For the average homeowner, the discovery of a raccoon in the attic or an opossum under the porch poses nothing short of a household crisis. As a result, many pest control companies have added wildlife control to their service menu, and many specialize in just that.
In A Strategic Analysis of the U.S. Structural Pest Control Industry — The 2011 Season, conducted and published by Specialty Products Consultants (www.spcresearch.com), Mendham, N.J., pest control companies were asked if they offered a wildlife management service. Nationwide, 22.7 percent of the respondents said they offered wildlife management services. The highest percentage of firms offering such a service was in the South Central region (29.0 percent), followed by the Northeast region (24.6 percent). The lowest percentage of firms offering wildlife management was in the West, at 19.9 percent.
Respondents were asked to estimate the percentage of total company revenue generated from wildlife management services and Curl reported that a nationwide average of 7.6 percent of total revenue was derived from wildlife management work.
Into the Wild. Raccoons, skunks, squirrels and bats top the list of common pests that Suburban Wildlife Control, Elgin, Ill., handles on a daily basis throughout the Chicago area. Brad Lundsteen and his wife Katy own the company, and have earned a reputation as one of the go-to companies for tough wildlife problems in the area. Lundsteen began his animal control career as a young boy when he trapped and removed raccoons from neighbors’ barns and homes. In fact, one of his boyhood friends remembers Lundsteen declaring at age
8 that he was going to trap animals for a living when he grew up. At 18, Lundsteen opened his business, where he continues to work today.
One company offering wildlife control in the Atlanta area is All-Pro Pest Services, Marietta, Ga. Mark Stevens, vice president of the company, said that in 2010, All-Pro established one wildlife crew. That number has increased as wildlife business doubled.
Stevens said the challenge in wildlife control isn’t necessarily dealing with the animals. “Animal behavior is predictable and pretty consistent,” he said. “But where the challenge comes in is with the structure, the customer, their preferences and requirements.”
Kevin Clark, owner of Critter Control, describes a typical wildlife service customer as a female homeowner, between 25 and 50, who hears animal noises or sees signs of animals invading her home. Clark’s franchisees provide a top-to-bottom inspection at every job, with the technician completing a worksheet explaining the biology, habits, typical damage and health threats posed by the specific animal pest. These sheets are then given to the customer.
Michael Bakke, pest control specialist at Wisconsin Bat Specialists, Sparta, Wis., reports that during each job, the company offers a six-minute DVD showing how the technician identifies primary and secondary openings they may seal up to prevent bats. It also shows bats and guano piles in an attic, and what needs to be done to solve that problem. “After viewing the video, the customer realizes they have hired real professionals for their problem and this always results in many referrals,” Bakke said.
A Different Animal. Lundsteen and Stevens agree some characteristics of a good wildlife technician and a good pest control technician overlap, though there can be some differences. “A wildlife technician must be physically fit, be able to lift heavy ladders, good with their hands and not afraid of animals or working at heights,” Lundsteen says. “They must also be good communicators because the fear factor of wildlife in a residence is usually greater than it is for insect pests in a house. They must also be flexible to work in tight areas like attics and crawlspaces.”
Wildlife Services as Add-Ons. Many pest control companies offer wildlife services, but many others don’t, for a variety of reasons. The average length of a wildlife service can range up to four hours and usually involves multiple trips back to the account. “The results are unpredictable,” Clark said. “It takes a different knowledge base, equipment and risks than general pest control work. And workers’ compensation is usually higher.”
Every state’s laws are different where animal control is concerned, though most require individuals to take a test to be licensed for animal control and removal. There are several organizations serving the training and educational needs of nuisance wildlife professionals.
The National Wildlife Control Operators Association (NWCOA) assists people or organizations providing commercial wildlife damage management and control activities. The association is active in training, educating and promoting competence, service and integrity to the members of the wildlife damage management industry. (Learn more at www.nwcoa.com.)
The National Animal Control Association (NACA) offers training designed for animal control officers at federal, state and local levels, and those wishing to be a NACA-certified animal control/care officer must attend Level I and Level II training. Level I covers basic investigation, capture techniques, law overview, animal identification, rabies and quarantine issues, and more; Level II covers the handling of exotic, wildlife and agricultural animals, media relations and more. NACA also offers the more advanced Level III and IV certifications. (Learn more at www.nacanet.org.)
Another resource is the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management (http://icwdm.org). ICWDM is a non-profit, grant-funded site that provides research-based information on how to responsibly handle wildlife damage problems. The site consolidates information on Integrated Pest Management in regards to wildlife damage management. Its goal is to increase adoption of IPM practices in wildlife damage management by centralizing resources.
Marketing. New insect and rodent control business comes through referrals and marketing for most pest control firms, and it’s no different for the wildlife segment. Stevens attributes All-Pro’s increase in wildlife business to aggressive traditional marketing, including TV, radio and billboards, as well as sales by technicians. Lundsteen said he uses TV, newspapers, word of mouth and the company’s website. Both companies receive referrals from other pest control companies that do not offer wildlife services.
Clark uses traditional marketing methods such as Yellow Pages, Internet and targeted marketing. “We focus our marketing on our target market, not on mass marketing like radio and TV,” he said. “A lot of our business comes from repeat customers and referrals.”
The author is a contributing writer to PCT magazine and can be contacted at email@example.com.