The state of ant management, 1998


June 16, 2019



Pest Management Professional’s (PMP’s) annual State of the Industry survey tracks key metrics for pest management professionals (PMPs). Year after year, ants rank as the top profit- and revenue-generating pest, outstripping other major business generators like bed bugs, cockroaches, rodents and termites.

The pattern has become so status quo that those who are new to the industry may assume ants always have dominated the charts. But the advantage of maintaining such a long-running survey is the perspective gained from looking back at past State of the Industry reports for a snapshot of the industry’s priorities any given year.

Two decades ago, ant management was not the clear leader it is now, but ants’ climb to the top was emerging.

The 1998 State of the Industry from what was then known as Pest Control magazine reported a shift from termites as top economic pest to ants. In an article dedicated to ants’ new position, “Picnic pest poses problems for PCOs,” then-Senior Managing Editor Lisa Shaheen wrote:

In 1997, subterranean termites were deemed the No. 1 pest by respondents of Pest Control’s exclusive State of the Industry survey.

In 1998, the numbers shake out a little differently. According to our report, ants are making the most money for pest control operators (PCOs)…When asked to rank their top eight economic pests on a scale of one to nine, with nine representing the highest amount of revenue generated, ants placed 7.13 on the scale.

Top Economic Pests IMAGE: PMP ARCHIVES

In 1998, our State of the Industry report showed ants outranked termites as top pest for a change. IMAGE: PMP ARCHIVES

Cockroaches ranked second that year at 6.98, and termites came in third at 6.66 (See box “Top Economic Pests” at left).

Our 2019 State of the Industry report measures top pests by revenue differently, but the gap between ants and termites seems to have widened since 1998.

Of the PMPs surveyed for the 2019 report, 82 percent indicated ant management is their largest revenue generator, making ants the runaway leader in this category. Fifty-five percent said termites and other wood-destroying insects or organisms (WDI/WDO) brought in the most revenue for their businesses, making these pests the fifth-largest revenue generator.

What hasn’t changed is the difficulty of eliminating ant infestations. Respondents to the 1998 survey “rated ants as the pest most difficult to control, coming in at 6.18.” The next most difficult pest that year was cockroaches, at 5.17 (See “Number of Accounts by Pest Volume” box).

Revenue vs. profit

Number of Accounts by Pest Volume IMAGE: PMP ARCHIVES


The persistent challenge of ant control is apparent in the 2019 survey by comparing ant management revenue to profits. Sixty-three percent of respondents to the 2019 survey chose ant management as their top profit-generating service – almost 20 percent fewer than the number of respondents who chose ants as their main source of revenue. The reason for the gap? Ant management services remain costly, thanks to the relatively high rate of callbacks.

Termites and other WDI/WDO performed better in terms of profit than revenue in PMP’s 2019 report. These pests came in second place as top profit-generators, not far behind ants.

Another notable shift during the past 20 years is which pests account for the highest volume of service calls. In 1998, cockroaches came out on top. But while cockroaches placed first as the pest that accounted for the most customers, at 7.26 on a one-to-nine scale, ants were a close second at 7.24 (See box at right).

Most Difficult Pests to Control IMAGE: PMP ARCHIVES

The 1998 State of the Industry stats show ants were a difficult-to-control emerging top pest. IMAGE: PMP ARCHIVES

Today, cockroaches still account for a large portion of pest management service calls, with 91 percent of 2019 survey-takers indicating that they offer cockroach control. However, 91 percent also responded that they offer rodent control, and 94 percent – the highest number – say they provide ant management services.

Ants’ dominance of every major top pest category – whether by value or volume – suggests ants will continue to be at the forefront of pest control for years to come.

Yet, in our 2019 State of the Industry report, Editor Heather Gooch comments that “maintaining the status quo isn’t good enough for some PMPs.” Thirty-nine percent of respondents to the 2019 survey said they plan to add one or more new services to their arsenals, whether it be mosquito, spider or bed bug control.

Perhaps signs of the next big trend are starting to become visible today.


Leave A Comment

Comments are closed.