Life in the Age of COVID-19

Features - COVID-19 Coverage

Following the global outbreak, PCOs have been left to pick up the pieces, ensuring the safety of employees and customers, all while navigating a drastically changing business landscape.

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April 9, 2020

© Martin Villadsen | Adobe.com

 

As the calendar turned from February to March, pest management professionals in the U.S. were generally optimistic about the coming busy season thanks to a robust economy, a mild winter (in most parts of the country) and the fact that pest control remains an in-demand service.

But that all changed quickly as coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the U.S. began being reported, first on the East and West Coasts and then nationwide. By March 11, the World Health Organization classified COVID-19 as a pandemic, resulting in tens of thousands of cases and leading to the closing of schools and businesses, and recommendations from public health officials to avoid crowds and practice social distancing.

And just like that, optimism among PCOs was replaced by fear and uncertainty. PCOs have been preoccupied ensuring the safety of employees and customers, while at the same time reinventing themselves and their companies to survive in a drastically changing business landscape. PCT caught up with several PCOs to find out how they are dealing with life in the age of COVID-19.

PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES. First and foremost, PCOs are focused on ensuring the safety of their employees and customers.

Joey Edwards, president of North Fulton Pest Solutions, Alpharetta, Ga., said his company is stocked with sanitizers and disinfectant wipes. “In addition to their standard issued respirators, techs have been issued disposable gloves and N95 face masks. Techs have also been given hand soap. We have implemented COVID-19 Employee Guidelines and have them posted on our company Intranet site, which includes practicing social distancing and reduction of interior services and reduction of direct customer contact where possible.”

Treftz

Kurt Treftz, president of Cascade Pest Control, Bothell, Wash., said his company was fortunate to order and receive enough containers of Lysol disinfectant for every field PMP in their trucks, as well as a number throughout the office. His technicians also received an extra supply of disposable gloves. “Additionally, we have informed everyone regarding symptoms and have done our best to support employees who may need to stay home if ill,” he said.

As Donnie Shelton, president of Triangle Pest Control and Triangle Lawn Care, and CEO of Coalmarch, Raleigh, N.C., noted in an email to Coalmarch members, keeping your team safe is critical to protecting your production capability. “At Triangle, we have done all that we can to minimize possible exposure and protect our workforce. All it takes is one person on your team being exposed, that person coming in close proximity to the rest of your team and BAM...all are quarantined. You are down to 0% productivity. Operations shut down. End of story.”

Measures Shelton suggest include (1) Emailing your team to let them know you are concerned about their well-being and re-assuring them proper safety measure are being taken; (2) having office staff work from home; (3) having all technicians start their work day from home; (4) holding virtual meetings; and (5) assigning a sanitizer captain, whose job is to “literally every hour grab some wipes and hit the door knobs, the phones, the fridge handles and the bathrooms.”

OPPORTUNITIES & UNCERTAINTIES. The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11. In quick succession, unprecedented safety measures were taken throughout the U.S., including closing schools, canceling sporting events and concerts, and closing non-essential businesses. All of these decisions have been made to contain the spread of COVID-19, but they all have economic implications to the U.S. and the global economy.

Shelton

At California Pest Management, San Dimas, Calif., owner Jim Harmon said he was “extremely concerned” about COVID-19’s financial impact. Plans he put into place included shutting down one day a week to conserve cash and obtaining deferments for all vehicle and other loans for the business.

Other concerns shared by PCOs include the timing of the COVID-19 outbreak. Depending on the part of the country and the accounts they service, pest control is a year-round need. For others, it is still a business that has seasonal ebbs and flows. In Rochester, N.Y., pest control is very seasonal, and Dale Larnder, owner/general manager of Exodus Exterminating, said “We are prepared financially for a short interruption of cash flow, but this is happening at the very start of our normally busiest time.”

The possibility of long-term financial challenges were expressed by several PCOs contacted by PCT, including North Fulton Pest Solutions’ Edwards, who wondered what would happen if a total federal lockdown is next. “If this occurs, in addition to the health and welfare of our employees and our customers alike, we are concerned how this will impact the financial aspects of our business, more specifically our revenue cashflow and also what impact this will have on our employees financially.”

Harmon

‘ESSENTIAL’ INDUSTRY. It’s not been all bad news for PCOs, and in comparison to other businesses (bars and restaurants, for example) the pest control industry is in relatively better shape.

The National Pest Management Association has been providing the pest control industry with various resources, including the launch of its COVID-19 website, https://www.pestcontrolcoronavirus.com. The website includes news updates, government resources, communication plans, HR guidance and disinfection information. NPMA has been working to get pest control classified as an “essential service,” offering resources, including customized letters, that PCOs are using to let elected officials know that structural pest control is an “essential industry” and that these “valuable services must continue to be provided during this pandemic.” Also, a grass-roots effort was launched by PMPs to help spread the word on social media using the hashtag #PestControlIsEssential.

These and other efforts are paying off. On March 19, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued a guidance recommending that pest control should be considered a critical and essential service. Several local and state governments that have shuttered non-essential businesses are categorizing pest control as “essential,” including the City and County of San Francisco, Pennsylvania and New York.

OTHER SERVICES. Another reason for business optimism among PCOs is the fact that the structural pest control industry has evolved, and most companies no longer rely on the old business model that involved extensive indoor baseboard spraying. Instead, companies now do outdoor applications with targeted indoor applications; in fact, some residential pest control services are outdoor only. Thus, many pest control companies are able to treat close to normal, or with minimal adjustments.

Sandra Plants of Integrity Pest Management, Fallon, Nev., said, “We haven’t had anyone cancel because of this. We will only treat the outside and if the inside needs it, will wear a mask.”

Truly Nolen Pest Control is promoting its “exterior only service” in marketing materials, explaining, “This means we can service the exterior of the account focusing on entry points, perimeter treatments, wiping webs from the establishment, baiting for seasonal pests.” The company also promotes the fact that its service professionals use gloves; will be able to complete the service without customer contact; and “in the event that an interior service is required, our service professionals will wear a new pair of gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). They are already in long sleeve shirts and pants. This would minimize avenues of exposure to any other persons.”

Another trend in recent years is add-on services. Some pest management professionals offer cleaning and disinfecting services; others are adding this service (see related story, below).

And one thing is for certain — pest problems are not going away. In fact, some are becoming worse. For example, the stay-at-home precautions put in place to slow the rise of coronavirus cases in New Orleans has inadvertently led to a rat problem for the Louisiana city, CBS News reports. With restaurants closed save for take-out service, far less food waste is being discarded in the city’s alleyways, driving the local rodent population out into the open to search for scraps. There also were news stories of increased rat sightings on the streets and in the parks of New York and Seattle.

So while fear and uncertainty still grip much of the nation, those in the pest control industry are showing resilience and displaying a courage to meet today’s and tomorrow’s challenges head on.

Contact the author at bharbison@gie.net.

A Rentokil specialist disinfecting.

A Focus on Cleaning and Disinfecting Services

PCOs reinvent themselves out of necessity, opportunity.

As people and businesses continue battling COVID-19, the need for cleaning/disinfecting is paramount. The good news for PCOs is these offerings are well-suited for pest management professionals, individuals who are familiar with structures and are knowledgeable about products and application equipment used in this line of work.

Whether offering cleaning/disinfecting as a new service or fine-tuning and better marketing an existing service, PCOs are offering these services out of necessity and opportunity. Here’s a sample of companies doing this work.

Bruno Milanese, owner of Bay Pest Control, Ocean Springs, Miss., told WLOX his company has found success offering services using Nisus Corp.’s DSV (Disinfectant, Sterilant and Virucide). In less than two weeks, business is coming quick, he told WLOX. “We have done gyms, we have done offices, we’ve done some medical facilities, we’ve done some vehicles, ambulances,” Milanese said.

Orkin launched VitalClean, which uses an EPA-registered disinfectant labeled for use against a wide variety of pathogens. When applied at full strength in accordance with the product label by trained Orkin technicians, this disinfectant will kill 100 percent of bacteria and viruses on hard, non-porous surfaces, Orkin says.

Rentokil announced a cleaning service designed to protect employees and customers from the transmission of viruses, bacteria, fungi and mold and “help businesses maintain the highest level of hygiene during this time of increased concern for public health.” Rentokil’s certified specialists use ultra-volume (ULV) disinfection foggers to disperse disinfectant. The foggers create small disinfectant droplets, which treat surfaces, such as floors, handrails and doorknobs and large areas in a short time frame.

JP McHale Pest Management, an Anticimex company, offers ViroClean Disinfecting Service, designed to kill COVID-19 and other viruses on inanimate environmental surfaces such as floors, walls, structures, ventilation and other equipment. ViroClean disinfecting services include bio-fogging and hard surface wipe-down for heavily contacted surfaces and high-traffic areas.

Florida-based Bugs Burger Bug Killers calls its program The Corona Two Step. The protocol includes an initial application of a disinfectant (using a backpack sprayer) with a follow-up application of Steri-Fab. “We let [the disinfectant] sit and we come back and wipe up with a rag. We then apply Steri-Fab with a B&G fogger. Steri-Fab is labeled as a viricide and will evaporate in about 10 minutes,” owner Andy Burger said.

Before PCOs enter this line of work there are a number of important considerations, including insurance. Andy McGinty, executive VP and COO at LIPCA Insurance, said that some carriers, including LIPCA, do not provide coverage for this type of service. McGinty strongly recommends PCOs check with their insurance provider before offering these services. —

Brad Harbison

News & Notes

Company Provides Potatoes in Response to COVID-19-Related Food Shortage

Madero Pest Control in Pueblo, Colo., donated 2,500 pounds of potatoes.

Nick and Angela Madero, owners of Madero Pest Control, Pueblo, Colo., were observing how the COVID-19 pandemic was leaving store shelves empty and decided to do something about it. “Since we service an area three hours away that has plenty of potato farms, my wife and I thought, ‘How can we help?’” recalled Nick Madero. “So, I called a bunch of potato farms and finally was able to talk them into selling me 2,500 pounds, so we could give (them) away to our community.”

Madero and one his technicians picked up the potatoes and distributed them throughout the community.

Pest Control Firm Helps Senior Citizens

During the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak, in the beginning of March, Men in Black, Naperville, Ill., offered to “pick up things like prescriptions and groceries” for senior citizens within 15 miles of Naperville.

The company’s president and CEO Lauren Hicks told Patch, “The earliest sign was that this Covid-19 virus, unlike SARS, was targeting our seniors hardest, so we decided to start there by offering to pick up things like prescriptions and groceries for them.”

PMPs Fill Void by Educating the Public

With kids and parents at home from school and work, they need something to do. The Professional Pest Management Alliance (PPMA) recognized this need to keep children engaged. PPMA has been encouraging PMPs to make their teams and customers aware of the great educational tools on the children’s website, PestWorldforKids.org. According to PPMA, compared to this time in February, in March, pageviews to PPMA’s Critter Crafts, eBooks and teacher lesson plans have increased by 99%, 147.5% and 27.6% month over month, respectively.