Lessons in Going Green

Features - Company Profile

Josh McCloud left the family business, a former Top 100 company, to start his own green pest management firm. Along the way, he learned some hard lessons, which he willingly shared to help others embrace green.

August 25, 2021

Josh McCloud

Josh McCloud learned a lot working in the family business.

He grew up at Chicago-based McCloud Services (No. 31 on PCT’s 2019 Top 100 list before being sold to ServiceMaster that year). As a teenager, he visited accounts with his father, then-president Phil McCloud, and spent lots of time in the company’s entomology lab. Eventually, he joined McCloud Services as a service technician. In 2014, his uncle Chris McCloud assumed leadership of the company.

By then, however, Josh McCloud had already left the company to start his own: HoldFast Enviro Pest Solutions in Missoula, Mont., specializing in green pest management. He wanted to provide an all-green service because he said he was increasingly worried about the effect of pesticides on the environment, especially those applied to food crops. The birth of his children further underscored these concerns.

McCloud quickly learned, however, that it’s not so easy being green in pest control. “I really got put through the ringer the first couple years,” recalls the fifth-generation PMP. “I almost gave up on doing natural pest control entirely.”

Instead, he adapted, and now business is booming. Last year, revenue grew 65 percent.

To help others through the steep learning curve he endured, McCloud shared six key insights gained on his journey:

1. A hybrid pest management service is probably best.

When McCloud started his company in 2012, he exclusively used organic pest control products. Although some companies have success with this approach, it proved unsustainable for McCloud, who was plagued by high callback rates, especially after applying botanical products. These plant-based essential oils break down faster in the environment, requiring more frequent application.

Now, he offers a hybrid approach to green pest control, which he considers “most efficient.” When control products are needed, he turns first to a combination of eco-friendly products. If that doesn’t work as well as he wants, he may use low-risk synthetic materials with longer residuals. If a customer wants a 100-percent organic service, McCloud will provide it, but at a higher fee due to the increased service frequency this approach requires, and not without clearly defined customer expectations.

2. Dust is your friend.

While botanical products typically repel pests and kill on contact, dust provides long-term control when applied properly, says McCloud. “It can last up to a year and be 25(b) and have a long time residual,” he explains. (Minimum-risk chemical products are registered under Section 25(b) of FIFRA, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.)

In fact, callbacks dropped to near zero after he perfected his dusting skills. Switching from a bulb duster to a mechanical duster to apply this product “changed the game for me,” he says. “You really have to learn how to manipulate the dust.”

He applies dust yearly at clients’ homes under the edges of siding and carpeting and into cracks, crevices and voids. The mechanical duster gives the dust an electrostatic charge, so it clings to walls and ceilings. McCloud says areas he treated a year ago continue to kill hobo spiders, which are a particular challenge in his market.

“To achieve any kind of success in my opinion with organic pest control, you have to use dust,” he says. “It can even be more effective than chemicals. It will outperform a synthetic pyrethroid over time, if applied correctly.”

3. Know your product limitations.

Organic products have “a higher chance of failure,” reminds McCloud. They break down faster and aren’t meant to withstand outdoor environments like synthetic chemicals; this is an ecological benefit.

Likewise, some organic materials aren’t the best match for certain pests, so it pays to know pest biology. Botanical oils, for instance, may repel some ants but cause other species to bud or form new nests, thus making the problem harder to control.

As such, PMPs need to be intimately acquainted with each product’s limitations.

At one time, McCloud had more than 70 green products in his inventory. “I really experimented with everything,” he recalls. This helped him refine his treatment protocols and service programs. He currently offers quarterly and monthly service options. He will not warranty one-off services that use only organic products.

McCloud says he expects the industry to introduce more natural products in the years ahead. In fact, he’s currently field testing two FIFRA-exempt products for insects and rodents that he developed with scientists.

Nearly a third (32 percent) of PMPs agreed their technicians have a good understanding of what makes the pesticides they apply green, found 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 in Stillwater, Minn.

4. Managing expectations will keep you sane.

“For me, the worst thing I learned was telling your client you’re going to solve their problem with organic pest control, and then you don’t,” recalls McCloud.

This led to callbacks and angry customers, who paid him to get results. At a certain point, says McCloud, they didn’t care if he was using organic or synthetic control products to fix the pest issue. “Unless you manage their expectations really, really well, they’re going to be really upset,” he says.

The key is understanding the balance between what organic products can achieve and how the client defines a successful resolution of the problem. Is that seeing fewer spiders? Or not seeing a single spider? Will the client accept the odor of mint indoors or absolutely not tolerate it?

McCloud also informs clients upfront that certain situations may require the application of a synthetic material, like a bait or a non-repellent spray. “I am very open with what we use,” he says.

He reminds his employees: “Manage your client’s expectations.

It’s the only way to keep yourself sane.”

5. It costs more, so PMPs should charge more.

Green pest management generally costs more to deliver, and HoldFast Enviro Pest Solutions charges “top-tier” pricing in its market.

“I use high-end products, so I charge accordingly,” McCloud explains. “You also might have more callbacks, so you’ve got to account for that in your initial pricing.” Customers who want only organic products used pay a higher premium since greater service frequency is required.

Last year, more than a third (34 percent) of pest management companies charged more for service using green products, an increase from the 20 percent that charged more in 2019, found the PCT State of the Naturals Market survey. By comparison, 59 percent of pest control companies charged about the same amount for services using green or traditional products, according to the study.

Even at a higher price, service from HoldFast Enviro Pest Solutions remains popular with pet owners and moms. “Moms love organic pest control,” says McCloud.

6. (Re)learning is hard, but McCloud says green is the future of the industry.

Nine years ago, green pest management was a nascent industry, and McCloud didn’t have many peers from whom to learn the ropes. “Basically, I had to teach myself everything,” he recalls. “It was kind of a traumatic experience just trying to learn how to do it.”

Green products can’t simply be swapped in for conventional ones, and applying them may require new skills. Integrated pest management drives the process and must be fully embraced. Standard assumptions concerning service frequency and other operational issues may no longer apply. “There were a lot of little nuances I had to learn,” says McCloud, who started a Facebook group called Eco-Friendly Pest Professionals so he could share his insights with others.

He’s heartened by the industry’s growing interest in green. “I think it’s the future,” he says. “I think people are going to demand it moving forward.”

The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.