By: Michael Newhouse
Queen Creek, Ariz., experienced an exceptional amount of rainfall in 2005. A typical rainy season in Arizona usually consists of wet weather in February, however, last year steady rainfall started in February and didn’t really end until April.
With rain and excessive moisture come pests. Shane Buntin, owner of Arizona’s Best Choice Pest and Termite Services, may know just how true this statement as well as any pest management professional (PMP) in Arizona.
“Because of Arizona’s hot weather, we deal with a lot of different pests,” Buntin says. “Usually, in this area of Arizona, we have some pretty heavy scorpion infestations. In 2005, we also dealt with a large number of black widow spiders.
“With all of the rain we had, the moisture was a lot higher, so once spring and summer hit, we had a bigger influx of insect activity than we typically do,” he says.
But don’t get him wrong. From a business standpoint, Buntin sure isn’t complaining.
“All of a sudden, we got a huge influx of new business too,” Buntin says. “We experienced record growth in 2005, mostly due to referrals from current customers.
“We needed to purchase nine new vehicles in 2005,” he adds. “It was a phenomenal year.”
BACK TO SCHOOL
In August 2005, Arizona’s Best Choice was given the opportunity to bid for a pest management contract with the Chandler Unified School District. Unfortunately, all new bids were eventually rejected because there was “no consistency among them.” The scope of service and prices were so broad, the school district was unable to compare any of the bids; therefore, board members decided to reject them all.
The resulting public relations nightmare taught the school district an important lesson.
“Black Widows Infest Chandler School” was the headline of one local paper, the East Valley Tribune, the morning of Aug. 31, 2005. That same morning, Buntin received a phone call.
“It was someone from the Chandler Unified School District, and they asked ‘Have you seen the paper today?’ Apparently, several students in one of the high schools had been bitten by black widow spiders and the media was eating the story up,” Buntin says.
When it rains it pours. Business grew so much for Arizona’s Best Choice Pest and Termite Service in the 2005 — somewhat due to record rainfall — that the company had to add nine service vehicles to its fleet just to keep up with demand.
It was an emergency situation. “They wanted us out at the high school by 5:00 p.m.,” he says. “However, they also informed us that they were going to have another pest control company there as well.”
The high school comprises eight buildings totaling approximately 360,000 square feet. The idea was to divide up the buildings, giving each pest control company four facilities to treat, as a way to compare services.
Buntin brought three technicians with him and they went to work on their four assigned buildings. What they found was amazing.
“We always follow the basic principles of IPM — inspect first, identify the problem and treat accordingly,” says Buntin. “The first place we inspected was the drop ceiling. We popped a few tiles, got up there and shined the flashlight around.
“What we saw was a sea of crickets and black widows,” Buntin says with a shudder.
When treating a sensitive environment where hundreds of kids are present every day, the goal is to minimize chemical exposure. A carefully planned treatment strategy is essential in this type of situation.
“Our plan began with barriers around the outside of the school,” says Buntin. “The bug populations on the outside of the school were extreme. Because the school is located in a rural location, a lot of the pests were coming from the agricultural areas.
“We started by applying Suspend SC in the cracks of the sidewalks surrounding the school,” he adds. “We then went inside and treated the entryways, which had a significant number of black widow spiders in the eaves. Once inside, we put Suspend down around entrances and exits, cracks and crevices, and some of the areas in the false ceiling and under roof tiles. We used Kicker in a fogger to irritate the spiders, encouraging them to move around so they would come into contact with the residual product.”
In addition, Buntin and his technicians used Suspend around the plumbing areas inside wall voids of the bathrooms, where children have no access. They also treated the cafeteria as they would a typical commercial kitchen, with a crack-and-crevice application throughout the kitchen and around floor drains.
All in all, Buntin and his technicians put in 24 man-hours in one night, treating their four buildings until 2:00 a.m.
When school opened the next morning, nothing could have prepared the school administrators for what they saw. Cleaning crews from three nearby schools were summoned to clean up all of the dead bugs that carpeted the entranceway to the school.
“You literally could not even see the concrete in front of the school because there were so many bugs,” says Buntin. “I’ve seldom seen anything like it.”
WINNING THE BUSINESS
Arizona’s Best Choice eventually was awarded the contract for the entire school district. After the initial night of treatment, Buntin and his crew returned the next night to retreat the other four buildings. A week later, they returned to inspect and needed to re-apply only a small amount of product. Now the school receives standard, once-a-month visits.
Although Buntin had principals come out and shake the hands of his technicians and has been told numerous times by various people within the school system, “We can’t believe the difference in what we see,” he remains very modest about his role in ridding the school of pests.
“We didn’t do anything magical at the school district; we did something that any other pest management company, if they were really paying attention, would have done,” says Buntin. “With pest control technology being what it is today, we’re able to treat in places like cracks and crevices and get much longer control than we’ve ever been able to before.
“I’ve been in the industry for more than 13 years now and the reality is that we have access to better materials and to better equipment,” Buntin continues. “I just try to remember that the basic principles behind pest management really hasn’t changed that much: inspect, identify and treat accordingly.”
Some of the simplest lessons are the most valuable.
Newhouse, a Pest Control contributor, is GIC Market Manager for Bayer Environmental Science. You can reach him at 919-549-2512, or e-mail Michael.Newhouse@bayerCropScience.com.