It’s easy to get excited by the prospect of bird work. It can be exciting to have the change of pace and routine relative to traditional pest control. But do you really know just how different these two service offerings are?
When starting a business, it’s important to think about the endgame. If your goal is to eventually sell the company, surely different decisions will be made than if you intend to operate it in perpetuity. The bird control market offers unique opportunities with interesting challenges for both paths.
Today, traditional pest control companies are being sold for multiples of annual revenues. An auditor measures the value of the pest control business relative to the security of cash flow associated with recurring revenue pest control accounts, be it residential or commercial. Add that to any real estate, owned vehicles and equipment, materials on hand, perhaps a brand value in a particular market, and so begins the negotiations for a sale.
The best measure of value of a bird control operation, however, would only include the physical assets mentioned previously plus the value of current contracts on hand minus projected expenses to complete the work and a discount for the risk associated with the job. Whereas bird control has the potential to be a lucrative current and future business opportunity, one cannot attach a premium due to its uncertainty.
Unfortunately and realistically, structural/construction-style bird control has little to no future value. There is little assurance of repeat business in the bird control realm. Once the job is done, if all goes according to plan, there is no more problem for that client.
Also, based on the value of these construction-style bird control projects, monies typically come from capital budgets where there is higher scrutiny of expense or requirements for low-bid pricing from multiple suppliers. Therefore, the statistical likelihood of repeat business is diminished.
It can be argued that maintenance contracts or service agreements are an add-on for recurring revenue, but these agreements are tough to sell. Customers don’t want to hear that their new expensive remedy for birds is going to have additional long-term costs of operation. Salespeople are reluctant to even mention that’s the case for fear of losing the upfront sale.
DOES BIRD CONTROL FIT? Stability of pest control accounts versus the uncertainty of landing projects, additional overhead marketing and managerial expenses, and risk factors associated with operating a bird control operation means that this market niche is not for everyone.
Small companies struggle to compete against the resources of established players and national juggernauts whose branding and marketing resources permeate through local markets. On the flip side, even the largest of companies in our industry struggle with applying scale to bird control work. They struggle with employee retention and ensuring quality assurance to clients through scattered branches and non-core territories.
While general pest control, wildlife management or other chemical-based treatments have consistent (perhaps seasonal) cyclical cash flow, the bird control systems installations business is full of ebbs and flows more like a construction company, which calls into question the ability for large, stable businesses to apply long-term forecasting and apply established strategies for growth.
PLACE TO START. Product suppliers to this industry offer one-day classes teaching the basics of getting started in bird control. You can learn which product is right for various applications, perform hands-on product installations or assemblies, and receive tips on how to sell bird control work. At the end of the class you’ll be an “authorized” or “certified” installer of their products. You then add that moniker to your website and business cards and there you have it.
Unfortunately, too many people think that’s really all it takes, both on the service provider and on the client/buyer side. There are no real skills tests or experience checks used to “certify” anyone. Companies may be led to believe bird work is easy based on a one-day class, then wind up in a sea of professionals, often in over their heads trying to price or perform work, and unfortunately for the entire industry wind up devaluing quality work by underestimating either the amount of work involved or, equally important, the value of the job to the potential client.
YOU’RE IN BUSINESS. Performing your first job shouldn’t be that difficult if you are careful. Just recognize your capabilities and start small. Unless you have experienced personnel (be it from another industry or another PCO company) to take on the project, you should not start with anything complicated. There should be no boom lifts on streets of urban locales installing big netting or electric track jobs to begin.
Try to create a success story for your client and your company using one of the simpler remedies such as installing some bird spikes in an easy location like on window sills, a single ledge over a storefront or on a roof. Work with an existing client you have a relationship with so that there is room for forgiveness if a revision to the job is necessary later.
STAY SAFE. Fall protection and all other forms of PPE are essential. If the job should have a lift, get a lift. Ladders pose more of a safety risk and make a job take much longer. Ensure you and your workers have proper training.
Worker injuries and damage to property or equipment are not worth any cost savings. Your insurance will thank you for this mentality. Your customers will thank you for this mentality. Your employees will thank you for this mentality. It’s good for business and for your conscience as a manager or business owner.
THE PRICE IS RIGHT. When thinking about pricing a job, it’s important to move past the formula labor + materials + lifts = price.
Bird control work is riddled with unforeseen and often unacknowledged overhead expenses that are essential in providing the customer with what they are buying. Remember, they aren’t buying tools, materials, a lift rental and hours of labor. They are buying a result and expect a seamless experience in achieving it. You have to charge enough for the jobs you do to cover the unspoken line items that make your company capable of doing the job in the first place.
If the client understands the expertise, training and risk associated with performing bird control work and are unwilling to pay your price, then you can and probably should walk away. Sometimes the best jobs are the ones you don’t do.
LONG TERM. Making it work as a bird control company takes a lot more than just what comes from getting “certified.”
Ideally, a firm should have resources in place to tackle a job, including the finances to cover expenses for labor, materials and equipment while waiting to get paid. In the majority of cases, especially with commercial, institutional or governmental clients, purchase orders and contracts with terms of payment dictated by the client are the norm.
Bird control needs significant attention from a firm’s marketing efforts. Strategically, a company needs to demonstrate their quality and experience. To win over customers and develop a reputation, it takes a better presentation than just adding a single web page under your list of services with a few sentences about various pest bird species. While that may be good for your SEO, once people get to your site and are potentially making a five-figure purchase, they are going to need more information.
In my former life as part of a well-established bird control company and as part of my work with clients of various sizes around the country (both on the buyer side and as an installer), I’ve learned something important. Most bird jobs are only as good as the current project manager and the technicians on-site. The amount of experience planning and executing in this particular niche is likely the best indicator of a job being successful for the client and profitable for the company doing the work. Therefore, employee retention is essential to the long-term health of a bird control entity. It is much more difficult to hire and train someone to do bird work than pest control.
CONCLUSION. Bird control is here to stay as a segment of pest control due to its value to clients and the profitability for business owners. The associated challenges create an opportunity for quality firms to differentiate and excel.
Author’s note: Bird Control Advisory has launched a survey to assess the landscape of the bird control subset of the pest control industry. Please visit www.birdcontroladvisory.com/survey to participate.
Heath Waldorf is the principal consultant of Bird Control Advisory, a New Jersey-based firm that helps architects and engineers plan bird control work. With more than 12 years of experience as a design/build contractor for bird control, he counsels large and small pest management firms on how to succeed in operating a bird control business. Learn more at www.birdcontroladvisory.com.