[PCT Cover Story] David Vs. Goliath

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September 3, 2004
Dan Moreland

ARE ALL CSIs THE SAME?

Both diflubenzuron and hexaflumuron are
from a class of chemicals known as chitin synthesis inhibitors (CSI). When ingested, chitin synthesis inhibitors disrupt the normal formation of chitin, a key component of the termite’s exoskeleton, causing the insect to die when it attempts to molt.

While Ensystex claims diflubenzuron and hexaflumuron display the same mode of action, Dow AgroSciences says that doesn’t mean they perform the same in the field, according to Reid Sprenkel, general manager, Professional Pest Management. “It would be extremely misleading to suggest that it does,” he says. “The scientific literature is littered with examples of very minor structural changes in compounds that have profound influences on the biological activity of insecticide molecules. From what we’ve seen, it’s no different with CSIs.”

When David Nimocks III first heard about the Sentricon Colony Elimination System,* he immediately recognized that termite baiting was a fabulous idea. At the same time, as president and CEO of the third-largest independent Terminix franchise in the United States — Terminix Company of North Carolina based in Fayetteville, N.C. — Nimocks was uncomfortable with the prospect of sharing his customer information with Dow AgroSciences.

To get out of this potential dilemma, Nimocks considered other options. His company’s technical director, Ken Kendall, showed Nimocks a subterranean termite bait study performed by Dr. Nan-Yao Su of the University of Florida — Ft. Lauderdale. One of the compounds tested in the study was hexaflumuron, a chitin synthesis inhibitor used as the active ingredient for Sentricon. Another compound tested was diflubenzuron, also a chitin synthesis inhibitor.

In September 1994, Nimocks began to research insect growth regulators and the pesticide development and registration process in the libraries of North Carolina State University. He learned that diflubenzuron had been invented in 1972 and was registered commercially in the U.S. three years later. Products using diflubenzuron as the active ingredient were registered to protect timber, cattle, citrus, soybeans and greenhouse plants from pests. Nimocks also learned that diflubenzuron had shown promise as a termite bait in research performed in Germany in 1981, although few subsequent studies had been performed since that time.

Despite his lack of experience in launching a new product, Nimocks committed to development of a diflubenzuron-based termite bait system in October 1994. Ensystex was incorporated as the manufacturing company to develop and commercialize the Exterra™ Termite Interception and Baiting System. Ensystex is not affiliated with Terminix International or the Terminix franchise owned by the Nimocks family.

"I decided to develop Exterra because I felt the power of the industry flowing away from pest control operators to the chemical companies," Nimocks says. "Dow AgroSciences wants to tell people how to run their business. As a large pest control operator, and as a Terminix franchisee, I felt threatened by that. I’m a young man and I plan to be in the industry for a number of years. I believe that com- petition is good for everyone."

Not surprisingly, Dow AgroSciences disagrees with Nimocks’ characterization of the company. Reid Sprenkel, the Dow Agro-Sciences executive who played a key role in bringing Sentricon to market, says the company has no desire to run anyone’s business. Instead, it was the paradigm shift from liquid termiticides to a termite bait — as well as a desire to maintain the integrity of the Sentricon Colony Elimination System — that prompted a closer working relationship between Dow AgroSciences and the end-user.

Further, the company’s decision to work with only "authorized operators" as part of a controlled rollout of the product was an attempt to ensure that Sentricon was used properly and the company’s rigorous quality assurance standards were enforced.

"It’s not a matter of ‘power’ to us but, rather, working together with authorized operators of Sentricon to provide the best means of protecting structures from subterranean termites. We had to make sure that it was going to perform in a way that would allow us and the operator to be successful and that required much more interaction than in the past," Sprenkel said. "It was really a means of ensuring … that colony elimination and performance success were achieved."


A DAUNTING CHALLENGE. Regardless which point of view you subscribe to — and it’s been debated endlessly by pest control operators since Sentricon was introduced in 1995 — Nimocks’ decision to go "toe-to-toe" with Dow AgroSciences is clearly a battle of Biblical proportions.

With the combination of its soil termiticide line and Sentricon, Dow AgroSciences is the "Goliath" of subterranean termite control. The company has more than a decade of experience in manufacturing and marketing termite control products, the largest field presence in the U.S., strong ties to the research community and expertise in chemical formulation, manufacturing, marketing and regulatory affairs.

In contrast, Nimocks had none of the above, but counted on several things to work in his favor. First, he believed diflubenzuron was as efficacious against subterranean termites as hexaflumuron because of their identical mode-of-action and the 1981 study done in Germany, a point of view not shared by Dow Agro-Sciences (see page 28, "Are All CSIs The Same?")

Second, production of the active ingredient would not require a large chemical manufacturing plant like that necessary to produce conventional termiticides. Third, Nimocks believed that independent pest control companies would welcome competition to Sentricon. A fourth factor, according to Nimocks, was his persistence driven by an independent streak. "I’m a bit of a rebel in the face of the status quo," he said.

While Nimocks’ "independent streak" may come as a surprise to those who have had little contact with the soft-spoken PCO who has been trenching and rodding homes since he was 13, those who have followed Nimocks’ career say his maverick behavior is nothing new.

Charlie Hromada, the retired Terminix executive who watched Nimocks grow up in the business, said he’s always looking for a new challenge. "David is an amazing guy. His dad and I started at Terminix the exact same month in 1954 so I’ve known him forever. He’s intense. He’s brilliant. He’s a guy who will put huge amounts of time and effort into any project that he takes on. He’ll go to the ends of the earth (to complete a project)."

Which is apparently what he did in bringing the Exterra Termite Interception and Baiting System to market, overcoming a number of daunting challenges that would have made even the most experienced chemical company executive think twice.

Ensysystex’s first two hurdles were huge — manufacturing diflubenzuron and gaining registration for it as the active ingredient of a subterranean termite bait. When the current registrant for diflubenzuron refused to manufacture the active ingredient for Ensystex, Nimocks established his own production capability. He also researched the registration process and hired a consultant in Washington, D.C., to help with EPA registration.

Not surprisingly, Nimocks decided early on to use Exterra in his own operation and market it to other operators who felt the same way he did about Sentricon. The result was a series of hard-hitting ads in industry trade journals trumpeting Ensystex’s desire to give "Power Back to the PCOs." As a result of the company’s aggressive sales and marketing efforts, approximately 500 PCOs are currently using the product throughout the United States, according to Nimocks.

"I think they’re doing a very good job of marketing, especially here in Florida," observes Dr. Philip Koehler, a researcher at the University of Florida with close ties to the pest control industry. "They’ve been able to make an indentation in the bait market."

The company currently has field representatives based in Dallas, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Atlanta, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Charlotte and Norfolk. More sales representatives will be hired as the company grows, according to Nimocks, with plans for additional representatives in Texas, Louisiana, Kansas and Florida in the months ahead.

THE NEXT STEP. While most people would consider bringing a new product to market a major accomplishment, Nimocks — true to his nature — wasn’t satisfied simply launching Exterra.

In developing the product, Nimocks believed that the termite baiting process could be simplified and made more efficient. He also wanted a computerized record keeping system that was easy to use, yet comprehensive. As a result, programmers were hired to develop Exteris, the Exterra Information System designed to track and monitor the baiting system (see related story on page 26).

In addition, in February 1995, Ensystex began two-year EUP trials with pest control companies in a number of states. Research also included field trials with Dr. Brian Forschler of the University of Georgia and efficacy studies by Dr. Deborah Waller of Old Dominion University. In June 1997, registration application for Labyrinth Termite Bait was submitted to the EPA.

Seven months later, in January 1998, EPA registered Labyrinth under the Reduced Risk Registration process also used for Sentricon. Currently, termite control registrations for Labyrinth have been gained for all states except New York and California.

"Developing Exterra and obtaining the Labyrinth registration became a personal mission for me," Nimocks says. "When I told industry associates that I was developing a system to compete with Sentricon, my comments were met with skepticism. I wasn’t discouraged by the reaction. It motivated me because I realized how unique and special our opportunity was. Now it’s very satisfying to look back and see how much we have accomplished."

A BRIGHT FUTURE? In the long term, Nimocks says he is confident that companies will adopt Exterra for two reasons. The system is effective, he says, a fact that allowed his Terminix franchise to abandon stand-alone liquid termite treatments in May 1998 — except for the fewer than 1% of his customers that still insist on them.

Second, the system was totally designed from a PCO’s point of view. "We are in the pest control business, so we are totally willing to change and improve Exterra to make it better in ways that competing manufacturers may not anticipate or be willing to match," Nimocks says. As an example of practical customization, he cites the routing function incorporated into Exteris, which provides printed work orders, next-closest stop searching and scheduling.

To give customers greater options and profit potential, Ensystex is also investing in research and development, according to Nimocks. The company is working on bait stations that only need to be inspected every 90 days and an advanced bait matrix that improves trophallaxis within the colony.

Despite these product enhancements, however, the Exterra System is not without its critics. Several university researchers contacted by PCT magazine expressed concern about the square bait stations, pointing out that they are cumbersome and difficult to install in certain types of soil.

"I’m not going to deny that our station takes a little bit longer to put in and that’s why we’re working on a round station," Nimocks says, but he adds that the design of the Exterra System results in the bait being in "more intimate contact with the soil," thereby enhancing acceptance.

Others cite the paucity of field data as cause for concern. "They’re making claims for which there is little to no data," says Dr. Roger Gold, professor of entomology at Texas A&M University. Based on what’s known about diflubenzuron, "there’s no reason it wouldn’t work," he says, "it’s just that the data to support the claims has not been made available."

"There’s not a lot of data on this product," adds another well-known researcher contacted by PCT magazine. "There are still questions about its overall efficacy and spectrum. It may turn out to be great," but he warns PCOs need to be prudent when selecting a product since so much is at stake when performing termite work.

However, Deborah Waller, associate professor of biology at Old Dominion University, said the product "worked fine" in lab studies she conducted. "The objective (of the studies) was to decrease survivorship and it certainly did compared to the control," Waller says. "In addition to finding decreased survivorship, we found the product did not inhibit feeding, which is important."

Waller says the results of her studies

have been submitted for publication and are currently being reviewed.

"The work we did with David’s group, it was a limited thing," adds Dr. Brian Forschler, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, Athens. "We didn’t do a whole lot of trials because they didn’t have a whole lot of funding to do more. We have a lot of opportunities to do work with interesting materials, but we can’t do it out of the goodness of our hearts. We have to go where the dollars are."

How does Nimocks respond to these concerns? "I think ultimately the product will stand or fall on its own merits in the field," he says. "Exterra is now in place at over 25,000 structures and has been in use for almost two termite seasons. During that time, we have not had a single operator tell us that the product did not work.

"Our biggest hurdle has been convincing people that we are for real," Nimocks adds. "But the industry is beginning to believe that we are. I tell PCOs that we want to give power back to them, and they understand that competition is good for the industry."

This sentiment is reinforced by Rick Rupkey, Sr., president of University Ter-mite & Pest Control in Tucson, Ariz. "We’re really involved in the Sentricon System and we’re very happy with it, but we’re always looking for positive alter-natives," he says.

Only time will tell if the Exterra Termite Interception and Baiting System will prove to be one of those "alternatives," but those closest to David Nimocks say you would be a fool to bet against him.

Editor’s note: Nimocks’ next big challenge may not come from his competitors, but from the EPA which is currently evaluating the status of bait technology. Rumor has it that EPA may require additional efficacy data from current registrants, a potentially costly and time-consuming process. PCT will keep its readers updated on these develop-ments.

* Sentricon is a registered trademark of Dow AgroSciences.

 

KEY PRODUCT FEATURES

From the start, David Nimocks decided to make computerized tracking a part of the Exterra system. The computerized system transfers the names and addresses of a random 10 percent sample of Exterra accounts for quality control purposes. PCOs are not contractually obligated to provide Ensystex with this information for all their customers, only for a small sample.

The Exterra Interception and Baiting System was also designed to make inspections and servicing fast and easy, according to Nimocks. Recent innovations to the system include:

• Barcode tracking. The Exteris Information System uses barcodes to track each bait station. Barcodes are swapped out of each inspected station during each visit. The removed barcodes are returned to the office after the inspection to be scanned at the office.

• Variable station checking periods. Exterra stations that contain bait are required to be checked at least every 30 days. Unbaited stations can be checked as infrequently as every 90 days at the PCO’s option. “Variable check periods sound complicated but are really very simple,” Nimocks says. “The operator chooses the number of days between check periods for their baited and unbaited stations. Exteris then tracks inspections for each individual station based on whether it contains bait. It automatically prints work orders whenever a station needs to be inspected. Two thirds of inspections involve checking only two or three stations. This helps avoid technician burnout and lowers labor costs,” he says.

• Exterra interception and baiting method. The Exterra bait station was designed for easy and non-disruptive servicing. The box-shaped bait stations, which have been criticized by some industry observers, have slits on all four sides for termite access. Four wood panel monitors are mounted on the inside against these slits to serve as monitoring bait and to form a hollow cavity inside. When termites attack, Labyrinth termite bait is simply stuffed into the empty cavity in the bait station in full contact with the wooden monitors. Because there is no need to remove the wood monitors before baiting, the procedure is fast and non-disruptive to termites, according to Nimocks. “Not only does the interception and baiting method eliminate disruption of feeding termites, it also significantly speeds the inspection and baiting process,” he says. Ensystex expects to receive a patent on the baiting method soon.