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Here’s a surprise you may not have expected: The COVID-19 pandemic made more consumers want to buy green products and services.
According to an April 2020 survey of 1,000 consumers by Chicago-based management consulting firm Kearney, 48 percent of consumers were more concerned about the environment since the beginning of the pandemic, and 55 percent were more likely to purchase environmentally friendly products.
Pest management professionals said changing consumer attitudes have led to growth in the green pest management sector.
Arkadia – Eco Pest Control, which only uses green products, had a banner year in 2020, generating $1 million in revenue, said President Mark Constantino. He said he believes his Randolph, N.J.-based company is “the largest in the U.S. as far as all-green goes.”
Abra Kadabra Environmental Services in Mound, Minn., also picked up new customers for green pest control. “We have a healthy number of clients who are coming from other companies that do not provide that type of service,” said President Matthew Eickman.
As such, some companies dedicated more resources to green pest management. According to the 2021 PCT State of the Naturals Market survey, which was sponsored by Zoëcon/Central Life Sciences and compiled by Readex, an independent research firm, 33 percent of PMPs said their companies purchased more green products in the past year, and 22 percent said they made more time to teach employees about green products and services.
The use of natural, botanical, organic and eco-friendly products was key to providing a green service. More than half of PMPs (54 percent) said the introduction of green products has been a positive development for the industry.
As with any pest, there are a host of variables that can interfere with product efficacy — and there’s a balance to strike with “the customer’s always right.” (Check out Curbing Callbacks.) So, is offering a warranty or guarantee an inroad to peace of mind that will win client loyalty? Or, is it an invitation to retreat and lose money on services?
There are two schools of thought.
Chris Brennan has been in business for 39 years and runs Brennan’s Pest Control in Oak Park, Ill. He estimates that about 30 percent of his overall revenue comes from treating ants, and he uses an à la carte approach. If he gets a call about ants, he deals with the ants. If a homeowner wants a quarterly program, he’ll offer it — but he does not generally sell a package. And, he never offers warranties.
“I’ve always viewed it as a crazy thing to do in our industry,” he says. “We are dealing with biological issues, and there are customers who are not cooperative when it comes to cleaning or managing their environments. There are structural issues, for instance. A house can have a crumbling foundation. I tell customers, ‘I’ll do the best I can for you.’”
He also is honest about whether the ant situation will require more than one treatment or ongoing pest management. “Sometimes one service is sufficient, and other times the house needs follow-ups and we determine that in the com
ing weeks. A house needs what it needs.”
Other PMPs find that a warranty gives customers confidence that they can trust the service. Christopher O’Brien, owner of Scorpion Specialists in Phoenix, Ariz., says 60 percent of his clients have ant problems. He offers a six-month warranty on a new exterior red fire ant control. “If a customer is just having us bait, we offer a 30-day warranty,” he says. There are no stipulations on the exterior warranty — he will re-treat for free if the client calls before six months is over — but inside, customers have to clean and do their part or the callback is not free. “The gel ant baits work really good and I’ve never had a callback on them,” he adds.
Bobbie Terry is owner of The Bug Lady in Austin, Texas, and founder of Women in Pest Control. She offers a 30-day warranty on services. “I’ll come back and re-treat at no charge,” she says of the policy.
How often does she have to make good on the warranty? “Hardly ever.”
“Whether I do a special or ongoing treatment, customers sign an agreement that states if I find sanitation or structural issues, they are responsible for correcting those problems — and if they don’t, I can charge for a re-treat,” Terry says.
Avoiding callbacks requires some teaching on the behalf of the PMP. Otherwise, clients can unwittingly sabotage a treatment. “With ants, you have to get the customer involved,” says Derek Salazar, owner, FullScope Pest Control, Kingwood, Texas.
“When you find out they’ve had a problem for some time, you have to set expectations as far as letting them know that it’s not necessarily going to be solved in one visit, one treatment,” Salazar adds.
Salazar advises clients to reduce leaf litter around the home and watch for damaged wood that can harbor carpenter ants and other insects. “Not having branches of trees touching the structure can prevent carpenter ants,” he says, relating that providing this information to customers engages them in the process and increases their accountability, therefore reducing callbacks.
The cleaning products clients use inside can interfere with baiting success, so Salazar makes them aware of that. “Using standard bleach wipes on a countertop can interrupt pheromone trails. Then you get a splitting effect, and it’s hard to find out how they are trailing,” he says.
Scheduling a follow-up visit 10 to 14 days after treating a robust infestation also can reduce callbacks, Salazar adds. “Sometimes, you have to be proactive vs. waiting for them to call you,” he says.
Also important is helping clients understand that baiting takes time. “You have to give the ants time to accept the bait and bring it back to the colony,” says Tony Esposito, owner, The Bug Reaper, Katy, Texas. “We tell customers, ‘You have to give it at least a week. Don’t expect results the next day.’ If you educate people, they seem to be OK with that. It’s all about being on the same page.”
In commercial kitchens, Esposito works directly with general managers, and food and beverage managers. “I go in and pull out refrigeration units and take pictures,” he says, adding that he’s been known to show a manager the spray wand he uses to treat and point out: “This is not a magic wand. You have to help me.” He adds: “Ants aren’t going to eat my bait if they can eat fajitas instead.”
He also shows them how effective products can be with compliance. Showing product efficacy also can go a long way toward encouraging accountability and preventing callbacks. Once, he recorded a video of an ant trail moving bait granules back to their colony. “I showed it to the homeowners and they could literally see the granules moving.”
Call it what you want, but 2020 was a bugger for everyone, with business shutdowns and the resulting economic impacts, along with looming uncertainty about everything from when a vaccine would emerge to who would win the presidential election.
Interestingly, most of the pest management professionals (PMPs) we surveyed and interviewed for the State of the Ant Control Market Report said 2020 was not all bad. In fact, just 35 percent of respondents said the COVID-19 pandemic was a limiting factor in growing their ant business.
“Ants are job security in this business,” says Barry Craddock, president, Craddock Pest Control, Glasgow, Ky. The service grows a little bit every year, he says. “One job gets you another job.”
“But in one place, ants can make you look amazing, and the next place you can come out looking not so good at all,” Craddock adds, echoing the sentiment of other PMPs. Variables for success include customer education and cooperation, addressing structural issues that are “open doors” for ants and selecting effective products with a long residual.
Christian Wilcox estimates that ants are an issue for about 90 percent of the accounts McCauley Services treats in its Arkansas and Oklahoma service areas. The business certainly isn’t slowing. The company took a solutions-based approach to operating in an unprecedented year by coming up with creative ways to identify ants and expanding its exclusion business, both of which are examples of solutions-focused strategies the company has implemented.
As for Craddock, “We probably had the best year ever,” he says. He attributes the increase in his ant control services to people staying at home and noticing pests more.
In keeping with the spirit of adapt, change and execute, PCT’s 2021 Ant State of the Market Report, sponsored by Syngenta and performed by Readex Research, reveals creative ways PMPs are managing ants, reducing callbacks, establishing best practices and marketing their ant service.