Pest management professionals (PMPs) who offer termite control services say business has been better than expected during the coronavirus pandemic.
“During the first quarter of 2020, I never thought I would have said this, but it has been a banner year for termite management work,” says Tim Goeringer, president of JHTG Inc. dba Orkin Pest Control, Prescott Valley, Ariz. “And I expect 2021 to be even better.”
To learn more about PMPs’ experiences in these unprecedented times, Pest Management Professional’s (PMP’s) 2021 Termite Management Survey included the open-ended question: What impact has the coronavirus pandemic had on your termite management business? The majority of responses were “minimal to none,” as termite control work remained steady in 2020.
Some PMPs tell us they believe COVID-19 changed consumer behavior. For Goeringer’s customers, funds saved for vacations are being used instead on home improvement projects, as pandemic-related state and local stay-at-home mandates limit travel, he says.
Trevor Jones, general manager of Admiral Pest Control in Bellflower, Calif., agrees, saying customers working from home has been good for business.
“If the trend from 2020 continues, I expect my termite management business to continue to increase,” he says. “Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, we have seen a lot of people putting their saved vacation money toward home repairs, including termite treatments and repair work.”
The coronavirus pandemic also had an impact on home sales. The National Association of Realtors’ Pending Home Sales Index shows year-over-year contract signings were up 20 percent as of October. The increase can be attributed to the desire for those working from home to buy their first homes or purchase larger ones, as well as to historically low mortgage rates.
“Home buying has been strong during the pandemic; it’s definitely a seller’s market,” says EcoChoice Termite & Pest Control President Emillio Polce. Business for his Vernon, Conn.-based company has been good during the pandemic. Although last year’s first quarter started off well, the first two months of the second quarter were shaky. Then all of a sudden, he says, it started turning around.
Thanks to strong home sales, Dannielle Nieves, president of A&A Pest Control in Portland, Ore., expects a bit more termite work this year compared to last. “People are buying and selling a lot of real estate here in the Pacific Northwest in the past couple years, and I believe it will only keep going up,” she says.
Nieves is not alone. This year’s survey shows 96 percent of PMPs who responded project termite jobs will increase in 2021. In addition, more than a third of those who answered the survey say existing residential structures account for the majority of their termite management revenue.
“There are not many other pests that cause the damage termites do. Someone’s biggest investment isn’t going to be structurally compromised by ants or cockroaches,” explains Robert Brant, owner of Hawk Mosquito & Pest in Chesapeake, Va. “Protecting families from illness, and homes and businesses from damage, should be at the core of every pest control company’s duties. How would your business stay afloat if that wasn’t your mantra?”
PMP’s Termite Management Survey always invites respondents to include their best tips, and working with real estate agents consistently makes the list.
Partnering with real estate agents leads to additional pest control work, according to responses from PMPs. Polce says at first, it was a tough market to enter. That changed when a real estate agent encouraged him to join a tri-county board of Realtors that held an annual meeting where he and other affiliate members could set up a booth, meet Realtors in the area, and hand out literature explaining their companies’ service offerings.
“We’ve offered discounts to every Realtor we’ve ever met, and it’s something we still do every year,” Polce adds. “We’ve really grown our presence in our market.”
He has attended morning meeting and lunch-and-learn events to explain the National Pest Management Association (NPMA)-33 Wood Destroying Insect inspection form. He leaves a refrigerator magnet and brochure in the homes he inspects for real estate agents and new homeowners. When a new homeowner closes on a home his company treated for termites, he will mail or hand-deliver a letter with his company’s information and a copy of the warranty.
“Sharpen your pencils. Real estate agents are not looking for someone who is going to be a dealbreaker,” Polce advises. “They want someone who can be flexible and work with them.”
Working together inevitably leads to additional business, he says.
BUNDLING BOOSTS BUSINESS
John Morgan, owner of Signature Pest Control in Wichita, Kan., says loyalty is one of the ways customers show their thanks for the termite protection his company provides.
“None of us much enjoys crawling around on our belly under a house, drilling injection holes through concrete slabs, or digging trenches in rock-hard soil, but we do experience a lot of satisfaction when we are able to help someone protect their family’s home or the business they poured their heart and soul into,” he explains. “When you work hard like that to help someone, they notice. You gain their trust, and when they have another pest problem, they don’t hesitate to call you.”
Admiral Pest Control’s Jones says numerous customers have taken advantage of his company’s yearly termite control service plan for decades, some since the 1950s.
“It gives us a lot of pride knowing we have been taking care of these customers’ termite issues for decades, often over multiple generations as properties are passed down,” he says. “These customers can be very lucrative, as we build trustworthy relationships over years of service. Not only do they provide the best referrals, but they are the easiest to sell additional services to.”
Polce says bundling his services has helped grow his termite management business. By charging more for quarterly services, which include a warranty, recurring revenue increases. He promotes his company’s bundled services front-and-center on the home page of the company’s website, and shows the monthly price and what his services cover.
“The more services a customer uses, the longer they stay on the books,” he adds. “Because of bundling, we are looking at another year of 20 percent growth.”
Brant aims to grow Hawk Mosquito & Pest’s termite management services by 50 percent this year. “Our customers love our bundled plans like general pest and termite,” he says. “I want to certify more technicians and have them be top-notch at what they do, including termite prevention and control.”
Termite work wouldn’t be possible without highly trained technicians. Taz Tyrone, president of Acme Pest Management in West Memphis, Ark., says training is critical because of the liability his company takes on when providing termite protection services and agreements.
Signature Pest Control’s Morgan says newly hired termite technicians work with his senior technicians throughout the entire termite management process, beginning with the initial inspection and consultation.
“Books and online resources can be helpful, but there is no substitute for on-the-job training,” he says. “Experience is the best teacher.”
With that experience comes value. PMPs responding to our 2021 Termite Management Survey recommend charging customers accordingly.
“Termite management is a higher-ticket item; you can charge more for it,” Polce says. “Even in the real estate market where you are giving a discount, you are still making a decent profit.”
Customers may not understand the value of your termite management services, however. JHTG Inc.’s Goeringer says he will not budge on price, and explains to customers why a quality termite treatment is worth paying for — to protect their largest investment — and why the quality of the company offering the warranty matters.
“We will walk away from a job if a potential client insists on a lowball price,” he says. “As professionals, we’re entitled to make a fair profit, and if we have to sacrifice quality to meet a price point, no one comes out a winner. In the end, a good client values our service and is willing to pay for that service.”
The new year seems promising, as many PMPs who responded to our survey expect additional termite management work in 2021.
“The economic recovery from the pandemic should improve the demand for termite management services, because more people will be able to afford these services,” says Zac Brown, manager of Clancy Brothers Pest Control in Braintree, Mass.
As Signature Pest Control’s Morgan points out, termites are not going anywhere, not even during a pandemic.
“One of the things that 2020 reminded us of is that life is unpredictable. But through it all, termites continued to swarm, and to show up in garages and basements and windows and walls,” he concludes. “We’ll continue to watch weather patterns and keep our eyes peeled for termites all year long. When they show up, we’ll be ready for them.”
Read more: Termite work for the taking