A few times each year, I take on a job that another company has tried to do but has come up short. Many of these jobs involve a client who has hired a newly formed company to take care of noises that they’re hearing in their attic. The price quoted over the phone seemed reasonable and the company was hired. Expecting mice, but finding flying squirrels, the technician decides not to leave money on the table. He sets a cage trap or two and presents the client with the originally agreed upon invoice. After several false alarms and trap checks, he throws in the towel. Charging a competitive service fee for what he thought was a common pest control job, he did not consider all the other costs that he might encounter trying to catch other furry friends.
Now the client (or rather, ex-client) has a terrible experience to tell about that company and will never call or recommend it again. To make matters worse, between the travel costs and the time spent trying, the company has lost money. They would have actually saved money if they had initially said, “I’m sorry ma’am, I can’t take care of your problem and here’s $70 for you. Thank you for calling!”
There are very few “one and done” jobs in wildlife control work. It’s always our company’s goal to solve the problem in one trip, but the reality is that each wildlife control job will take multiple trips to the client’s home. If we can solve the client’s problem in just two trips, we consider it a home run. If you get the opportunity to solve it on the first trip, you’re the MVP of wildlife control! It happens, but it’s rare.
Everyone performing wildlife control work has to decide what to charge. It would be easy if I could just recommend a price that would make everyone happy, but there are so many factors that go into that determination. The most important factor (profit) is one that has you balancing on a tightrope, constantly leaning each way between making good money and selling the job.
If you don’t charge enough, you will sell plenty of jobs but make no money. Charge too much and you will make money on the single job but lose in the long run when you can’t sell very many jobs.
For a long time, “experts” in the field would answer the question of “How much should I charge” by telling their readers to make anonymous phone calls to their competitors and “shop” them. They advised pretending to be a client and then milking the competition for their prices and fees. By learning what your lowest competitor charges — as well as your highest — you can set a fee in the middle somewhere, thereby underbidding the high guy and making more money than the low guy.
I never quite understood that line of thought and in 25 years haven’t made a single call like that. I have no idea what my competitors’ costs are. I have no idea if they are profitable or will even be in business a year from now. I don’t know if they have employees or are a one-man show living from paycheck to paycheck. I chuckle when a potential client says, “Gee, that’s a lot of money. Is that the standard rate in the business?” I usually reply, “I have no idea what my competitors charge. I only know what I have to charge to make a little money. If they are charging less, then they’re cutting corners somewhere. I don’t cut corners.” That helps quash a client’s urge to shop around.
When we think of wildlife control, the heavy hitters are raccoons, skunks, bats, squirrels, groundhogs and birds. There are others, for sure, but these are the most common calls that we take. Each species has its own traits and must be thought out carefully when pricing a job. Most wildlife control companies will charge a service/setup fee and then a fee for each animal caught. A few companies that I am familiar with charge a bit differently; they charge one fee for two weeks of trapping. This fee includes the charge for all animals captured (and is incurred even if no animals are captured). I often wonder about the marketing success of this business model, as most of my customers are first and foremost concerned with cost. I have to sell the job before I can make any money. If company “A” quotes $350 for two weeks of trapping and company “B” quotes a $189 service fee and then $75 per animal captured until the job is done, I believe that most clients will hire company “B.”
SERVICE/SETUP FEES. First, we’ll talk about what exactly a service/setup fee is. This is the fee that is charged for making the initial visit and performing an inspection. This inspection will include speaking with the homeowner and also looking over the area in which the nuisance animal is living. Sometimes the client knows what the animal is, sometimes you have to determine what it is. This all takes time and you can expect at least 30 minutes just to talk and look around, before taking any action.
They say that time is money, but so is advertising, vehicle maintenance, fuel, trapping equipment, licensing fees, insurance, telephones and the other multitude of things that we are required to purchase or pay for. And we can’t forget the price of education. The knowledge that you possess didn’t come from instinct. Classes, certifications, seminars, conferences and trade magazines all cost money. A portion of all these expenses need to be included in your service/setup fee.
Some companies charge by the trip after the initial setup. Doing follow-up work for a few companies with this business model, I haven’t yet found a client that feels that they got what they paid for. Wildlife control companies must refresh the bait in a trap occasionally. If you charge a setup fee with these return trips in mind, there isn’t a whole lot of pain associated with the time and effort. I find that the companies that charge by the trip do not get called by the client to refresh the bait when it’s needed. Instead, the trap sits there, unappealing and catching no animals. After a while, the client (that was trying to save the trip charge) calls and says “come get your trap.” They still have the problem and now must either live with it or call someone else.
After the second or third trip out, the profit margin starts to shrink a bit. It’s important to get things right as soon as you can. Once an animal is in the trap and the “per animal fee” gets tacked on, things seem much better! During the spring, when it comes to raccoons and skunks, one call can yield three to seven animals. That same call placed in the fall of the year will yield just one animal (maybe two if it’s a really good day). Deciding on your setup fee will require you to keep this fact in mind and balance the amount, keeping the differences of the two seasons in mind.
CATCHING/REMOVAL FEES. Wildlife control laws vary by state. Some allow your business to transport an animal and let it go elsewhere. Other states require instant release on the homeowner’s property or immediate euthanization. No matter what your state requires, you need to charge accordingly. Your time, effort, knowledge and skill are all hard at work here (as well as your truck, telephone, etc.). Whether you release an animal or euthanize it, there are costs involved. The act of cleaning a trap can take 10 minutes on a simple clean-up job. A trap that a raccoon has pulled everything but the kitchen sink into with it will take a minimum of 30 minutes. There will be trap repairs and trap replacements throughout the year. These costs need to be tacked on somewhere if a business is going to be successful. By charging a respectful fee for removing an animal, your business will remain profitable.
BOGO FREE? Many times, especially with younger animals, you will catch two or maybe even three animals at once in the same trap. A friend of mine recently called and excitedly told me that he’d caught 14 squirrels at once in the same trap. He asked if I thought he should give the client a discount because it was an easy job and he didn’t have to make 14 separate trips. My response was, “Just because you were smart enough to use a special trap that was able to hold that many squirrels shouldn’t mean that the client should pay less. If anything,” I said with a smile, “there should be an upcharge for getting the job done faster!”
My friend had solved a problem for the client and felt guilty about the price that they would be paying. I reminded him that this was an extremely profitable job, but just around the corner he’ll get a phone call and the job that he takes on will take eight or nine trips just to catch one animal. The extremely profitable job will subsidize the not-so-profitable job. Instead of throwing in the towel and losing money, he will still be in business and still be buying his wife dinner out on Friday night.
YOU CAUGHT A WHAT? Oftentimes, a wildlife company is hired to catch a skunk but catches a raccoon instead. Sadly, raccoons, skunks, opossums and cats are all attracted to the same baits and lures. I’ve caught rabbits in traps baited with marshmallows and birds in traps baited with bacon. It would be a good business practice to educate your client and let them know this information up front. You can’t pick and choose the animal that enters the cage trap. Assure them though, that each species has their own traits and that you have set the cage trap appropriate to the specific animal. Follow that up with, “However, a determined raccoon will seek out the skunk trap and beat him to the food if he can.” After this conversation, make it known that you charge for non-target catches. You incur expenses when these animals get caught. You need to recoup these costs. The client will understand and in most cases, you will catch the offending animal instead of a non- target animal.
EXCLUSION & ADD-ONS. You can never bank on getting an exclusion job once the animal is trapped and taken care of, but you should always try. When you can sell an exclusion job, you must remember to price it as a service that the homeowner can’t do themselves (or will have to hire someone else to come out and perform). There are very few handyman services that will travel to a client for a $50 job. Many won’t even consider a $100 job. Keep this in mind when you are pricing your services.
You are already there and have the equipment and materials that you will need. Don’t let these conveniences convince you to charge less for your services. Some clients like to haggle. I don’t like to haggle. If I quote them $250 to screen off their gable vents and they offer me a lower price, I tell them that as soon as my insurance rates go down, my advertising rates get reduced and my employees accept a cut in pay, then I would consider a lower rate. They generally understand what I am driving at and more times than not, they agree to the price. If they still waver, I tell them that they’re free to make some calls and find someone else that will come to their house and do the job for less money. They usually know that it would be impossible and I land a few jobs this way as well. I can’t fault them for trying though!
Now that you have made it to the finish line, I believe that you have a better understanding of all the important factors that go into pricing wildlife control jobs. Each market is different as to what costs it will bear and each business must thoroughly examine its marketing strategy as well as the costs associated with providing wildlife business.
The author is owner of Advanced Wildlife Control (www.awcpro.com), Genesee County, Mich.