[Technically Speaking] A Different Kind of Green

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November 20, 2009

A Different Kind of Green

Many pest management companies are struggling to make ends meet in these tough economic times. I always like to check out the Top 100 companies in our industry and this year I noted that only a few were showing growth during 2008 approaching (or greater than) 10 percent. Our company has had the good fortune, since starting in late 2004, to have an average annual growth of approximately 40 percent. Our success isn’t based on doing things better than other companies but providing pest management services that others don’t.

I’ve watched the "green" industry movement and I’m not impressed. We can say we’re green but there seems to be an incessant search for green products, a spray or a dust, that we can use to mitigate pest problems but this approach only is an extension of what we have historically done — treating a pest problem using a product.

There is a different kind of green (money) that so many companies have left untapped. I’m not talking about snowplowing, installing holiday lights and the various and sundry other non-pest related services companies perform to fill the void. In my opinion, the companies that are successful in this economy are selling pest prevention services — something that many other companies don’t feel they have the expertise or simply don’t know how to sell.

RODENT EXCLUSION. One of the most significant pest problems we encounter in commercial accounts are rats and mice. In many cases the extent of the previous companies’ service is putting out glueboards, tracking powder, anticoagulant bait and/or snap traps. Typically the result of this process is a reduction in populations but no long-term solution to the problem.

With minimal investment in equipment, e.g., tin snips, a hacksaw, a battery-powered drill, and a Hilti foam gun, you can be in the exclusion business. Materials such as Stuff-It, Hilti CF-812 foam, door sweeps, sheet metal, screws and/or metal flashing are all you need to start. The training to properly perform services with these materials is minimal — the premise is to find and seal every opening mice and rats can use on the interior and the exterior of the structure.

The major advantage of this type of service is that it can be very lucrative — depending on the extent of the service, prices typically range from $45 to $85 per unit. At a minimum our goal is to sell at least a building because it does little good to seal a unit and have it surrounded by unsealed units. Ideally we like to sell an entire property, which can range from 250 to 1,000 units. The other positive is that exclusion reduces the number of service requests and makes regular service (rotation) more profitable and makes for a happier management company.

DRAIN CLEANING. This service is typically performed in food-handling establishments and gyms for the control of drain flies, phorid flies and cockroaches and can easily involve 30 to 40 drains per facility. While some firms perform this service simply by applying a drain cleaner or foaming a cleaner into the drain, this technique is rarely successful to the degree that will prevent fly infestations for a sustained period of time. However, this is an excellent maintenance strategy and can be sold as an add-on service.

The tools needed for a cleaning service include a bio drain cleaner (there are many available), tools for opening the drain cover (some specialized bits for screws may be needed — check during the initial inspection), good drain brushes (usually 3 and 4 inches in diameter with a 3- to 4-foot handle) and some scraping tools.

We base the cost of this cleaning on the degree of work needed to access the drains and the time estimated to scrub them until they are residue free. Prices start at $35 per drain. (Make sure you will not be held responsible for damage to or for the replacement of cover screws.)

GUTTER CLEANING. This is a service that we initially offered to our regular residential customers but subsequently decided we were too busy to continue offering the service. However, this being said I think it is an excellent fit for a pest management company and is typically done in the fall after leaves have come down — a time when business is slowing.

Some of the pest problems we encounter on the upper floors of houses and other buildings can be directly attributed to uncleaned gutters, e.g., ants, ground beetles, millipedes, pillbugs, fungus gnats, etc. The standing water in clogged gutters is a breeding site for mosquitoes. Some companies have delved into the business of installing a variety of gutter covers to eliminate the need for cleaning — personally I’m not a fan of these systems. Some of these systems in heavy rains don’t adequately remove the water and many that I’ve seen still collect residues that ultimately clog the gutter and present a challenge to remove.

This type of work requires ladders and safety equipment to reach some of the higher gutters on a house. Often you may have to deal with unlevel and/or unstable terrain and get to gutters that are more than 30 feet off the ground. Most companies doing this type of work charge by the foot based on the height off the ground.

WEEP VENTS. Unfortunately, when buildings are constructed with brick and stone veneers, little thought is given to subsequent pest problems. Weep holes designed to let moisture drain from behind these veneers typically are not sealed to prevent pest entry and they also serve as a source of moisture-attracting pests to voids behind the veneer and then into the building.

This is a service we have provided for years to one of our "green" accounts (a school system) where the use of pesticides is prohibited under most circumstances. It is a service specifically designed to prevent wasps and bees from nesting in walls behind brick veneers and to prevent crawling insects, particularly ants, from gaining access to the structure. This is a service that easily can be sold to sensitive accounts where the minimization of pesticides is the goal.

This service requires little in the way of tools, i.e., ladder (up to 20 feet), a putty knife, screwdriver, pliers and scissors. The product we prefer to use is a plastic-fibrous weep vent material that can be cut and fit to the hole size. There are rigid corrugated weep vent materials but they are difficult to install and don’t easily conform to the hole size and the corrugations don’t prevent ant entry. Pricing for this work is based on time and materials.

FINAL THOUGHTS. There are other pest-related services that our industry can provide, such as installing vents/vapor barriers and wildlife exclusion, that can provide your company a different type of green and see you through those times when revenues from traditional pest management services are declining.

The author is president of Innovative Pest Management, Brookeville, Md., and can be contacted at rkramer@giemedia.com.