Cockroach season annually peaks in the summer heat as populations increase both inside and outside structures. But 2020 has been like no other cockroach season in recent memory thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted so many aspects of the industry, from marketing and service delivery to business operations and employee safety. Yet despite its many challenges, pest control in the midst of a global pandemic also offers opportunity.
Jeff King, owner of The Pest Rangers, Hanover Township, Pa., said the pandemic has allowed his company to step back and focus on its most profitable accounts. “When we started our company we focused on the food and beverage market because it was easy to walk in and sell a restaurant or bar.”
As the family business grew, however, King realized restaurants and bars can be labor intensive and less profitable than other lines of business if customer cooperation isn’t achieved. “These types of accounts demand a lot of service and expect miracles without proper cleaning,” he observed. “Cockroaches become the service company’s problem, not a sanitation or supply chain issue.”
Instead, King made a conscious decision to cut his losses and focus his energies on developing the most profitable segments of the business. “The pandemic allowed us to skip these services we have hard scheduled on our technicians and fill them with more profitable commercial and residential stops,” he said, thereby cutting his labor costs. “Revenues increased drastically and technicians’ daily production increased. I feel I finally proved all those out there that call ‘route filler’ a good thing wrong, and not by choice, but by force of the pandemic.”
EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY. No region of the country has been spared from the financial ravages of the pandemic, including America’s heartland, but the pest management industry has fared better than most. “Our biggest challenge early on was gaining access to our restaurants,” observed Travis Aggson, vice president, American Pest Management, Manhattan, Kan. “Many of them were closed completely during the stay-at-home orders.”
Instead of bemoaning their bad fortune, however, Aggson said the company “saw this as an opportunity” to educate their clients “that this may be a great time to deep clean their restaurant.” Some took their advice, while most did not, which was unfortunate. “We feel some of the challenging accounts could have really turned a corner with sanitation practices and pest pressures,” he said.
Despite being rebuffed by some customers, American Pest Management doubled down, offering free service to their restaurant accounts in April and May as a show of solidarity during challenging times. “We hope that they will remember this act as they move forward with reopening and, of course, on the next contract extension,” Aggson said.
While the company’s hospitality business was feeling the most pressure, Aggson says American Pest Management actually saw an increase in cockroach problems in apartments and multi-family housing. “In our apartment communities we saw a large influx of cockroaches and bed bugs,” he said. “Several of our apartment communities mandated that we treat the exterior only, interior ‘on call’ for close to two months.”
Tenants were supposed to provide “on-call” notification when they encountered an issue. Unfortunately, that didn’t always happen. As a result, Aggson said, “When we started back to a ‘new normal’ in mid-May, populations exploded,” resulting in a steady stream of business.
Interestingly, Aggson’s and King’s experiences appear to be reflective of the broader marketplace if a recent PCT survey are any indication. When asked to assess this past spring’s pest control season, 39 percent of those responding said above average, with 23 percent responding below average (see chart at left).
So, the pest control market in the midst of a pandemic appears to be a mixed bag, with some markets up (i.e., perimeter pest control, multi-family housing, mosquito control) and some markets down (restaurants/hospitality accounts). What’s interesting is the PCT survey was conducted between May 14-26, as the country was beginning to open up.
Only time will tell what the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be on the industry. At the moment, however, PMPs appear to have adapted to the “new reality” and are finding ways to continue to serve their customers, while fulfilling their essential public health role.