A good housing market usually bodes well for termite control. But this year, housing markets will seek new balance, stated Realtor.com Senior Economist George Ratiu in his 2020 forecast.
He expects mortgage rates to increase to an average of 3.88 percent by year-end and that half of all home purchase mortgages would be made by millennials.
Sales of existing homes are expected to decrease 1.8 percent. Gen X and baby boomers will continue to hold on to their homes, limiting supply of homes available for sale, stated Ratiu. He anticipates the existing home median sales price to appreciate 0.8 percent.
Single-family housing starts are expected to increase 6 percent. According to Ratiu, buyers will continue to move to areas with affordable housing, which will benefit mid-sized markets.
In regards to weather, warmth and moisture are good for insect activity. This spring will provide a little of both. From March through May, the southeastern, south central and western U.S. are expected to experience above-normal temperatures, reported the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center.
The precipitation forecast, however, varies significantly by region. Below- average precipitation is expected in the West and southwestern U.S., and above- average in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and north central states, reported the Center. Parts of the South Central U.S., Pacific Northwest and mountain states had an equal chance of experiencing above, below or normal precipitation.
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.
To view precipitation and temperature forecasts for 2020, visit the “Online Extras” section at pctonline.com.
Preseason Training Gives Technicians an Edge
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Hit the books! Now’s the time to engage staff by offering a variety of training opportunities.
The best time to train service technicians is before warmer weather sets in — whenever that might be in your markets. Even in territories that stay warm all year, an uptick in temperature means more or different pests to manage; preparing your team ahead of time gives them the tools and confidence to get out there and excel once the busy season begins.
“We have monthly training meetings throughout the slower season, November through March, to let technicians know what to expect from spring and summer; review tools, techniques and pest ID; and update them on any industry and policy changes that may affect them,” says Caroline Kirby, training coordinator at Plunkett’s Pest Control and Varment Guard. “It’s a good time for them to take a breather, network with other technicians and supervisors, and focus on learning.”
It’s important to engage these team members by offering a variety of training tools, ranging from individualized online education and webinars, which they can take advantage of on days when they can’t get out on the road or have lighter schedules, to classroom instruction, kept interesting through videos, interactive presentations using online learning tools, and opportunities for hands-on exercises like practicing using equipment, she adds.
Consultant Stoy Hedges says that many companies find March to be an ideal month for training. “It’s a great time to review what happened across your markets the previous year — maybe you had a lot of crazy ant service calls or saw more smokybrown cockroaches than in years past. Talk about how to identify those pests, what products worked well with them, and what you’ll do differently to minimize callbacks this season,” he says.
In fact, conversation among technicians and supervisors is one of the most valuable training tools, says Cory Goeltzenleuchter, technical director at McCall Service. He encourages team members to share their experiences regularly. “When a technician sees an unexpected resurgence of a certain ant species, they need to know that they can help technicians in other markets by sharing that information,” he explains. “Most of our branches have a texting chain for this type of networking. We also have an employees-only Facebook account for posting photos and messages like, ‘I just saw my first Eastern subterranean termite swarm of the year.’ Everyone learns from one another.”
Kirby, Hedges and Goeltzenleuchter share insights into essential preseason training topics:
Pest biology. Understanding your region’s pests, from species identification to behaviors, is paramount to service success. The key is to instill this knowledge prior to pests’ springtime resurgence, says Goeltzenleuchter. “We see pests year-round here in Florida and southern Georgia, so we conduct training year-round,” he says. “We focus on several pests a month, and just before spring, we gear our training toward termite swarms, mosquitoes and ants, so our technicians can put control measures into place before activity accelerates.”
Products. It’s critical to take stock of the products you will be using over the season and review their proper usage. Hedges says that this is a good time for HAZMAT and PPE training, SDS training and label review. “The PCT Distance Learning Center label training modules can be particularly helpful as technicians build on their product knowledge,” he says. “They can be projected on a screen in a classroom setting, or technicians can learn individually on their handheld devices or laptops.”
Sales/Customer education. Goeltzenleuchter reminds that it’s not only your team but also your customers who need preseason training. “Customer education is a huge part of effective control,” he says. “Technicians need to think ahead about when they will be visiting a certain account next and communicate what that customer needs to know to prepare for the coming season — minimizing conducive conditions, for example.”
It’s important to engage these team members by offering a variety of training tools, ranging from individualized online education and webinars to classroom instruction, kept interesting through videos, interactive presentations using online learning tools, and opportunities for hands-on exercises like practicing using equipment.
Equipment. Spring and summer pest activity demands a well-organized truck, adds Kirby. “Teach or remind technicians how to make sure their equipment is in working order — calibrated and cleaned — so their trucks are ready to go.”
Time Management. A well-organized truck is one element of what Kirby says can be a true challenge for technicians: time management. “Technicians can get so busy that the day can get away from them if they haven’t carefully planned it out,” she says. “This is a very important area to address, because it affects not only productivity but also job satisfaction and morale.”
Inspections. The preseason is a good time to remind your team to inspect closely for structural damage that might have occurred to customers’ property during the winter. “Identify cracks and crevices that may need to be sealed up, focusing on windows and doors, the frame and trim, and the attic,” advises Hedges.
Final thoughts. Goeltzenleuchter says it’s smart, too, to help technicians anticipate what’s coming next — e.g., rainy weather and termite season — and focus their inspections on conducive conditions that could become problematic. “Excessive moisture, leaf litter, containers, bushes up against the house — help technicians understand the importance of inspecting everything and taking appropriate measures themselves or advising their customers of what needs to be done before spring pests emerge,” he says.
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.
Get Your Equipment in Fighting Shape
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Taking care of these items now will leave you more time for servicing customers and help ensure a productive, profitable 2020.
As pest control professionals, our equipment is our bread and butter. This is true whether you are the manager of a big firm with 100+ vehicles or an owner/operator with one truck. Don’t wait until your phone starts ringing off the hook this spring to get your pest control equipment in great shape.
Use the slower time at the start of the year to ensure your pest control equipment is in tip-top shape for your busy season. These six tasks are all things that should be done anyway, so you might as well do them when your business is slower and when they will not negatively impact your customers and your schedule.
1. Inspect. Use slower periods to perform thorough inspections of your vehicles, power sprayers, manual sprayers, etc. Is everything clean, in the proper place and in good working order?
2. Clean it out. Run clean water through power sprayers, hand sprayers and backpack sprayers to prevent chemical buildup. Inspect and clean out spray tanks. Thoroughly clean filters and replace bad filter screens if necessary.
3. Preventive Maintenance. Slow periods are a great time for preventive maintenance (PM). Because of hard use and harsh chemicals, all pest control equipment needs maintenance. Don’t wait for equipment to break or wear out. Service it now so you don’t have downtime and missed appointments during your busy season. If you don’t know what PM is required, ask your supplier for advice.
4. Prioritize and Plan. Review all your equipment to identify your priority items. For example, if you use your hand sprayer every day and you can’t service your customers without it, this is a priority. Figure out a way to keep a backup so when your primary fails, you are not canceling appointments.
5. Don’t Forget the Parts. If you have been using a critical piece of equipment for a while, you should have a pretty good idea of what parts will fail during the year. Keep these parts on hand to minimize downtime and missed appointments.
Think of parts in two categories: vehicle and office. Lots of common equipment issues can be fixed easily in the field. These parts should be kept in the vehicle to save time. For example, on hand sprayers, tips and tank gaskets wear out regularly, but they can be easily replaced in the field. Conversely, the valve cable that runs through the hand sprayer wand requires wrenches and more time, so this replacement part should be kept at the office.
6. Training. Use slower periods for training. Truck and equipment inspections will identify training opportunities. Equipment training will save you money and prevent downtime. It is important to also remember that just because you trained “Joe” on day one, it doesn’t mean “Joe” is still doing it the way you want him to do it. PMPs can never do too much safety training.
Here’s a look at results from a recent Reader Poll:
Video: 2020 PCT Best Pest Photo Contest
In February, PCT announced Bob Richardson of McCarthy Pest Control, St. Charles, Mo., as this year’s PCT photo contest winner with a feather-legged fly photo. Check out Richardson’s winning photo and the 10 finalist photos in a video montage at https://bit.ly/2H1s0PW.
Webinar: How to Win Customers and Influence Word-of-Mouth
PCT provides informative webinars throughout the year. In January, PCT hosted a webinar titled “How to Win Customers and Influence Word-of-Mouth” presented by Podium. In this webinar, Hayley Sonntag and David Hepworth of Podium reviewed how to give customers a remarkable experience and how to kick-start a word-of-mouth engine for pest businesses. Click to download.
Get LinkedIn With PCT!
LinkedIn is a great social media site for networking. PCT’s LinkedIn page connects you with your industry peers and includes updated pest control news, videos and podcasts from PCT, as well as fun pest-related shared links. Start by following us at https://www.linkedin.com/company/pctmagazine.
Get Connected to PCT’s Social Media Sites
Connect with PCT on social media, including our Facebook page and Twitter feed, both great news outlets for mobile devices. Also, PCT’s LinkedIn page is ideal for networking.
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Keep your fleet in tip-top shape with maintenance tips and technology updates.
“Manage your vehicle before it manages you.” Don Topar, fleet administrator at Truly Nolen in Tucson, Ariz., frequently reminds branch managers of this reality. “When you take the time to service vehicles, they’re less likely to go down.”
The underlying philosophy of Truly Nolen’s vehicle maintenance protocol is “safety first.” Sounds simple enough, but there are lots of moving parts related to vehicle maintenance — and ultimately, the work must be ongoing rather than a last-minute activity before spring. But in case you haven’t done so already...
Change the Oil. Using high-quality synthetic oils reduces the number of oil changes required annually, Topar points out. Truly Nolen branch managers monitor vehicles via fleet tracking systems to ensure that oil is changed every 6,000 miles, before the recommended 7,500-mile mark.
Clean Up. “Dirt is a major factor in vehicles falling apart — dirty oil, dirty fluids, dirty filters,” Topar says. Manage these service areas on a regular basis, and certainly before the busier spring season.
Check tire air pressure and ensure that any tires that require replacing are addressed before summer heats up. When tires heat up, you could have a blow-out on the highway if they’re not in good shape.
Change the Tires. Depending on where you’re located, snow tires might be required; some provinces in Canada require snow tires after the temperature drops below 45°F. “We tend to switch to snow tires in all of our northern markets,” says Brett MacKillop, senior vice president, Ontario-based Abell Pest Control. But snow tires need to be traded out again before spring.
Topar also suggests checking tire air pressure and ensuring that any tires that require replacing are addressed before summer heats up. “When tires heat up, you could have a blow-out on the highway if they’re not in good shape,” he reminded.
Stay Cool. Another hot issue in spring and summer — the engine. Be sure vehicles contain the appropriate level of coolant, which helps remove excess heat from the engine, Topar says.
Improve visibility. Abell Pest Control’s fleet of 500-plus vehicles have back-up cameras, which are standard in late-model vehicles. But the company is exploring adding dash cams as well. These are mounted to the windshield and record the road while a vehicle is operating. As soon as the ignition starts, the camera turns on; video is saved on a micro SD card. Management can view recordings to identify incidents, including theft or damage. Plus, insurance companies appreciate these safety efforts and might provide discounts on premiums.
Dash cams, also referred to as drive cams, are standard in Truly Nolen’s sales vehicles and large trucks. “Salesmen are often rushing around, so we put the drive cams in their vehicles,” Topar says. “And, if a driver of one of our large trucks is not aware of a lane change or following a vehicle too closely, they could cause the most damage (because of size).”
Additionally, if a pest management company receives any driving complaints, Topar or a branch manager can review the drive cam footage and identify whether the other driver’s claim is accurate.
Keep a spare. Firms don’t just need spare tires that are in good shape — a spare vehicle is often needed too. “When you get caught up in a busy service business, maintenance can get overlooked — but when a vehicle is down, that could mean a tech is not working,” MacKillop says. “Most of our locations have spare vehicles we keep for that purpose.”