In mid-April, at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, PCT distributed a survey to gauge the business impact of this life-changing historical event. While the vast majority of Americans were concerned about the health implications of COVID-19, pest control operators had the added worry of how to keep the doors of their business open in the midst of a global pandemic.
Fortunately, shortly after the outbreak began to spread across the country, pest control was deemed an essential service, meaning PMPs could continue to treat homes and businesses despite shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders. As protectors of public health, PMPs play a critical role in protecting our nation’s food supply, health-care facilities and grocery stores from pests, making the industry particularly relevant — and essential — during these uncertain times.
Yet despite this important designation, that does not mean the pest management industry, like virtually everything else in society today, has been immune to the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, a point reinforced by PCT’s survey results.
In fact, more than 7 of 10 PMPs predicted the pandemic would have a “somewhat” or “significant” negative impact on the industry moving forward (Table 1), with 89 percent being “very” or “somewhat” concerned the pandemic would have a negative impact on their company’s bottom line (Table 2).
Shon Vodila, president of Accel Pest & Termite Control, Virginia Beach, Va., has decided to scale back his company’s growth plans in 2020 in the wake of the pandemic. “We were planning on opening in another state and decided to pull back on that move and protect our current staff and be a little less aggressive,” he observed.
Todd Barber, president of Barber’s Best Termite & Pest, Tallahassee, Fla., has seen his company’s cash flow tighten up as customers cut back on spending during these uncertain economic times. “While we are an essential industry and our clients — both residential and commercial — have allowed us to continue servicing (their homes and businesses), we have noticed a reluctance of our clients to spend, which has driven our receivables to the highest points they have ever been.” As a result, he said, “we are working on creative ways to improve collections.”
Not surprisingly, given the devastating impact of the pandemic on the restaurant and hospitality industry, 41 percent of survey respondents predicted the commercial market would be the business segment most dramatically impacted by COVID-19, with 28 percent indicating the residential market would be most impacted (Table 3).
No less an authority than Specialty Consultants, which annually publishes “A Strategic Analysis of the U.S. Structural Pest Control Industry,” raised concerns about the commercial market in a press release distributed in April. “Our biggest concern is with the commercial market segment,” said Rich Kalik, partner, Specialty Consultants. “Pest control operators are among the last to be paid for their ‘essential services’ to restaurants and other commercial businesses.”
There are more than one million restaurants in the U.S., according to the National Restaurant Association. “Taken in total, restaurants alone represented more than 40 percent of all commercial accounts serviced this past year,” Kalik said. “That could mean the commercial market segment might decline by as much as $0.5 billion just from lost services to restaurants.”
CHANGING PROTOCOLS. Perhaps the most significant impact on PMPs, other than the obvious financial fallout, has been on the industry’s treatment protocols. Sixty-four percent of PMPs say they are proactively communicating with customers about new treatment protocols, while 46 percent are only providing perimeter services at this time. In addition, 56 percent of survey respondents said they’re allowing customers to delay or reschedule pest services to a later date (Table 4).
“The majority of our residential accounts focus on perimeter treatments and there has been little change in that regard,” according to Barber. “We have equipped our staff with face masks and sanitizer and encourage field staff to sanitize their hands between each service visit. Commercial accounts presented a new challenge as some of them were under mandatory shutdown.” In those cases, he said, “We have worked with business owners and facility managers to arrange access.”
“We have limited our interior treatments to our residential customers to active infestations only,” added Vodila. “If an interior service is required, then we ask the residents to either step out or leave the area that we will be servicing. Our service staff has been instructed to use face masks, respirators, or face shields along with gloves. They were all issued this PPE long before the pandemic.”
The increased emphasis on perimeter services has been driven by client feedback, with 80 percent of survey respondents noting customers have expressed concerns about providing technicians with access to their home or business in the midst of a pandemic (Table 5), a figure that will likely drop as the economy continues to open up and customers become more comfortable with the safety protocols PMPs have put in place to deal with COVID-19.
WHAT’S NEXT? At press time, with the country opening up for business, PMPs are more optimistic about the future of the pest control industry than the general economy, results that mirrored their predictions for the industry’s rebound from the “Great Recession” more than a decade ago. Thirty-five percent of PMPs say it will be one to two years before the overall economy fully recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic (Table 6), while only 19 percent of respondents say it will take the pest control industry that same amount of time to fully recover, a statistically significant difference reflecting the optimistic nature of the pest management industry. In fact, more than one in four of PCT’s readers (28%) predict the industry will fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in four to six months (Table 7).
Not everyone is so optimistic, however. While historically the pest control industry has been somewhat resistant to economic downturns, according to Specialty Consultants, the likelihood of a COVID-19 recession presents an unprecedented scenario for the professional pest control industry. “At this time, we expect total 2020 industry revenue could decline nearly $1 billion, which would take it below the total measured in 2017,” Kalik said.
While COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc with the U.S. economy, adding millions of Americans to the unemployment rolls, its impact on the structural pest control industry, while significant, has been somewhat muted. “The pandemic may have slowed our economy and crippled some industries, but pest management once again has shown to be recession proof,” says Barber. “There will always be a need for all segments of our industry.”
News & Notes
PCO Metzger Shifts Focus to Mask-Making
Brian Metzger, owner of GP Home Defense, Salina, Kan., has put aside pest control for now to focus on helping others by making face masks.
Metzger, who founded GP Home Defense in 2018, said March was off to a great start for him, but as COVID-19 turned into a pandemic and began impacting his community, he decided it was time “to put on the brakes.” So, he turned to mask-making and soon established the Gopherwood Community Foundation, a non-profit organization that makes and distributes (free of cost) personal protective equipment (PPE).
“I have underlying health issues that make me one of those high-risk people,” Metzger said. “I figured I could sit out a couple months and survive, and if someone really needed me, I’d suit up and be there. I was reading about the many facilities that couldn’t get PPE, and I started researching mask guidelines, kind of the way I did with bed bugs.”
Through the foundation, Metzger has been able to recruit volunteer seamstresses throughout Central Kansas.
Metzger decided to sacrifice some of his company’s mattress encasements (used as part of its bed bug program), which he believes are excellent for stopping particulates and droplets. “They have a tight enough weave to make them water resistant without lamination or other treatment.”
The mask’s outside layer is a decorative cotton, an inner layer is material from the top of the encasement; the masks also include a pocket for replaceable filter material, and the inside layer next to the face is stretch knit material from the sides and bottom of the encasements. “One of my volunteers discovered that if she neatly cut along the seams when taking the encasements apart, those stitched seams made good material for mask ties,” he said.
In addition to the masks made by Metzger’s team, donated masks have been provided by Andrea Hancock and P.E.S.T. Relief International. Thus far, Metzger said he has distributed about 2,500 masks with a goal to make and distribute 15,000 masks.
Metzger said that doing bed bug work in nursing homes and assisted living facilities has left “a special place in his heart for” these residents. “When COVID gets into these facilities it’s devastating,” he said. “I realized that I was in a position, with enough help, to do something about it.”
Metzger initially began funding the mask-making by himself. As the scope of the project grew, so too did the need for funding, so he set up the non-profit Gopherwood Community Foundation to collect donations. To donate, visit PayPal.me/gwoodcf. Checks can be mailed to Gopherwood Community Foundation, 676 S. 9th St, Salina, KS 67401. — Brad Harbison
NEPMA Donates to Boston Food Pantry
In May, Galvin Murphy Jr., partner, Yankee Pest Control, Malden Mass., quoted a commercial building that was home to seven Boston inner-city charities. While there, he observed the charities had been abandoned since the COVID-19 outbreak, leaving one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods (Roxbury) in peril. In addition to the empty shelves, rodents were destroying damaged food in the pantry.
Murphy reached out to NEPMA (the New England Pest Management Association), which responded by donating thousands of dollars, food and pest control services. Murphy, NEPMA president, thanked Bell Laboratories for donating materials and member companies for donating checks, food and time. — Brad Harbison
PPMA Creates COVID-19 ‘By the Numbers’ Fact Sheet
The Professional Pest Management Alliance, which serves as the consumer marketing and public outreach arm of NPMA, has developed a COVID-19 consumer fact sheet based on their artificial intelligence (AI) research.
Topics range from what pests are of most concern to Americans regarding the transmission of COVID-19 to the likelihood of working with a pest control professional during this time. PPMA also created a heat map that shows just how much pest- related engagement has increased state by state as a result of COVID-19. Download the fact sheet at bit.ly/2ZSop0S.
More Pest Control Companies Launch Cleaning Services
Several more pest control companies recently announced they have launched cleaning/disinfecting services, including:
- Rose Pest Solutions, Troy, Mich.
- Brezden Pest Control, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
- Versacor, Southlake, Texas
- Environmental Pest Control, Meaford, Ontario, Canada
Read more about these cleaning services at www.pctonline.com/keyword/covid-19/.
Some Social Distancing Behaviors Can Actually Attract Pests, NPMA Says
With millions of Americans tucked away in home isolation, people are spending significantly more time in their living environments than ever before. This time at home is changing our routines, increasing the amount of food we are consuming and the waste we are generating — and pests are catching on. New research reveals there were more than 303,000 online engagements in March 2020 on the topic of finding rats in the kitchen,* and reports of pest encounters are intensifying in certain parts of the country.
“We’re hearing all kinds of unique stories from our followers on social media about rodent activity at home. Everything from parked cars harboring squirrels to even food deliveries being pillaged by nuisance wildlife within minutes of being dropped off,” said Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs at NPMA. “Pests are catching on to our new stay-at-home routines and they are loving it.”
*Online engagement findings are a result of research conducted by Advanced Symbolics Inc.
More COVID-19 Coverage
For PCT's ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic visit the COVID-19 news tab on the PCT Online homepage or visit directly at www.pctonline.com/keyword/covid-19