(Pictured: A Truly Nolen service professional dusting for spider webs as part of the company's exterior treatment program.)
In the span of three months, the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has gone from being a story in a far-off place (China) to being named (on March 11) by the World Health Organization 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.
PCOs have been left to pick up the pieces, ensuring the safety of employees and customers, all while navigating a drastically changing business landscape. PCT caught up with several PCOs to find out how they are dealing with life in the age of coronavirus.
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."
Similarly, technicians at A&R Exterminating, Augusta, Ga., are wearing PPE, washing hands regularly, and using hand sanitizer. Additionally, they are “trying to limit close contact with customers,” said A&R Vice President Allen Isdell.
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; (3) holding virtual meetings; and (4) 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 AND 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, cancelling 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.
At California Pest Management, San Dimas, Calif., owner Jim Harmon said he is already tightening his belt, saying he is “extremely concerned” about COVID-19’s financial impact. “We will shut down one day a week to conserve cash.” Harmon added that CPM has also obtained 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.”
‘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 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 May 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.
OTHER SERVICES. Another reason for business optimism among PCOs is that 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 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 to customers 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.”
PCOs who offer disinfection/sanitation have been promoting these services. Pestmaster Services, for example, initiated services to mitigate and reduce risks associated with coronavirus. In Pestmaster’s program service technicians utilize various sprayers, foggers and Ultra Low Volume (ULV) equipment to apply Nisus Corporation’s DSV (Disinfectant, Sanitizer, Virucide). In a press release, Pestmaster Services wrote, “The goal at Pestmaster Services is to provide 100% coverage to areas of high risk for virus transfer. These will include handrails, door knows, tables, chairs, public transportation, terminals and more. The coronavirus is deactivated with a treatment that Pestmaster employees using various sprayers, foggers and Ultra Low Volume (ULV) machines. Pestmaster Services is following CDC guidelines on the services and utilize materials such as DSV which is labeled for coronavirus.”
Florida-based Bugs Burger Bug Killers offers a disinfection service the company calls The Corona Two Step. According to Owner Andrew Burger, 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.”
Burger said his company is marketing this service to condominiums, hotels, restaurants and residential customers by sending mailers to clients and have making numerous phone calls. “We have also called all major property management companies in our area and have sent them the protocol.” Burger says the pest control industry has a real opportunity to offer these type of services. “It is incumbent upon us, as an industry, to take the lead in sanitizing the country. We have the equipment, know-how and license to apply.”
Keep checking back to www.pctonline.com for our continuing ongoing coverage of coronavirus and its impact on the pest control industry.
***Story updated on 3/22 at 10:15 a.m. (EST) with information about Bugs Burger's disinfection service offering.***