2013 Termite Management Supplement: Have you abandoned your first love?



February 1, 2013

The Bug Doctor team shows off numerous tools of the termite-busting trade. Photo by Fred Miller, fmfotofm@aol.com

The Bug Doctor team shows off numerous tools of the termite-busting trade. Photo by Fred Miller, fmfotofm@aol.com

Remember when your staff counted the days and braced themselves before the termite season hit? Remember when the phone rang off the hook with panicked customers frantically shrieking something about thousands of huge black insects flinging their wings and seizing their homes? No savvy marketing strategies, fancy sales pitches or cutting prices were necessary. Your business was built on it. You could count on this windfall.

But as the housing boom of the 1980s and 1990s began to dissipate, so did those lucrative jobs. How did we as an industry respond? We become complacent; we didn’t fight for what came easy. We abandoned our first love: termite work.

In the early years of Bug Doctor Termite Pest Control, termite work enabled us to be profitable, and boosted our revenue significantly. Our termite business grew to the point of booking jobs four to six weeks in advance in the spring and summer months.

But like many pest management companies, we, too, began to see a decline in termite work over the years. There were several factors, including:

■ a dip in housing market sales;
■ tougher economic times;
■ a lack of termite swarms;
■ a focus on other pest management niches;
■ greater effectiveness of termite materials on the market than in the past (both liquid barrier and baiting systems);
■ a shift in our business model from residential to commercial accounts; and
■ lower pricing from competitors.

Weather has also had an impact on termite activity. Mild winters can bring early swarms in the spring; conversely, a cold winter with snow can stall the beginning of termite season. Dry weather with no rain can inhibit swarms, etc. In addition, like many companies, we’ve faced challenges in hiring and retaining qualified termite technicians to both perform termite work and upsell services.

Rekindling the relationship

In 2012, we began to see a healthy and significant increase in our termite work and revenue. We implemented the following successful strategies, and we’re sharing them so that you, too, can jumpstart and increase your termite work and revenue:

Install value-added termite monitoring stations with all new quarterly or monthly residential customers, at no extra cost to clients. Once termites are found, we double propose both liquid barrier and baiting programs. We guide our customers with the appropriate recommendation based on their particular needs.

Cold-call condominium, townhouse, co-op and apartment complexes, offering free termite inspections. We offer with all our recurring condominium, townhouse, co-op, and apartment complexes a free annual termite and wood-destroying insect (WDI) inspection.

Provide value-added service to existing accounts. We perform a free termite inspection for our commercial accounts with a follow-up report.

Perform an annual physical inspection on all paid and non-paid renewals. Even if a client doesn’t renew their service warranty, provide an exit report of your findings. It is important to create a positive exit strategy. We make it a practice to always thank a canceling customer for their business, and pride ourselves on offering excellent customer service even after a customer cancels. It is not unusual for customers to return in the future — remembering the high level of care, courtesy and integrity demonstrated throughout the service process.

Offer interest-free financing to pay for initial service and renewal fees upon client request. We don’t advertise this, but if it threatens to be a deal-breaker, we make it happen. We believe it’s important to be flexible, and work with our clients during these challenging economic times. Some companies offer financing accompanied with a fee.

Decked out in the right gear for the job, this Bug Doctor tech gets down and dirty in the hard-to-reach places. Photo by Fred Miller, fmfotofm@aol.com

Decked out in the right gear for the job, this Bug Doctor tech gets down and dirty in the hard-to-reach places.
Photo by Fred Miller, fmfotofm@aol.com

Include a stuffer coupon with all invoices in summer and spring months to all clients for a no-charge termite inspection. We should point out that we will always do free termite inspections, but not in the case of real estate transfers. There is a fee for that report.

Renew expired termite warranties, provided a thorough inspection is performed. We don’t want to lose any customer! We backdate the renewal and charge appropriately, to bring the renewal balance up-to-date.

Acquire competitors’ renewals when customers are dissatisfied with services from other pest management companies. Some of these renewals have been for termite baiting or liquid barrier treatments. This business can be quite lucrative. It’s important to note, however, that we will only take over a termite warranty once a thorough inspection has been performed. And while we don’t pursue customers from competitors, we won’t refuse them, either.

Incentivize your sales inspectors with a commission for picking up termite renewal payments from your customers. This makes it worthwhile for your inspectors to perform the annual reinspections.

Be creative — and discount if necessary, especially with large renewal clients. For example, a board member from a large condominium complex that we have had as a customer for the last 15 years called to cancel the termite warranty because the board was trying to cut costs. We explained all the reasons why they shouldn’t cancel. After checking the account’s history, we noticed we had not performed a liquid barrier retreat in eight years. At that point, we got creative — and offered him a nice discount. He accepted immediately, saying, “I didn’t know that you could do that.” We were able to keep our client, and keep them happy at the same time. Bug Doctor also performs monthly general pest control for this complex. Customer retention is key.

In early January, mail all termite renewal customers an incentive discount to pre-pay their termite renewals by March 15. Celeste Hiciano, our office manager, oversees this project — and generates about $150,000 in revenue at a time when cash flow is at its lowest. Even if customers miss the March 15 deadline, we often extend it. As the old saying goes: One in the hand is better than two in the bush.

Monitor payments. Flag or track all your large renewals (over $1,000) to ensure timely payment.

Conduct weekly sales training meetings, which include marketing and strategic planning. Tom Greve, our director of national sales, reviews strategies geared toward generating termite work — and motivates sales staff — in weekly training meetings.

Provide ongoing training for your service technicians and administrative staff, covering all aspects of termite control. It is extremely important for your entire staff to be able to properly identify termites. In our training meetings,  Branch Manager Tim Periard reviews termite identification (workers, soldiers, swarmers, etc.), termite damage, documentation, additional documentation support in software notes (photos, etc.) and any new technology that will keep us competitive. We also invite industry experts to speak to our staff. Recently, an industry leader spoke to our entire staff about the latest termite sales and service trends. We like to time these talks around “high season,” before the onset of a particular pest. Typically, all of our training meetings are booked one year in advance. We highly value the importance of keeping our staff trained and informed of the latest termite control techniques.

A Bug Doctor technician inspects one account’s termite damage. Photo by Fred Miller, fmfotofm@aol.com

A Bug Doctor technician inspects one account’s termite damage.
Photo by Fred Miller, fmfotofm@aol.com

Encourage your staff to give business cards to everyone they meet, because this can (and will) lead to new business. We’re an aggressive company that gives out business cards and plenty of promotional items such as coffee mugs, pens, magnets, writing pads, hats, T-shirts, etc. Years back, when Stuart stopped at the Lukoil gas station on Rt. 208 S., Fair Lawn, N.J., for a fill-up, he handed the attendant a business card and said what he always says: “If I can ever be of assistance, do not hesitate to call.” Not surprisingly, he called — and we treated his house for termites.

Call your renewal customers often. Sales Coordinator Christen Campisi calls at least three times and emails at least three times all current termite renewal customers over a three-month period to schedule a reinspection. All calls and emails are documented to clients’
accounts. This protocol was designed by Nancy Madrid, our human resources and accounting manager.

Provide an annual, physical WDI termite inspection each year. This builds value in our program, protects us from any liability, and demonstrates to the customer our due diligence as we uncover any active infestation or damage. These inspections almost always afford new opportunities for additional work, as our inspectors stumble upon other pest control issues. Numerous times when we perform carpenter ant inspections, for example, our inspectors find termites or carpenter bees, or discover nuisance wildlife living in the attic or crawlspace. Satisfied clients generally sign up quickly when new work is needed. Once the customer signs these annual reinspection forms, they are given a hard copy and these forms are scanned to their account.

Network with Realtors and other industry professionals. Real estate agents are a great source for termite inspection leads and termite remediation work. In fact, Bug Doctor is a member of Northern New Jersey’s RealSource Association of Realtors: We attend their meetings and conferences, and they are always appreciative of the promotional items we give them. We have sponsored breakfast meetings at numerous real estate offices, and provide informational training sessions on termites and other WDIs. We have gained significant business through these initiatives. Other significant sources for large termite jobs are through our relationships with property managers, facility managers and environmental services personnel.

Hard work pays off

Bug Doctor takes in almost $250,000 a year in renewal warranties — just as good as any annuity. Last year alone, we increased this revenue by approximately 10 percent. We believe this occurred because of the stringent focus we put on the strategies described in this article. We also increase our annual termite renewal fee to keep pace with the rising costs of doing business each year.

As noted in our first bullet point above, one way to practically guarantee revenue is with a termite-monitoring system. While it can be expensive, customers understand this system provides proactive protection against early signs of termite activity and damage.

If you have been guilty of abandoning your first love, these practical business tips will enable you to woo your love right back into your busy schedule! Termite season is just around the corner, and this remnant of your business is jealous for your time and attention. It promises to be worth the effort.

The Austs are owners of Bug Doctor Termite and Pest Control, Bird Doctor Nationwide, Animal Doctor, Mosquito Doctor and Bed Bug Doctor. They may be reached at stuart@bugdoctorinc.com.


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