Every so often innovation completely changes an industry and our way of life. At the top of the list of changes that have altered the way we live our lives during the last half century or so would easily be the internet. Every form of communication, every type of business and every person has changed completely because of it.
Many other technological advances also have made life easier in many ways, including email, cell phones, text messaging, drones and Wi-Fi, as well as Netflix, Google, and YouTube.
But innovation is not just for the masses. It’s prevalent throughout every business segment, and pest management is no different. A perfect example is the Sentricon system, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
IN THE BEGINNING. In the 1980s, Dr. Nan-Yao Su of the University of Florida worked with DowElanco (the legacy company of Dow AgroSciences and DuPont, now Corteva Agriscience) on his idea for bait stations in an effort to develop a different way to provide termite control.
Dave Maurer, commercial manager with Corteva, has spent 35 years with the company and works on business and product strategy, new innovations and product support in various market segments, including pest management, and turf and ornamental. He suggests the company may not have set out planning to make history, but it did.
“We did a fairly brave thing. While we were an industry leader, we set down a path that was completely different to replace ourselves with completely new and different technology. We had some active ingredients, he had a concept; we combined our active ingredient with Dr. Su’s concept and out of that Sentricon was born and launched in 1995,” says Maurer.
“For over 60 years, we have had a company culture focused on supporting and innovating for the pest management industry. We continually look for opportunities to provide better products and solutions for our customers and to help our customer provide better services to their customers. This tradition of innovation started with Vikane and Dursban, which built a strong foundation for further innovation efforts that ultimately led to Sentricon,” Mauer said.
“One of the unique aspects of Sentricon is its broad base of innovation. Not only has there been product innovation to deliver better termite control through colony elimination, there has also been a large amount of business and service innovation,” he added. “While the innovation targets for Sentricon can be easily described as improving technical success and supporting our customers’ business success, finding ways to improve and advance in the two targeted areas is increasingly difficult. But that’s a challenge we readily accept, and in fact, we have two new innovations that are close to being launched. One being an equipment innovation we anticipate launching later this year and the other a bait innovation we anticipate launching in several years. We look forward to adding even more value to the Sentricon system with these coming innovations.”
SKEPTICISM BECAME BELIEF. Tim Pollard, senior vice president and COO of Atlanta-based Arrow Exterminators, was a territory sales representative for Dow as Sentricon was being developed. He says the product’s new approach to termite control was far from an overnight success.
“Sentricon was met with a lot of skepticism just because it was so new and nothing had ever been done like that,” Pollard says. “And so...companies had to prove it to themselves. Arrow, just like the others that started with Sentricon in the very beginning, would go and pick a couple houses that were very difficult to gain control of using the current method and put it around the houses and basically go out and solve the termite problem as a way to kind of convince themselves and get going with it.
“Once you did that and you saw, ‘Wow this really works,’ it changed the business dramatically because you were doing something completely different and you weren’t doing as much of the liquid termite work and moving towards the baiting,” Pollard added. “That’s a big change, the way you perform the treatment, the way you sell the job…everything about it was just totally different.”
Tommy Fortson, Terminix Service, Columbia, S.C., says his firm was an early adopter of the Sentricon system, but that came after overcoming the natural uncertainty during its development and testing phases. “It gave us a view into the future. It took a lot to get there but it gave us somewhere to go. I’m not going to say Sentricon was just an instant, cure-all for termite control, it was a process. We were dedicated and believed in the process with Sentricon,” Fortson says.
“At the time there was a discussion about baits, this was in the very incipient stages of baits and we already had discussions on that’s where we needed to go. We were in for a dime, in for a dollar on this thing when we started developing this,” he adds. “We were very anxious, we did a lot of the early trials, we volunteered immediately to do the early trials. We actually sold the very first job for money in the country.”
IMPROVED BUSINESS. Eric Frye is president of Waynes Pest Control, serving Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi. Waynes, which was purchased by Anticimex in 2019, has more than 275 employees and has grown significantly since it was founded in 1973.
Frye says the firm can directly correlate a share of its growth to its use of Sentricon over the years. “We started using Sentricon in 2000 and it has had a significant impact on our business,” says Frye. “Today, we serve more than 50,000 Sentricon customers.”
Pollard says Arrow, a 56-year-old family-owned company with $250 million in annual revenues, relies quite a bit on Sentricon as a core product in its portfolio.
“It’s a huge part of Arrow’s business as a large percent of our overall revenues is tied to Sentricon. It’s really helped us grow our revenues and improved our bottom line as well. It also helped reduce the claims. In termite work you always have claims you’ll be dealing with, but we saw a decrease in the number of claims by using Sentricon.”
CHANGE IS GOOD. As Sentricon readies to enter its second quarter century and ultimately reach a new generation of PMPs and consumers, there’s very little of the original design that has remained the same.
“The whole idea was that Sentricon would be a brand. And that the actual product would innovate, change and improve over time but in doing so we would not change the brand. There is literally nothing about the product that goes in the ground today that’s the same as it was in 1995 when launched,” Maurer says. “We changed the design of the station, we changed the active ingredient and bait matrix and we changed the work processes. Literally everything has changed from the inception until now.”
Maurer says Recruit HD is Corteva’s fifth generation bait matrix to be used with Sentricon and it likely won’t be the last. “There’s been an ongoing innovation and I’d call that the ‘hallmark’ of the brand, to continue to innovate and improve, provide better termite protection and provide better business value to our customers. A lot of things we’ve done from an innovation standpoint have been to help our customer from a business standpoint.”
CUSTOMERS & SENTRICON. “We do have many customers who are educated about pest control products and know they want Sentricon and that’s a big plus for us,” says PMP Hunter Grimes. Grimes is general manager of Ft. Walton Beach, Fla.-based Bryan Pest Control, started in 1977 by his grandfather Bryan. “It’s been a great product for us. It’s great on the standpoint of training our technicians and there’s a lot less liability when you don’t have to drill into the structure so that’s nice too.”
According to Fortson, “Customers appreciate the very small amount of material going around their house and technicians don’t have to have contact with the customer to do the job, the whole process can be done without the customer having to be home. It was and is very convenient for the customer. And it’s a very green product.”
Frye said he thinks Sentricon was revolutionary. “I think (customers) like the fact that it’s a more offensive method and allows them to take more of a proactive approach to protecting the structure. No method is foolproof or perfect but Sentricon is as close to that as we can get.”
THE FUTURE. Nicholas Browne is the category lead for Sentricon, and as he looks toward the future, he says he sees nothing but good things. “When I think of the future of the business, I think it’s extremely exciting. We have some absolutely fabulous partners in the marketplace that we have privilege to work with, day in and day out. And we are excited to work with new partners, new PMPs. We use the term, ‘We’re Open for Business.’ We have two guiding lights and we use these as our foundational pieces internally and externally, they are our technical success and our customers’ business success,” he says.
Browne says Sentricon has hosted symposiums with PMPs to share the latest aspects of products in development, the status of active ingredients and other technical issues. Sentricon also has hosted business-related events to help PMPs run their firms more smoothly and earn additional revenue. “When I look at our future we have, we want to continue to broaden our customer base and align with PMPs that really share in the strategic vision and goal of providing excellent termite protection to a broader base of consumers.”
The author is a Chicago-based freelancer.