“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” – Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey was an educator, busi-nessman, organizational leadership development expert and author. His book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” which has sold more than 25 million copies in 40 languages (www.stephencovey.com), stresses finding meaning or success in any situation through seven core principles. No matter where you are in the country, ants are likely your top revenue generator, and also your biggest “headache” pest (due to callbacks).

Covey’s quote above, though taken out of context, perfectly describes the challenges associated with ant control: diversity, adaptability and tenacity (hundreds of thousands of different individuals working for the greater good). As we move into ant season, there is an opportunity to change both how you’re performing an ant service and its potential outcome. Try applying Covey’s seven tenets of personal growth to your ant control program.

1. BE PROACTIVE. Don’t wait in reactive mode. Use the winter months to review ant-related callback trends from the previous ant season and determine what did and didn’t work (look at both sides of the equation; the PMP and the customer). Identifying recurring customers and engaging with them prior to your phone ringing may save extra service stops.

2. BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND. In this case, your goal is ant control. Develop YOUR plan of attack so you can accomplish your goal. The first step in any ant control plan is a thorough inspection. The inspection can happen long before a customer actually calls you about ants in their kitchen. A thorough inspection should identify structural deficiencies, favorable landscape or other conditions conducive to ants. Document everything you see during the inspection: potential attraction sources (food scraps, storage practices, sanitation, honeydew-producing insects, non-functional drainage systems, etc.), access points (cracks/openings around doors, windows and utility lines, plantings too close to the structure, etc.) and potential nesting site red flags such as areas of landscape stone, rock walls, downed trees or structural timbers and piles of compost or other organic debris (leaves, mulch, etc.).

3. FIRST THINGS FIRST. The next step in your ant control plan is to take stock of the inspection findings and PRIORITIZE responsibilities. Assess identified deficiencies and conditions conducive and assign an “owner” for each corrective action. Remember, in any ant control program there is a partnership that relies on both PMP and customer responsibilities! Break down corrective actions into groups such as “necessary” (e.g., sanitation or food source reduction), “supportive” (e.g., minor landscape changes, caulking or sealing windows/doors) or “perfect world” (e.g., major landscape modifications or foundation repairs).

4. THINK WIN/WIN. Communicating with the customer is essential. Every opportunity to build trust and mutual understanding (or “buy-in” for your [and their] ant control program) is one that can’t be passed up. Walk the customer through the inspection findings and their specific ant control plan, including your prioritized “fix-it” list and the breakdown of responsibilities/cooperation both sides will put forth completing necessary and supportive corrective actions. Remember, something simple that takes a technician 15 minutes, such as raking out landscape beds for a customer (prior to treatment), could save 90 minutes later if it reduces one callback.

5. UNDERSTAND, THEN BE UNDERSTOOD. Know your enemy. With the bedrock (cultural and physical control tactics) of your ant control plan in place, be ready for the call to action. Arm technicians with a good hand lens and ant ID field guide (ask your distributor as many of the manufacturers have excellent guides with easy to follow keys and diagnostic images). Glean all information you can from your customer. Technicians have to interpret what they’re hearing and determine where the ants are coming from and where they are going (foraging trails). Combining this information with a confirmed ID and understanding of species-specific biology and behaviors, they also may determine nesting location(s).

6. SYNERGIZE. Implement the plan. There is no one-trick pony to managing ants and reducing the callbacks associated with them. Both non-pesticide and pesticide-based tools must be utilized. The ant control plan and associated corrective actions define the role of non-pesticide tools. When pesticides are required, PMPs have many pesticide-based control tools in their toolbox, including many formulation types (e.g., bait, dust, SC/WP, granule), application methods (e.g., broadcast, C&C, spot, void) and active ingredients (e.g,. boric acid, fipronil, imidacloprid, indoxacarb). Don’t rely on only one tool. For many nuisance ants, multiple products/formulations may be required on the exterior and interior.

7. SHARPEN THE SAW. Ant control is not static. Apply this principle to the bigger picture of your program. After implementing cultural, physical and chemical control tactics, you must monitor, evaluate and potentially change your control plan. If the implemented plan didn’t work, why? What parts of the plan should change? Stress different strategies at different times of the year by adjusting your priority list or changing product choice. For example, are there times when landscape modification is more important than physical exclusion, or will rotating the bait formulation to reflect seasonal foraging behavior increase acceptance?

FINAL THOUGHTS. Stephen Covey said, “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting.” Think about your ant control program in the frame-work of these principles. Feel out all aspects of your plan’s strengths and weaknesses and focus on specific areas for improvement. Do this and the odds of your revenue generation equaling profit generation will likely increase.

The author is a board certified entomologist and manager — technical services at Rollins in Atlanta.