visitors. (Investors in PPMA have access to many perks for their websites, including video content like our public service announcements and "B-roll" footage, as well as buttons to link to external sites including PestWorld.org, PestWorldForKids.org and WhatIsIPM.org.)
FINAL THOUGHTS. There’s no doubt that building and maintaining a company website takes a lot more time and energy — not to mention monetary investment — than placing an ad in the Yellow Pages. But, the good news is, a website has the potential to pay much bigger dividends and do so much more for your business than traditional marketing. A well-run website gives you the opportunity to showcase what makes your services unique, attract new customers and maintain existing relationships, and ultimately help to grow your business.
The author is executive director, Professional Pest Management Alliance.
Henriksen Appears on NBC’s Today Show
NPMA’s Missy Henriksen has made a pair of appearances on NBC’s Today Show as a source on bed bugs. On July 28, Henriksen was interviewed for a segment that ran in response to reports that bed bugs were being found in non-residential settings such as office buildings (e.g., former President Clinton’s Harlem office); retail stores (e.g., Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret); and public transportation. Henriksen provided tips for both retail shoppers and travelers. For clothes shoppers, Henriksen recommended they inspect any garment thoroughly, including all seams, before trying it on, and that they wash any newly purchased clothes before wearing them. For travelers, Henriksen recommended that, upon entering their room, they leave their suitcase(s) in the bathroom and then thoroughly inspect the bed, including the headboard.
Henriksen also made a Today Show in-studio appearance on Aug. 19 for a bed bug segment that ran in response to reports that bed bugs were showing up in movie theaters, schools and libraries. In this segment, Henriksen provided viewers with tips on how to inspect a bed, including the importance of checking areas such as seams and dust ruffles. Specific to the issue of picking up bed bugs in movie theaters, Henriksen recommended that viewers not bring belongings such as purses, shopping bags, satchels, etc., into the theater and place them on adjacent empty seats.
Tt might be an exaggeration to use the words "bed bugs" and "plague" in the same breath, but, as you know, the topic of bed bug infestations has become quite prominent these days throughout the United States. It seems there isn’t a day that goes by without some mention of bed bugs in the media.
After having been nearly eradicated in our country by DDT applications back in the 1950s, these tiny, nocturnal bloodsucking bed bugs have mounted a serious comeback. Over the last 10 years or so, they’ve actually become a major pest. The widespread use of baits (rather than insecticide sprays for ant and cockroach control) is a factor that has been implicated in their return; bed bugs are parasites that do not feed on ant and cockroach baits. It’s thought that their resurgence has been due to several other factors, too: increased world travel to areas where bed bugs are rampant; their developing resistance to insecticides; and the fact that more people are relocating to other areas of the country. This "hitchhiker" is carried from place to place in luggage, bedding and furniture, and on clothing. Travelers sleeping at hotels or motels are at risk of becoming the bed bug’s next meal. In fact, significant numbers of bed bug infestations have been reported in hotels and motels, and smaller infestations have occurred in both high-end and low-end apartment complexes, nursing homes, college dormitories and single-family homes. They have even been found in public schools, airplanes, prisons and movie theaters.
THE 411. The bed bug (Cimex lectularius) has beak-like, piercing/sucking mouthparts and it injects its saliva into the human it has selected as a meal. The saliva acts as an anticoagulant and helps its feeding process, which usually lasts for about five minutes. And when it’s full, it will crawl back to its hiding place. Note, however, that the bed bug will feed on any warm-blooded animal, including birds, chickens and pets.
The adult bed bug is just under ¼-inch long, is brown or reddish brown and has a relatively flat oval shape. It can hide in tiny crevices in and around human living spaces. These spots include mattresses, box springs, headboards, bed linens, upholstery, behind wood trim, under furniture, inside clocks and electrical boxes, in floors, behind wallpaper and in other spaces close to a potential meal. A female can lay 500 to 1,000 eggs per year.
The first sign of an infestation is the appearance of small brownish or reddish spots on bed linens. These are droppings from the bugs. Bitten individuals may also notice swelling and sometimes localized itching.
TREATMENT TIPS. For those of us in the pest control business, bed bugs are also a prominent topic these days. Our biggest concern is choosing the best ways to treat for these creatures.
There has been much information in our industry about which treatments are successful and which aren’t. Among the most successful treatments we’ve experienced is the use of heat, since bed bugs are quite susceptible to high temperatures. As an entomologist for our company, the research I’ve done has demonstrated that a heat treatment at 120°F, maintained for a period of time, can be effective. Washing bed linens or other infested areas might not eliminate the source — heat is the key.
With that in mind, we’ve developed a treatment protocol that includes heating infested spots with a steamer (200°F at the tip), which can penetrate mattresses, cushions, sofas, and clothing up to an inch and a half. At that 200°F temperature, we’ve successfully killed live bed bugs and destroyed their eggs.
Of course, any treatment protocol begins with a thorough inspection — especially for bed bugs, which are cryptobiotic creatures that instinctively hide unless they are out foraging for food (our blood). When humans are at rest, bed bugs can sense the carbon dioxide we exhale, as well as our body temperatures (which seem to rise when we sleep), and find the way to their next meal.
INSPECTION PROTOCOLS. When inspecting, pest management professionals can’t be too thorough; but because of this, bed bug control is one of the most labor-intensive treatments in our industry. To be successful, it is important to locate the sources of infestation — the harborage area. It is also important to interview the client to determine a possible ongoing translocation source.
Our company’s protocol includes the use of bed bug scent-detecting dogs. We utilize four specially trained dogs. We have field-tested two bed bug monitors on the market today but they are rather expensive, running between $250 and $500 each. They have achieved mixed records of success, but frankly, my research hasn’t found monitors in general to be reliable. In cases where we have used a bed bug scent-detecting dog in an inspection, the dog did verify the presence of bed bugs, but the monitors in place didn’t reveal any activity.
Standard glueboards don’t work well either unless they are placed in a highly infested site. It seems that bed bugs can walk on top of the glue unless the room is at a high enough temperature that enhances the glue’s adhesiveness.
After we have steamed the bed bugs, we HEPA vacuum around corners and under carpet edges, as well as mattresses, box springs and all furniture in the area. We’ll then treat with a contact insecticide, and perform dust applications in voids. We’ll treat under carpet edges and at the tack strips and also treat with a residual liquid pesticide.
Washable items from the infested area can be washed in hot, soapy water and placed in a hot dryer for about 60 minutes and then bagged, removed and laundered. Bags should be disposed of outdoors. The cleaned items should be returned in new bags.
After the initial pesticide application, we’ll go back and encase the mattresses and box springs with a bed bug proof encasement and then follow that with the same protocol two weeks later. Depending on the size of the infestation, we may go back a third time, two weeks later. But typically our protocol calls for one follow-up treatment 14 days after the initial treatment.
Tim Hendricks is an entomologist, A.C.E. and director of training for Assured Environments, New York City. He attended Francis Marion University, Florence, S.C., earning a bachelor of science degree in sociology. He has more than 25 years experience in the pest management industry and is a member of the Entomological Society of America and the Copesan Technical Committee.
Copesan is an alliance of pest management companies with locations throughout North America. To learn more, visit www.copesan.com.
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