During the course of the last 25 years, wildlife control companies in my service area have come and gone. I’m sure you have seen the same as well. I used to be concerned for my business when a new firm would pop up because it increased the competition in this niche market. As time went on, I noticed that many of these companies would disappear within just a few short years. I don’t remember when, but one day I realized that the businesses that were there when I got started were gone. I was the patriarch.
I know some people are just not cut out to run a business. I also realize that wildlife control isn’t for everyone. You must think about each and every job. They’re all alike, but no two are the same. Each animal has its own personality, its own food preferences and various degrees of intimidation when it comes to entering a cage trap.
There is a lot of revenue for individuals to gain by offering wildlife control services. But before getting into the business, not everyone considers the costs of this specialty service. Could this be the reason so many people try and fail? Since you’re reading this magazine, I am comfortable that you know all about the costs of operating a pest control business. So, you are ahead of the game. I’m going to go into detail on five mistakes that I see businesses make that sends them spiraling downward. Avoid these mistakes and you will greatly improve your chances of being successful in the wildlife control business.
1. Charge What You Are Worth
Wildlife control is a service that most homeowners can’t do or simply don’t want to do. Even those who decide to try it themselves are often surprised at just how challenging it can be. About once a month I’ll have a client give me (or one of my technicians) a cage trap that they bought in the hopes that they could throw a peanut butter sandwich in the back of it and catch the groundhog that’s been destroying their garden. As an expert, you are there to do the job quickly and efficiently. The knowledge that you possess in order to accomplish that task is priceless. It will be the difference between catching the nuisance animal on night one vs. going weeks with no trap activity.
At one time, I didn’t charge what I was worth. When I first started out I had a schedule of different fees for assorted animals. A skunk was most expensive, followed closely by a raccoon. I laugh when I think of my reasoning for my squirrel capture fee. Since it was smaller than the others, I should charge less. I’ll bet there isn’t a pest control company out there that thinks like this — heck, flea treatments would be free!
Obviously I was wrong and looking at my pricing in a very wrong light. Most successful wildlife control firms charge a lofty setup fee and then charge per animal. It doesn’t matter that one animal is bigger, smellier, dumber or smarter than the next. The client pays by the number of animals caught. You are solving a problem that the homeowner has using your knowledge and skill. These two traits won’t come cheap and they won’t come easy. Charge accordingly.
2. The Right Equipment is Paramount
Remember those cage traps I mentioned earlier — the ones that the clients give me? Those cages are NOT the right equipment. These big box or farm store cages are generally cheaply made cage traps that are unreliable and will not hold a trapped animal. There’s no use catching an animal in a cage that it’s going to force its way out of. Catching it the second time will prove much harder and costlier to you!
Purchase your cage traps through an established supplier of wildlife control equipment. Look for cage traps that are geared toward the professional. These will cost more, to be sure, but unlike the consumer models that may be used once every two years or so to catch a cat, yours will be used day in and day out throughout the year — and all subsequent years too! I still use the very first cage trap that I ever purchased. I’ve stood on it, dropped it, kicked it out of the way a few times and caught hundreds of destructive animals in it. After 25 years of being used and abused, it’s still going strong.
I’ve found that I mostly rely on three sizes of cage traps. For raccoons, groundhogs, opossums and skunks, I use a 10- by 12- by 32-inch cage trap. For smaller animals, like squirrels and chipmunks, I use a 5- by 5- by 18-inch cage trap. The last one is a specialty trap that measures 9- by 11- by 30-inch. With these three sizes I am rarely at a loss to catch whatever animal the client has.
A wildlife control truck that doesn’t have a catch pole, a set of snake tongs and an extendable painter’s pole is sorely lacking. There are times when the animal is right there in plain sight and you can “grab and go.” Why force yourself into setting a trap and then making a return trip when you don’t have to?
Having the right equipment is one thing. Having it on the truck is another. There’s no value in owning a dozen squirrel traps if you don’t have some of them in your service vehicle when that squirrel job call comes in.
3. Wildlife Control is a Different Business Model Than Pest Control
The days of a $70 service visit are over when it comes to wildlife control work. Only on rare occasions will you solve the problem in one trip. On an “unpleasant” job, you will make the initial setup visit, come back the next day to remove the first animal, go back out the day after that to reset the trap that got sprung for some reason, and then possibly make a fourth or fifth visit while trying to catch the last nuisance animal. Compare this to the pest control contract in which you stop by monthly or quarterly to treat the structure. You’re there, you work efficiently, get out of there and the check is in the mail. With wildlife control, the offending animal may not even be back in the same yard for two weeks. Return trips are a necessity and you must plan for these in your service/setup fee.
Most of your clients will be one-time clients. Many times you will hear, “I’ve lived here for 32 years and this is the first time I’ve had a raccoon in my chimney.” You will catch the raccoon, sell the homeowner a chimney cap and guarantee him/her that it will be 32 more years before she has another. However, there will be a few clients that lean on you time and time again. It won’t matter what the animal is — if they see it on their property, they want it gone. I like these clients and wish I had more of them, but most people don’t budget hundreds of dollars each month for wildlife control work. Unless the animal is causing damage to their home, they’re perfectly fine with it being in their backyard.
4. You’re NotThere to Just Catch a Raccoon
It took me a while to realize that I was leaving a lot of money on the table. I would catch the offending animal and then recommend a local handyman to repair the damage that the animal had created. A woman once asked me what I would charge to install a chimney cap. I didn’t want to do it (hey — I was a wildlife control guy not a handyman). So, I quoted her $100 for the labor plus the cost of the chimney cap. She gladly accepted and, since my ladder was already on the chimney, all I had to do was run to the supply store and pick up a chimney cap. Four screws later I had an extra $100! From that day on I saw the light. I started carrying chimney caps with me. I started carrying hardware cloth to exclude animal entrances. I started carrying different caulks and sealants. I bought cordless drills and circular saws. If the repair was minor and within my ability, I offered to take care of it. This repair came with a hefty price tag though. I realized that most people won’t tackle the job themselves, and if they had to call someone new in it would be even more expensive than I was (and I was already there with all the tools and equipment!).
5. Don’t Think That Wildlife Control is Not A Skilled Trade. It Most Certainly Is!
If it were easy, consumers wouldn’t hire someone to do it. If the skill came naturally, everyone would be doing it. There’s really only one way to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for wildlife control work, and that’s to educate yourself — you need to become that skilled tradesman.
When I started out in wildlife control, there were really no good sources of information. There was no internet, no video tutorials, no books or magazines that dealt specifically with wildlife control. It was all trial and error. Most trappers were tight lipped about how they accomplished their goals. Your nearest competition would rather be caught dead than talk you through a complicated animal extraction. These days though, things have changed. There’s no better time to learn wildlife control than right now.
Pre COVID-19, the National Wildlife Control Operators Association (www.nwcoa.com) and Wildlife Control Training Group (www.wctmagazine.com) both offered instructional seminars with plenty of high-caliber speakers. These events were filled with people just like you — eager to learn the ins-and-outs of wildlife control. But now, you’ll need to look online and find some virtual resources for additional training. In the past, I rarely came away from these meetings without an idea that would eventually pay for my trip. If it saves me 10 minutes or even saves me $10 on a job, I will use that idea for the rest of my career. Check them out online!
There are some of us that grew up trapping animals and that is a big advantage. However, wildlife control work is far removed from fur trapping (same animals but entirely different methods). A foothold trap has very little use in my business plan. You may think that you’re smarter than a squirrel, but there are squirrels out there laughing at me right now because they broke every rule in the “catch a squirrel” book. I caught them though, and eventually got the last laugh. They educated me and now I can relay this information to you!
THE WRAP UP. Making a mistake is not a pleasant thing to do. Mistakes have caused many wildlife control companies to go out of business. I’m confident that by educating yourself, using the right equipment and the right business model, charging accordingly, and looking for opportunities to capitalize financially, any other mistake that you will make will be marginal.