In 2004 the NPMA embarked on an ambitious certification program called QualityPro. A decade later, is QP paying off for pest management professionals?
In the early 2000s, on the heels of the formation of the Professional Pest Management Alliance, industry insiders recognized a need to improve professionalism within the industry. “We wanted to raise the bar for the industry. We wanted the public to hold professional pest management in higher regard, so we were looking for ways to drive that internally,” recalls Bobby Jenkins of ABC Home & Commercial Services, Austin, Texas.
In January 2004, out of that desire to raise the bar on expectations of what it means to be a truly “professional” pest management professional, the National Pest Management Association conceived a certification program called QualityPro. In the vein of the “Good Housekeeping Seal” and the “Mr. Goodwrench” designation, the program was designed as a way to recognize companies that were adhering to the industry’s highest standards, and in turn, motivate more pest management operations to implement some of the industry’s best practices.
“There was PPMA out there saying to the public that you need to hire a professional to take care of your home and we wanted to supplement that by showing what we are doing, as an industry, to make sure that the technician who comes to your house is professional, knows what he or she is doing, has proper insurance, has been drug tested, has a higher level of training and so on,” says Chuck Tindol of Allgood Pest Solutions, Atlanta. Tindol was involved in QualityPro’s inception, and now serves as chair of the program’s board of directors.
Further, the idea was that by gaining the QualityPro designation, a pest management company could set itself apart from the herd, market its achievement to consumers and boost its revenue — a win, win for the industry and the individual PMP alike.
Today, as QualityPro approaches the end of its first decade, approximately 457 companies (about 8 percent of NPMA-member pest management companies) have achieved QualityPro certification.
How it Works. Becoming a QualityPro-certified company is no easy task, but the process starts simply enough. A PMP who is an NPMA member in good standing and has been in business for at least two years completes an online application and pays a registration fee based on sales volume. For example, a PMP generating between $1 and $2.5 million in revenue pays $750 to participate. An annual fee, also based on revenue, is charged each subsequent year to remain active in the program.
Once an application is submitted and processed, the PMP receives program resources and guidelines, and has a six-month-long window to demonstrate that his or her company is operating in line with QualityPro (QP) standards. If so, the company becomes QP-certified, and a member of the QP program. The requirements include a wide range of standards including human resources practices (such as performing background checks on all employees and having a drug-screening program in place), business processes (such as meeting minimum insurance and service agreement requirements), environmental stewardship guidelines (such as pesticide safe-handling requirements) and technician training protocols. For example, each technician within a QP-certified company must pass a state and/or QP-administered exam. (For an entire list of QualityPro requirements, as well as other details, visit the program’s website at www.npmaqualitypro.org.)
“There’s a lot of information you have to submit to show and document that you are fitting the requirements. That takes a good bid of time to do that,” Tindol says, and he admits that’s probably been one of the reasons more companies haven’t pursued QP certification. “But we feel like, this should be a program where you have to put in some work to get this designation.”
The PMP also must sign a yearly affidavit attesting that his or her company continues to operate in line with QP requirements and show documentation to that effect, such as the fact that all new technicians hired within the past year have taken the required training and testing. What’s more, QP administrators conduct random annual audits of QP-certified companies to ensure they are in compliance.
The program is managed by Executive Director Andrew Architect, who works out of the NPMA’s Fairfax, Va., offices. Additional oversight comes from a board of directors composed of 21 PMPs from various parts of the United States and Canada. In addition to helping set the strategy for QP, the board serves as a compliance committee that hears appeals or complaints.
Is it Worth it? So is the time and money involved in obtaining QP status worth the investment? As with most things in life and business, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When QP was initially conceived, the notion was that one of the major pay-offs for participating PMPs would be increased sales resulting from the designation. But to date, limited marketing dollars has made it difficult for the NPMA to make QP a household name.
“The No. 1 request or complaint we get from QualityPro members is that we don’t market the program enough to the consumer. Outside of the industry, QualityPro doesn’t have as much brand equity to a typical residential purchaser of pest control as we would like to see it have,” Architect says.
In other words, most consumers just aren’t aware that QP exists, and they certainly aren’t demanding QP status from PMPs. However, QP does provide certified companies with marketing materials, such as logos, uniform patches and truck decals that communicate that company’s QP-status, as well as brochures, door hangers and bid letters from NPMA that explain the QP program and why it’s a special designation.
Some enterprising PMPs, including Tindol, have been aggressive in marketing their QP status to potential customers and selling why it puts them in a unique classification of pest management professionals. “For a while I was the only QP company in the Atlanta market who was advertising the fact that I am a QP company. And if I’m the only one talking about it, then I own that for my market. Well, then some of my competitors ...(got) on board, but we are still teaching our sales partners how to talk about QualityPro and why being a QualityPro is important,” Tindol says.
Jenkins, also a QP-certified company and a past chair of the QP board, says he’s invested time and money in television and radio ads talking about QualityPro and what it means to the customer, such as the fact that he screens all employees for drugs, background checks, etc., and holds them to a higher level of training. “I don’t think we’ve gotten to the place in the public’s mind where they are seeking out a QualityPro company yet. That’s a hard hill to climb. But I do think espousing the virtues of what are in QualityPro does resonate with homeowners when they are selecting vendors.”
While it’s still unclear whether or not QP has had an impact on a certified PMPs’ sales figures, the real benefits of the program have been the operating resources provided to QP-certified companies. For example, each QP company receives a QualityPro Toolbox, packed with manuals, programs, protocols, guidelines and documents (such as sample applications for hire) that cover areas such as marketing, human resources and technician training. It’s essentially a how-to guide for running a top-tier pest management business that’s been created by some of the industry’s most respected firms.
“The biggest benefits that I feel folks receive from QualityPro are the business resources. We provide initially (and as updated), employment applications, reference forms, etc. Companies also have access to our online training website and many companies use the QP tests as basic and refresher training for their employees,” Architect says.
And, Tindol adds, the QP board is continually working to find, develop and implement tools into the program that will help make participating companies better. For example, currently the QP board is partnering with human resources guru Jean Seawright in developing a supervisory-level leadership training program that will be added to the Toolbox and help QP companies develop new managers. Further, Tindol says, “Jean is at every board meeting and keeps us informed on different human resource issues across the country. For example, marijuana was legalized in a number of states in the last election. Well, how does that affect your drug testing policy? Things like that are parts of the Toolbox, and they are things you just can’t get anywhere else.”
What’s ironic, Architect says, is that some of the resistance to the QP program has come from smaller-sized pest management firms who think the program is only for the “big guys.” However, in fact, many of the resources contained within the QP Toolbox may be resources that smaller firms need the most, such as in cases where an owner is also the human resources expert, chief marketer and head trainer all in one.
“In my mind, when we created QualityPro it was for the entire industry. It is for everybody. We have a Toolbox that has tools for every size of company. And for the smaller company, in particular, those tools are often more difficult to come by. When a small company becomes QualityPro certified it really puts them on the same playing field as some of the largest companies in the country,” Jenkins says.
During the last couple years, QP has added additional designations, such as QualityPro Schools, GreenPro and QualityPro Food Protection, which allow PMPs to gain additional certifications that demonstrate their unique abilities in these sensitive pest management environments. This evolution, Architect says, has led to additional business opportunities for certified firms. “These include earning points toward the Green Restaurant Association ‘Dine Organic’ program that gives credit to GreenPro members, automatic Gold Membership in the EPA Pesticide Environmental Stewardship Program, HUD’s Mark to Market Incentives program and recognition by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Also, later this year, we anticipate that the U.S. Green Building Council LEED program will also award points to GreenPro member companies,” Architect says.
Ultimately, each individual PMP will have to decide if the QP program is right for his or her company and whether or not, at this point, the benefits of QualityPro certification outweigh the investment of time and money required to achieve QP-status.
What is clear, however, is that some of the industry’s best and brightest are championing the program. Accordingly, it is likely QP is here to stay and will only grow in members, prestige and benefits.
“Holy Grail.” “It’s an ongoing process. We are going to continue to build the value. The NPMA, the QualityPro Board of Directors and its leadership are very committed to making sure that this is a forever-type of program for the industry. The day when a homeowner or a business makes a selection for pest management services based on asking, ‘Are you a QualityPro company?’ Ultimately that’s the Holy Grail in my opinion. We have a long way to go, but I think we are doing the positive things to get us to that point eventually,” Jenkins says.
The author is freelancer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.