[Vertebrate Pests] The Partnership of IPM

The general principles of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) are familiar to pest management professionals and to various groups interested in eliminating or reducing pesticide applications around highly sensitive environments, such as child- and health-care facilities, food plants, zoological parks, schools and so forth.

Yet, the actual implementation of IPM in your everyday "non-sensitive" (is there such a thing?) commercial facilities, such as local grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores, mart-style superstores, office buildings and so forth remains a case-by-case basis. It is not likely these commercial clients contemplate the difference between "controlling pests" and "managing pests," nor even concern themselves with what constitutes an IPM program.

The fact is that the majority of our commercial clients purchase an "exterminating" or "pest control" service (those are their terms, not mine) to primarily "control" their pests. To them (and to pest professionals), it is implied that their operation, their employees, customers of their business and any occupants or visitors of the building will not be subjected to any type of toxins as a consequence of a pest extermination/control/management service.

The fact is also that whether or not IPM even exists either in understanding — or in practice — in commercial facilities is solely dependent on whether or not the pest professional and the client establish a partnership. Even the most dedicated and hard-working pest professional intent on getting rid of mice in an office building, for example, can do little if the management staff of the office complex and the employees fail to address cluttered cubicles, messy break rooms and gappy ground level doors. In addition, pest management professionals can do little when confronted with a supermarket manager who expects "no rodents" when the walls in the receiving back room area are not only inaccessible, but contain months of old food spillage as well.

YOU ARE THE KEY. Be that as it may, the pest management industry has the most important role in ensuring whether or not IPM succeeds or fails in urban environments.

For instance, if a pest technician simply "makes the rounds," responds only to the positive or negative report of a pest sighting, gets his or her tickets signed and lazily records "no problems" and "everything is OK" on the service ticket each and every service visit, they are hardly performing IPM. (Or, for that matter, they are hardly performing quality service regardless of what we call it and regardless of any glossy sales brochures his or her pest management company may distribute.)

In such situations, the reality is these commercial clients certainly can’t participate as a partner in an IPM program because as the saying goes, they haven’t been extended an invitation to the dance.

Although many of us who have been involved in urban pest management for awhile may groan when we hear of yet another seminar or article on urban Integrated Pest Management, we nevertheless still have plenty of work to do in educating the general public about IPM. To this point, it helps to keep in mind that nothing is obvious to the layperson. And, of course, we are all laypersons about nearly everything outside our own daily specializations and hobbies.

Many of our commercial clients still have no clue what IPM means, nor do they necessarily understand the significance of their role in controlling pests (regardless of what it is called). If there is any doubt about this, on your next service visit to a commercial account, take only three minutes and mention to your contact that you are conducting an informal company survey. Then politely ask them two simple questions: 1) Are they aware of the acronym "IPM?" and, 2) If so, can they explain IPM in a layperson’s terms. Of course, depending on the answer to No. 1, your survey will not take three minutes but rather three seconds.

It is our job as an industry to as best as we can educate (or at least inform) our commercial clients about IPM. It’s a no-brainer that this must start at the point of sale. Thereafter, it is the on-the-job servicing pest professional who must then guide and monitor the customer through the IPM program.

Perhaps most important is for our industry to encourage our commercial customers to participate with us in their IPM programs. Because if we fail at this, the reality is we don’t have any magic wands to overcome a lack of sanitation, inaccessible walls, or gappy doors, roofs and floors. Nor do we have a magic wand to overcome a client’s unwillingness to pay for more than a "basic level" once-a-month service program.

PRESSING ON. Frustratingly, we all know that with certain clients, IPM will never occur. These clients just don’t "get it." They will probably never get it. Pests and "conducive conditions" are not a priority for them, and this issue does not occur on their daily "to do" list. Or, they are apathetic — they don’t want to get it. Unfortunately for both parties, should pest outbreaks occur in these accounts, the blame from a layperson’s perspective is often directed entirely towards the pest professional.

Paradoxically, IPM is often born out of such pest "outbreaks." Now, under pressure, both parties sit down to discuss the issue and what needs to be done to resolve it. In other words, IPM is often incident-driven.

Oh well. As the saying goes, that’s the nature of the beast. But history has shown us that "beast behavior" can be changed. It often just takes longer than we would like. And it takes persistence and endurance. Never give up in inviting your clients — especially your commercial clients — to form a pest management partnership. But once that is done, you must then nurture the partnership.

The author is president of RMC Consulting, Richmond, Ind., and can be reached via e-mail at rcorrigan@giemedia.com.

January 2007
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