Chances are good that this summer, you received at least a few calls inquiring about wildlife control. But how did you handle them? Did you immediately give the caller the number for a wildlife specialist colleague, or did you perform the work in-house?
Wildlife control can present a lucrative opportunity for pest management professionals (PMPs) because there is significant room for reward and profit, if it’s done right.
That was what prompted Wil-Kil Pest Control, Menomonee Falls, Wis., to offer specific wildlife and rodent exclusion work two years ago. Shane McCoy, director of quality and technical training for the company, says it made sense to have these dedicated resources separate from Wil-Kil’s otherwise universally trained technicians.
“Our wildlife and rodent techs perform inspections, create and present bids, and perform control and exclusion work,” the 24-year industry veteran explains. “It’s a high-dollar service, and it’s the only way we can offer a warranty on our control work. If our team doesn’t do the exclusion work, we can only offer a guarantee on our control work that we followed our guidelines, trapped and removed the animals.”
That said, Wil-Kil only takes on wildlife control work for certain species. The company will give the customer a list of specialists to call to remove bats, feral cats, fox or coyote, for example. And as McCoy quips, “Badgers are Wisconsin’s state mascot, but we don’t do them!”
Usual & unusual suspects
A background in construction-related fields comes in handy when performing the exclusion work that often is needed when offering wildlife control services. Chris Lunn, president of Wyoming Wildlife & Pest Solutions, Etna, Wyo., and treasurer of the National Wildlife Control Operators Association (NWCOA), began his business about five years ago, after a career spent as a trapper, roofer and full-time electrician.
“This gave me a much-needed construction background, plus my education was in wildlife biology,” Lunn says. “Wildlife is a great niche that works well with the skills I possess.”
In his Wyoming market, Lunn receives calls not only for the most common pests — squirrels, raccoons, possums, skunks and bats — but also for protected bird species like ravens, magpies, cliff swallows and tree swallows.
“Yellow-bellied marmot calls are prevalent from May to July,” he says, referring to Marmota flaviventris, which in some regions is known as the rock chuck.
Raccoon calls are down in Lunn’s market, but McCoy says there’s an increase in them in his area. Both Lunn and Jared Miller, wildlife and bird service manager for Columbus, Ohio-based Varment Guard, have seen spikes in calls for aquatic animals such as beavers and muskrats.
“A lot of homeowners put in retention ponds, and these animals can burrow into the lawns near banks, creating erosion,” Miller says, noting that at one muskrat account, the homeowner’s landscape company had to haul a tech and lawn mower out of an on-site pond after he drove over a hollow part of the lawn and promptly plopped in.
Soggy landscapers aside, Miller says these animals also can chew through rubber wires on aeration and lighting systems in water features, so pond inspection is a common checklist item for Varment Guard, the wildlife service arm of Fridley, Minn.-based Plunkett’s Pest Control. Coyote, too, are on the rise, says Miller, who is a member of the National Pest Management Association’s (NPMA’s) wildlife committee.
An increase in wildlife complaint calls can be the deciding factor for PMPs who offer general pest control. Jimmy Arnold is second-generation owner and president of Peachtree Services, Brunswick, Ga. The company was founded in 1976, but added wildlife control services in 2005 because of increased demand.
“Before you get into it, you have to have people in place with the experience to cross over into exclusion,” he advises. “They have to be handy; a carpentry background helps. They’re going to be working on ladders and in enclosed environments like crawlspaces and attics.”
They also have to be willing to wear the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), Arnold says, “especially in cleanup situations.”
Tell them & sell them
“Surprisingly, most consumers do not associate pest control companies with wildlife management companies,” notes Rusty Markland, COO of PestNow. Based in Sterling, Va., the company also serves markets throughout the state as well as in Maryland, West Virginia and Washington, D.C.
On the other hand, “most pest control companies do not realize they are wildlife management companies, and therein lies the problem,” he laments. “Your customers often will experience some type of wildlife issue in their homes and/or on their properties. And unless you communicated that you offer both pest and wildlife control, your own customer will call someone else to handle the problem.”
Markland has been a PMP for more than 30 years, but says while he’s incorporated residential wildlife control from the beginning, it’s becoming “explosive.”
“We didn’t used to handle wildlife control to the extent that we do now,” he says. Like the other PMPs interviewed for this story, Markland chalks this up mainly to new construction and the rehabbing of properties that are displacing the wildlife population.
Chris Snyder, president of Quest Termite & Pest Control, Bethlehem, Pa., says the majority of his wildlife work comes from current customers or word of mouth.
“We’ve been fortunate that these two venues bring us steady work,” he adds, noting that Quest is in its second season of offering wildlife control services.
Wyoming Wildlife’s Lunn explains his marketing is a mixture of personal referrals and online resources such as his website, pay-per-click ads, Google Maps and Facebook page.
“The best way to market wildlife is getting your foot on the property,” Lunn adds. “At that point, selling yourself and your services as a certified professional who can offer real, long-term solutions makes for great upsell potential.”
He says he lets clients know about the company’s involvement with NWCOA and the training his technicians receive from the organization.
“I find this really builds confidence in our customers,” Lunn says. “They are intrigued there is specialized training in this field.”
Peachtree’s Arnold says the real estate market has been a particular strong venue for marketing wildlife service. His wood-destroying organism (WDO) inspectors also are trained to spot general pest and wildlife issues, and pointing out hot spots on the property has given them work from both buyers and sellers in real estate deals.
“We also maintain good relationships with many local Realtors,” Arnold says. “They will call us and say, ‘We have a seller who thinks they have a raccoon in the attic. What can you do?’”
Wil-Kil focuses on email marketing, targeting current commercial clients. “We get them thinking about the season,” McCoy explains. “What are the pest trends this spring, this fall?”
Varment Guard’s Miller says having a booth at local home and garden shows and other events has been a boon — and often, they’re the only wildlife control company there.
“We’re continuing to look at new venues, but the Columbus Zoo’s ‘Boo at the Zoo’ around Halloween was fruitful, and a lot of fun,” he says. “We handed out candy to kids and info to adults. We get to catch up with existing customers and get a lot of interest from potential customers.”
As Pest Now’s Markland advises, “Take it seriously — be all in or leave it to other companies that will invest the time, training and effort required to succeed. Create specialist crews to perform the work, and do not depend totally on route techs. They do not have the time, expertise or equipment to do this on a regular basis.”