According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Memorandum on Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response, from Director, Christopher C. Krebs, Workers such as plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences are essential workers. You, the Pest Management Professional (PMP), are essential.
Communication will be crucial both during and after this pandemic; you will need to communicate much more, both internally with your co-workers and externally with your customers. Everyone needs to know what your company and you personally are doing to protect yourself, your customers, and your community.
Indoor services have become much less common. If they occur, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) use has increased dramatically, not necessarily to protect you from pesticide exposure. Now, you must not only know what the pesticide label requirement is but also ensure that you have additional equipment such as masks, shoe covers, gloves, and hand sanitizer. For your protection as well as for that of your customer.
Indoor services might not be possible for reasons such as business shutdown, customer denied entry, suspension of service, or even lack of safety protocols. Hopefully, throughout the shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders, you were able to continue servicing most of your accounts, particularly outside only services. Managing outdoor incursions of pests such as ants, cockroaches, rodents, and occasional invaders can help reduce the need for indoor services.
A number of businesses continued normal operations throughout the pandemic, such as grocery stores, pharmacies, and other essential public services. In these accounts, there was little impact on pest control services. More than likely, you were able to continue an integrated pest management plan, with little more than added PPE and social distancing. Moving forward, PMPs should try to be flexible in servicing these accounts due to new restrictions and health & safety guidelines.
Some businesses were open on a limited basis, with fewer staff and customers coming in/out. For these businesses such as many restaurants, PMPs have been able to provide service on a limited basis, scheduling indoor services when possible. Recognizing the need for additional PPE and social distancing and communication and flexibility are critical in these accounts as well.
Some businesses were forced to close completely. How do you proceed with these accounts? If the services were skipped, those that eventually reopen might see significant pest problems, especially if the business did not have time to plan properly for a close-down. Unfortunately, not many businesses were able to prepare before the stay-at-home orders were in place. Therefore, closing procedures such as proper storage of food/edible goods, trash disposal, and cleaning of grease traps, floor drains, and P-traps were not properly completed. Thorough cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, even if that means a delay in re-starting pest control is recommended.
In these cases, where businesses were closed, and access was impossible, accounts become “start-ups” or initial services. These situations put PMPs in a difficult situation. Can we charge for these “catch-up” services? The customer didn’t choose to be shut down, they didn’t choose to stay away from the business, nor did they choose to stop service. The loss of many small businesses may lead to a limited number of potential customers; PMPs may face revenue reduction. Communication and flexibility with customers will be key moving forward. Things may never go back to the way they were before.
When customers are ready to re-start pest control services, begin your focus on the public health pests first, such as rodents and cockroaches.
For cockroaches, start with a systematic inspection of the facility. When possible, physically remove pests using a HEPA vacuum. Use baits & insect growth regulators (IGRs) such as Doxem® Precise and Tekko® Pro. For rodents, also start with a systematic inspection of the facility, finding and sealing entry points. Deploy traps, glue boards, and repeat catching traps where possible. Limit possible food sources and place bait stations where applicable. Schedule a follow up in about 7-14 days. It is vital to bring the numbers of these pests down as quickly as possible.
Many of the same trends we see in commercial accounts may carry over into residential ones. Nothing will be the same. Essential workers may be working longer hours, have expanded duties, and be feeling more stressed. People who are still working, but their hours reduced, may have less disposable income, are spending more time at home and are also feeling added stress.
For the vast numbers of people working from home, homes have become everything to the people living there: workspaces, classrooms, restaurants, and entertainment venues. One unexpected consequence of spending so much time at home is it has made people more aware of pest activity in/around their spaces. This means more phone calls to PMPs. More time at home means more clutter, more food debris throughout the area from cooking at home and takeout containers, more trash, as well as possible hoarding of food/toilet paper. Many of these people may be feeling very isolated; some are starting to feel depression & anxiety. People’s daily routines are dramatically different, cleaning routines have changed, and parents are now employees, teachers, playmates, disciplinarians, and entertainers.
When servicing residential accounts, protect yourself and the customer with PPE and assess the situation as visually as possible. Avoid touching surfaces/items unnecessarily, avoid setting equipment down, and, most importantly, avoid touching your face.
Things may never go back to the way they were before. PMPs will have to sell, resell, sell their services again. We may see service frequency change – shift to one-time, no-contract services, and PMPs may face revenue reduction.
Most PMPs are still cautiously optimistic about the remainder of 2020, remember - PMP’s are essential! The pandemic does provide opportunities to grow your business if you are willing to be flexible. Add-on services such as disinfection services have become a popular additional offering. PMPs have the equipment, PPE, and knowledge of handling pesticides, so it’s a good fit for our industry. It is uncertain if these services will be sustainable over time but could create additional revenue in the short term. Other services PMPs might add that can help make you and your company more valuable to your client and solidify your relationship:
Getting back to “normal” may not be a realistic goal, but PMPs can learn to adapt, thrive, and be successful in the world post 2020. PMPs need to be extremely flexible and willing to communicate extensively to work with our customers to bring accounts back to where we were before the events of the past few months.
Technical Services Manager PCO Product Development