Working Within California’s Strict Environmental Parameters to Manage Ants


May 19, 2015

Payne Pest Management

Stringent environmental laws haven’t kept Payne Pest Management from thriving. Pictured are Willie (fourth from left) and Kathy (third from left) Payne with the front office staff. Photo: Flix Photography

Like many pest management professionals (PMPs) with years of experience, Willie Payne decided to take his industry knowledge (38 years of it) and use it to start his own company. That was in 2006, with three employees and one office in San Diego.

Operating a business — especially a pest control business — in the Golden State can be difficult because of stringent environmental-related laws and regulations. But that hasn’t prevented Payne Pest Management from growing to 52 employees at three branches: San Diego, Irvine and Los Angeles.

“To be successful, those who are willing to define their business are truly masters of the situation,” says Payne, who worked for Terminix for many years before striking out on his own.

As a full-service company, Payne Pest Management controls a wide range of pests. But the three most prevalent pests the company treats are bed bugs (especially in military housing), ants and roof rats. The company recognizes that every home, industry and business is unique in its pest control needs, and the methods used to exclude or eliminate pests must be customized to each environment. In addition to an intensive training program for its technicians, Payne uses an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to help control pests.

The company services residential (about 80 percent of its business) and commercial properties, and a big chunk of its business stems from homeowner associations. Its technicians are called universal techs because they do it all — pretreat, termite and repair.

Larry Copeland

Larry Copeland, Payne Pest Management’s regional pest control service manager, says California’s stringent environmental laws haven’t negatively affected business. Photo: Flix Photography

One aspect of stringent environmental laws in California is the state’s water protection act, which has resulted in pyrethroid-use restrictions because legislators worry about run-off. The restrictions, though, haven’t negatively affected business that much, says Larry Copeland, regional pest control service manager.

“It affects the so-called ‘spray jockeys,’” he adds. “We don’t use spray rigs. We apply pesticides in a deliberate and precise manner according to the surface water protection guidelines.”

Start with inspection
A proper pest service always begins with an inspection, says Copeland, who has been in the industry for 25 years. For ants, Payne’s techs seek the nests, which are often outside a home. After eliminating the nests, techs perform a thorough treatment on the interior or other areas of the home as needed.

“With our maintenance programs, if homeowners ever have a problem between our regular services, all they need to do is contact us,” Copeland says. “We’ll send someone out ASAP to take care of the problem at no additional charge.”

Ants tend to follow plumbing, cable wires or the electrical into a structure, he notes, acknowledging ant pressure in Southern California is consistent year to year.

“We’re in a [March] drought right now, so that’s why we find ants in various locations, especially in high moisture areas,” Copeland says. “But if there’s a significant amount of rain in the spring, the season doesn’t usually begin until June. If there’s a drought situation, the ant problem usually goes through the roof. This year, the rain that we’ve received should delay ant activity until later in the spring.”

Ant consistency
When it comes to ants in Southern California, the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) still dominates. But harvester ants, which comprise a multitude of seed-collecting species, are also starting to flare up in various locations.

“Each year, we hear more and more about them,” Copeland says.

Unlike other ants, harvester ants don’t typically enter, establish themselves in or invade structures. Rather, they establish their nests around landscaping, yards and garden areas. Not only will they destroy vegetation, they’re also known to be aggressive — and can deliver a painful bite and sting.

Payne Pest Management

After eliminating the nests, techs perform a thorough treatment on the interior or other areas of the home as needed. Photo: Flix Photography

“A portion of the human population will have an allergic reaction to the venom of harvester ants,” Copeland says. “Therefore, an aggressive IPM approach is an absolute must when dealing with them.”

When controlling ants, Payne’s strategy on the inside of a structure is to apply various insecticides in cracks, crevices and voids. Technicians, who let homeowners know how to prepare for these types of applications, advise them to leave their home for a minimum of four hours. If someone in the home has a respiratory condition, a child younger than 2 years of age or is expecting a child, the vacated time should be a minimum of six hours.

“It’s a precautionary measure, and homeowners gladly comply with it,” Copeland says, adding technicians leave a door hanger with insecticide-related information that includes instructions on how to vent the home properly.

As a result of the state’s Proposition 65, officially known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, the information on the door hangers has to include a list of products (and their active ingredients) that were used, as well as the phone numbers for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, poison control and health department in case there’s a concern about the aftereffects of the treatment.

“The products we use have very low odor and are strategically placed,” Copeland says. “That way, there’s a reduced risk of exposure because they’re applied in cracks, crevices and voids.”

The application results can be immediate, but in some cases — such as with rodents, cockroaches or ants — effective control can require several follow-up visits.

Doing it right
Ant control has changed throughout the years. The main difference is that technicians have more effective products available to them, Copeland says. Techs also are better trained and skilled compared to 20 years ago, paying more attention to detail, he says.

“Our policy is to assess the situation once we receive a call,” he says. “If the problem is isolated or there’s only a few ants, baiting might be the most appropriate treatment option. If ants are found in multiple locations throughout a home, a crack, crevice, void and direct treatment will be used, in which case we’ll need access to the entire house and have items removed from the areas of concern to allow us access.”

Payne’s techs explain the company’s process and designated time window that the owners or tenants need to be out of their homes.

When performing follow-ups, Payne calls customers for updates and feedback about the service that was performed. If there’s no ongoing issue and the customer is satisfied, the customer then is reminded of the guarantee the company offers customers for its general pest service.

“We have a 30-day guarantee,” Copeland says. “We do it right the first time. We go to extremes the first time, and if needed, we’ll make a second application. We’ve had very good success with this strategy.” 

Payne’s technical tips

Always conduct an inspection, identify the species, locate the source, look for contributing factors and select the proper products to resolve the ant problem at hand.
Use only the best equipment for the task at hand.
Pay attention to detail.
Don’t overlook or bypass the inspection process, or else you’ll be doomed to fail at controlling any pest management issue.
Don’t rely on insecticides alone. Approach every situation with an integrated pest management (IPM) strategy.
Don’t make the mistake of using baits as a cure-all.
Your entire organization must be organized, from top to bottom. Administration, service, repair and management must be on the same page in the interest of saving time and being efficient during the day-to-day operation.
All service routes should be gridded geographically, organized by ZIP codes and service days.
Always have a checks-and-balances system in every department.
Don’t allow seemingly small issues to go uncorrected because they might set a precedent that will eventually broaden into a much larger issue. Keeping all systems on the right track is much easier than trying to redirect them once they’ve veered off course.
Inspect what you expect.

Payne’s business tips

Mean what you say and say what you mean.
Don’t make it complicated.
Don’t use fine print: Keep it simple and direct.

Train regularly, and stay up-to-date with any and all changes that might affect the industry as a whole, as well as your day-to-day operation.
Don’t assume that because a technician has been in the industry for years that he wouldn’t benefit from additional training. Every Friday morning, the Payne crew meets for training sessions about basic knowledge that pertains to general pest control, as well as a role-playing session to keep techs prepared for customer interactions.

Always use equipment that’s the best quality, industry-certified, most durable, professional and appropriate for the task at hand.
Don’t use cheap knock-offs or home-use equipment for professional applications. Inferior equipment won’t hold up to the continuous daily rigors of professional pest services, and you’ll probably end up spending more of your resources on repairs or replacement.

Know your target demographic. Focus your marketing efforts toward reaching that audience.
Don’t waste resources on functions, expos or trade shows unless the return on investment is high.

Remember everyone is a potential customer. Get involved with local, charitable, sports and good-deed organizations. Be willing to step up and assist your community whenever possible.
Don’t focus on just one particular way of reaching potential customers.

Contact John Walsh at


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