We are now one week into the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The fear and uncertainty of this virus, along with the damage that it is going to inflict on both the U.S. and global economy, is still anyone’s guess. No matter how serious you think this virus is, the public perception of the virus (along with all of the disruptions) is the reality — and that reality has already dealt a serious blow to our economy.
So the question remains, how is this going to affect your pest management company?
In fact, I would say this is the question. While I don’t double as Nostradamus, I do want you to do me a favor before you read any further.
Listen to this customer call — it’s one minute of your time. Otherwise, the remainder of this may sound almost blasphemous when compared to most of the news that we are hearing concerning COVID-19.
Did you sense the customer’s panic? Did you hear the dire concern over what may happen next? Did you hear the customer cancel?
If you are scratching your head and saying to yourself, “I didn’t hear any of that,” then you are correct.
- Home service companies are still growing. Consider yourself lucky — no, damned lucky. My heart goes out to restaurant and bar owners right now, many of whom are seeing sales down over 70 percent — if they’re open at all! We have not seen this with our clients. In fact, we have seen the opposite. Eighty-three percent of our clients are trending to meet at least 75 percent of their March lead goal, and 89 percent are trending to hit their full paid advertising budget for the month. In fact, a few have potential to spend more than we’d originally projected, as competition has lowered and demand has not diminished.
- Search volume is on track. So far, search volume in home services has been holding steady. More people are at home and they are still searching to get things done around their home. According to Google Trends, popularity for the term ‘pest control’ is up 8 percent in March month-to-date (MTD) compared to the same period in 2019. Popularity is the ratio of a keyword’s search volume to the sum of the search volumes of all possible queries. This means people are actively searching for pest control more this March compared to last, despite the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Sales are still happening. At Triangle Pest, our sales have been on par to what they were last year. Considering what we are bombarded with on a daily basis in terms of negative news, along with entire industries being forced to completely cease operations, I’ll call mostly flat a big win.
- Cancels are typical. Any time there is a downturn in the economy and uncertainty concerning employment, customers will tighten their belts wherever they can. The question becomes, who makes the cut and who doesn’t, (e.g. What do consumers consider essential?) As we have seen in years past, pest control services are mostly resilient. At Triangle, our cancels are actually less MTD 2020 than MTD 2019. We’re still seeing customer cancellations — but less than expected. That doesn’t mean that we are out of the water yet — we always see cancellations after first-of-the-month billing, so we will really know the effect of this virus on industry-wide cancel rate after the first week of April.
4 things you can do right now
1. Market, market, market
You can bet that a lot of companies are scared and are pulling back big time. This translates into less competition online and advertising at a discounted rate (the one time that Google’s algorithm works in your favor!)
Know what you are willing to pay for a customer, and maintain the discipline to spend up to that amount in marketing to generate customers. I can almost guarantee you will be getting more customers for your dollar in 2020 than you did in 2019. Also, maintain discipline not to exceed max cost per sale (CPS). We are not out of the mud yet and I would not drain reserves to maximize opportunity — at least not until there is more certainty of how long this is going to last.
If you don’t know your CPS or need help calculating one, just give us a call at Coalmarch, we will be happy to help.
2. Protect your production capability
If you are like most service companies, the limitation to growth is finding people, not opportunity. At Triangle Pest, we have done all that we can to minimize possible exposure to COVID-19 and protect our workforce. All it takes is one person on your team being exposed, that person coming in close proximity to the rest of your team and BAM — all are quarantined. Zero percent productivity, operations shut down, end of story. Here are some ways you can avoid that:
- All office staff work from home. If you can, I would highly recommend moving all in-office operations to a home-based platform. Use a checklist to make sure that your employees’ home can handle the phones. Here is a sample checklist that you can use. Meetings can be done virtually and calls can be answered without any disruption to customers. We have been doing it all this week and have yet to see any negatives (in fact, our outbound team has been selling more from home). If you are concerned about productivity or issues, just use a daily feedback form for your team. Here is a sample.
- All technicians start from home. Make chemical and shop visits work like restaurants are now: drive-thru service only. Right now, we are staggering pick up times, and have our techs texting in needs and a manager preparing boxes and leaving them for the tech to pick up outside.
- All inside services are screened. While the first line of defense is outside service only, one change we made on Monday is to start screening customers to make sure that our techs are kept safe. It was a simple script change and so far we have had no push back from customers. You can view the questions here. Make sure that your techs are equipped with masks, gloves and sanitation solution (50-bleach/50-water) to clean gear if they have to do inside services.
3. Recruit potential employees
I don’t want to sound insensitive, nor unsympathetic… But we have an opportunity right now. In a down market, the industries affected tend to shed workers. In 2009, it was construction. Currently, it’s restaurants and bars. That means opportunities for you to hire people who may have never considered working in home services. Think about running Indeed ads that target people in those specific industries. If you need people (or need an upgrade), now is the time to act. We have better hours, benefits and job stability. You can help someone who needs work and they can help you grow your business. Win/win.
4. Adjust D2D strategy now
I am not suggesting that you can’t do door-to-door (D2D) given the new normal, but what I have seen from our customers doing it, is that you are in for a “less than stellar” year if you don’t make a backup plan. I personally would be looking at alternatives to knocking doors (like digital) and I would be doing that quickly.
My hope is that this information will be helpful to you as you formulate how your company will respond to this situation. My greater hope is for the health, safety and welfare of you, your family, your team and your customers.
As always, feel free to reach out to me directly if you have questions. We are right here with you at Coalmarch and we will continue to do all that we can to weather this storm and help you to continue to grow your business.
Read more COVID-19 coverage here: MyPMP.net/COVID-19
SHELTON is the owner of Triangle Pest Control, and the owner and CEO of Coalmarch, both based in Raleigh, N.C.