State of the Cockroach Market, Sponsored by Syngenta, Roach Review

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July 15, 2020

Cockroach control is a staple service for pest control companies, even if it’s not the largest revenue source.

PCT’s 2020 State of the Cockroach Market report reveals how PMPs feel about the service’s growth potential, treatment protocols and more.

Carl Braun remembers during the early days of his pest management career when he was in the field treating properties for cockroaches. One of his accounts was a rental home where a single mother lived with her teenage daughter and several other younger children. They took pride in their home and did their best to keep it presentable. But there was a serious cockroach problem and Braun, now president of Quality Pest Control in Omaha, Neb., was called to the job.

“They were overrun with cockroaches when I arrived,” he describes, relating that a repeat service visit was necessary to gain control. “At the second treatment, the 7-year-old son ran up to me and gave me a big hug. He said, ‘Mr. Bug Man, I love you.’”

Braun asked him why.

The boy told him, “Because I can sleep at night and I don’t have bugs crawling on me.”

Braun considers this an ultimate success — restoring health to a home and giving a family peace of mind.

UNDER PRESSURE? Cockroach control is a matter of public health. The pest is a known carrier of diseases and can trigger allergic asthma, according to the World Health Organization’s review of public health risks. Not to mention they contaminate food supplies and can degrade the integrity of kitchens, medical facilities, childcare centers, apartment housing — the list goes on.

Cockroaches are a steady problem, and it’s a staple service for many pest management companies. PCT conducted its 2020 State of the Cockroach Market report to understand the latest treatment protocols, customer preferences and business opportunities. In the last five years, 36 percent of respondents say cockroach control services are a more significant part of their operations. However, 46 percent reported no change — steady as she goes. Just 15 percent noted a decrease in this service, and 3 percent were not previously involved or could not compare.

Cockroach services comprise only 5 percent of revenues at Braun’s business, but he sees the treatment as a window of opportunity. “We try to turn cockroach calls into recurring pest management,” he says, noting that regular pest maintenance plans include cockroach control.

Curtis Rand, vice president of operations, Rose Pest Solutions, based in Troy, Mich., noticed a shift from commercial to residential cockroach control due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “One thing we’ve been promoting to customers who have gone on service delays is to have a full inspection before they re-open,” he says.

A slight decrease in cockroach control at Davy Crockett Pest Control in Pikeville, Ky., could change after more businesses re-open in the wake of the pandemic, says owner Davy Spears. He says customers’ increased attention to sanitation and where they shop is why the pest is less of a problem than it was two years ago. For residential clients, bed bugs tend to be a bigger issue.

“We had one customer with roaches and bed bugs and she said she’d rather treat for the bed bugs first,” Spears says, relating that budgetary restraints forced her to choose one or the other.

The PCT survey showed that cockroach services account for about 22.9 percent of revenue compared to bed bugs at 10.8 percent. Ants are the most common pest problem and represent 24.4 percent of respondents’ total revenue.

Meanwhile, about half of the pest management professionals (PMP) we surveyed (47 percent) do not expect a change in service revenue generated from cockroach control. Forty-six percent believe the next year will bring an increase in demand, while 2 percent simply could not predict.

CAPTURING PROFIT. “Any service is profitable if you price it right,” says Bery Pannkuk, director of sales at Rose Pest Solutions based in Troy, Mich., which figures the cost of cockroach control based on square footage. “We add on if a site has five bathrooms because those areas are higher-risk. We take everything into account.”

Pricing it right from the get-go is important because clients don’t take well to additional invoices for more time.

“If we walk into a restaurant, apartment complex or grocery store and it’s just so bad that we know we can’t help, we will walk away from it,” Pannkuk says. If the company can’t take control of the infestation, “We look like the bad guy because the tenant, landlord or owner will say, ‘Rose couldn’t handle it.’ I don’t want that.”

Usually, those walk-away cases are situations where sanitation is poor and client compliance to pest control protocols is unreliable at best. “If you start a service and they cancel, that hits your profitability,” Pannkuk relates. “You don’t make a lot of money on an initial service; what you rely on is being profitable after the initial service when you get the maintenance contract, whether it’s weekly, biweekly or monthly.”

Chad Betts assures profitability by giving clients a prep checklist before service. “It’s stuff like doing the dishes, taking out the trash and decluttering before we come out to do treatment,” says the owner of Betts Pest Control in Wichita, Kan. “If we do treatment without proper preparation by the tenant, then our success rate is not as good and we end up going back — and that cuts into profits quite a bit.”

The prep list is emailed prior to the visit. “We used to tell them over the phone — but people don’t always listen as well as you think,” Betts says. Plus, having a printed list holds clients accountable. “If they have not done what we asked, there is no way we can warranty the service and we let the client know, ‘You’ll be wasting your money.’”

All cockroach control jobs come with a 30-day warranty at Betts Pest Control. Of the PMPs surveyed by PCT, 63 percent provide a service warranty for cockroach control.

“On many jobs, we will come back a week after the initial service for a follow-up, but all services are paid for upfront,” Betts says, noting that an additional charge is incurred only if the client calls back several weeks later after a successful treatment and has a cockroach problem. This indicates lack of compliance, which is a real profit killer.

“If we have a stubborn client who refuses to believe they have to help, sometimes we need to say, ‘We can’t help you,’” Braun says. “It’s hard to say no — but not saying no when you need to can kill your profit.”

Braun adds, “We fight that battle every day and stress that we are partners. We don’t have magic juice. Customers have to clean up a little bit.”

Callback rates for cockroach control are 1 to 2 percent for 40 percent of those surveyed by PCT. Just 2 percent said their callback rate is 30 percent or more.

Considering callbacks when pricing can preserve profitability.

“We make sure to charge enough upfront to cover the time of our service professionals, and if we do that and effectively communicate with customers, cockroach control can be just as profitable as any other service,” Rand says.

STRAIGHT TO THE SOURCE. The fun of controlling cockroaches is acting as a detective, identifying “hot spots” and finding the root cause of a pest problem, Rand says.

In fact, the biggest mistake PMPs can make that leads to callbacks is not conducting a thorough inspection. “That is step one — finding the source,” he says.

Corrugated cardboard boxes are like cargo ships for German cockroaches. Subsurface plumbing issues encourage Oriental and American cockroaches to fester. “Workers can bring in roaches on the cuffs of their pants, and we often find them in changing rooms and lockers,” Rand says. “And while most grocery stores are clean, you might have an egg sac tucked in under the lid of a cereal box and you bring it home, put it on the shelf, then those eggs hatch and you’ve got a problem in your kitchen.”

The kitchen is a major draw for cockroaches of all kinds. But in households where meals happen all over the place — snacking in bedrooms, pizza in the living room — leftovers can lure cockroaches far beyond a home’s main cooking area. Commercial kitchens are a real challenge because there’s a limited period of time to sanitize.

“Homes with septic tanks that are not directly connected to the sewers can have cockroach issues,” says Chad Moreschi, owner, Natural Resources Pest Control, Miami, Fla. “And, we find problems in older homes with old plumbing and cast-iron pipes that have degraded.”

Then, there are electrical boxes, cracks and crevices, baseboards and general nooks and crannies. “In our area, there are lots of mobile homes and cockroaches get in the trim,” Spears says.

Training technicians to properly identify and treat cockroaches is key, Pannkuk emphasizes. “Proper and constant training is absolutely vital — you have to study the science to practice the art,” he says.

And when that science and art is put into play, the service is more efficient, profitable, successful and satisfying for the customer. “There is nothing more rewarding than helping a customer solve a problem, whether it’s a residence or a commercial business,” Rand says.