Rodent Business Is Booming
“I have never bought as much rodenticide as I have in the past year.” Lance Griggs of Spectrum Pest Management in Madison, Ala., isn’t the only PMP making statements like this one, as pest management companies across the country are challenged to keep up with rodent populations many describe as “flourishing.” Whether it’s an uptick in rat and mice infestations, as in Griggs’ market, or primarily rats only, as PMPs in some urban and suburban markets report, rodents are out in full force. Is the industry up to the task? You bet, says Sean Crowley, who has successfully managed a 30 to 40 percent increase in rodent business at New England’s Pest Assassins this year. “We’ve come to expect a lot of rat calls from Newport (R.I.) and other coastal cities, but we’ve never seen the number of calls we’re getting from Boston suburbs. Rats are being displaced in record numbers as vacant-building demolition and condo construction projects in markets like Quincy and Newton (Mass.) push them out of the sewers,” he says.
Similarly, a glut of construction projects are displacing rodents in metro Atlanta, where Billy Blasingame says his crew has, over the past two or three years, seen a sizable increase in house mouse calls from new residential neighborhoods, and many more Norway and roof rats in the vicinity of road construction projects. “Most recently, about a dozen distribution warehouses are being built where farms used to be, and the destruction of that 1,000 or so acres of woodland and pastures is driving Norway rats out into the open,” he says.
Weather is a factor, too. Milder winters, as well as more acute weather events — hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding — continue to contribute to spikes in rodent populations. Scott McGrath recalls the dramatic displacement of rodents by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and overall he has noticed a change in the rhythm of rodent business in the Houston market as it relates to weather. “We used to get more calls when temperatures were cooler, but now, any temperature extreme seems to trigger activity. Cold snaps and 100-degree days are among our busiest.”
Don Hudson, CEO of Wildlife X Team International, says that rat and mouse work offers a steady stream of business and revenue to his franchisees. “We remain busy with rats and mice year-round, and we are seeing growth in this market wherever there are human populations. New neighborhoods lead to new rodent calls.” The following pages offer data from PCT’s 2019 State of the Rodent Market report, along with insights from your peers into how they are leveraging this robust market to their advantage
A Tale of TWO CITIES
Managing rodent populations in city environments can be particularly challenging, whether you’re working solo or in collaboration with municipalities. Here, two PMPs share a glimpse into their own experiences in urban settings, which have helped them come away with unique rodent control insights and strategies.
NEW YORK CITY Tom Sieminski didn’t become “PMP to the stars” by getting mediocre results. His high-profile clients in the five boroughs of New York, as well as the Hamptons and New Jersey, have the utmost confidence in his long-term rodent control strategies, carefully honed since he opened Team Pest Control in 1991. In addition to these celebrity homes and oceanfront properties, Team Pest Control services government and business buildings, restaurants, and multi-million-dollar apartment and condo complexes — many in the heart of the city.
“The growing human population drives growing rodent populations, because there’s more food, garbage and harborage,” says Sieminski, who reports that 30 percent of his business is rodent “In some of the condos we service, the garbage is out of control. Residents dump their trash down a chute, where a compactor bags it, and then it’s stored until it goes out to the curb. So we have three hot spots for rats — the compactor room, the storage room and the curb.”
Adding to this particular challenge is the fact that Sieminski has to do his work “secretly,” because residents don’t want to be aware of potential rodent activity. So while he goes all-out with bait stations, tracking powder, glueboards and snap traps in the compactor room, where no one visits, he carefully hides bait stations in the curb area, inside the 4×4-foot square patches of soil where trees are planted. He baits in the storage room as well, but says that’s a tough spot: “The rodents aren’t too interested in the baits because they want what’s in the bags,” he says. Restaurants in the city pose an interesting challenge as well. “The back of the house tends to be an afterthought to a lot of operators; as long as they don’t have a front-of-the-house problem, they don’t want to hear about the need for sanitation in the back,” Sieminski says. “We’ll go in at midnight after they close and put out glue boards in a gigantic ‘X’ or ‘T’ in the kitchen and dining room, and then send technicians in at 5 a.m. to clear them out before the restaurant reopens. We do this night after night until we get to zero, but the issue inevitably starts up again because, no matter how many times we try to communicate the vital importance of kitchen sanitation, operators just don’t prioritize it.” Sieminski also has experience with tiny “ghost kitchens” located away from their parent restaurants. Teams come in at night to power wash the floors, walls and stainless steel equipment in these production facilities, he explains; unfortunately, rodent control devices can get washed away in the process. “I’ve learned to collaborate with these cleaning crews so we’re placing the glueboards after they’ve finished sanitizing.” “There’s no other restaurant culture in the world like New York,” he adds. “This city is its own animal.”
It’s nothing new for Vic Palermo to be approached by the media about rats these days. Boston is among the U.S. cities with sizable rat populations, and Palermo and his team at Ultra Safe Pest Management have been able to turn this trend into new business opportunities.
As rodent populations have increased throughout the decade, Ultra Safe has grown its rodent work to roughly 30 percent of total revenues, and now offers advanced rodent-related add-on services: custom exclusion methods to stop rodents from entering structures and specialized rodent debris clean-up services. (See “Hazardous Clean-Up Services” article on page 4.) “I saw it coming seven or eight years ago and predicted that rats would become the new bed bugs in Boston,” he says. “We’ve seen rats proliferate here over the past four or five years.”
Public health is of utmost concern to Palermo and his team. The company website warns the public about rat-borne diseases — plague, jaundice, rat-bite fever, cowpox virus, trichinosis, salmonella, etc. — and of the health risks of fleas, ticks and mites that rats can carry into a home or business. Taking that concern one step further, Ultra Safe works with city agencies to help control rodent populations in public parks, schools and neighborhoods .
“Municipal work can be challenging because there continues to be a low-bid procurement mindset, which doesn’t typically align with our customized, integrated approach,” explains Palermo. “To stay profitable and deliver desired results, we have to be selective about which projects we bid on. Generally, when circumstances include a serious infestation and there’s a lot of pressure from citizens — parents at a school, for example — municipalities are more receptive to an aggressive plan of action. We encourage our customers to break out of that lowest-bidder mindset and commit to a customized, integrated program that will actually work.”
Palermo’s team starts these engagements off with a meeting of the various stakeholders and people in charge — e.g., city officials, property managers, community leaders and residents. “The more leaders we can get involved, the better, because then everyone shares a common set of expectations and works toward the same goal,” he says. Local pest management professionals also work hand-in-hand with various health departments throughout the Boston area to educate restaurants and businesses that aren’t managing trash or other conducive conditions properly.
“We make sure our technicians are well-versed in public health protocols as it relates to pest management,” Palermo says. “We’re always incorporating new programs like the NPMA QualityPro Public Health Certification into our ongoing training. We recognize the importance of maintaining a high level of knowledge and expertise while utilizing the latest information and technology available.”
RODENT CLEAN-UP SERVICES: WORTH THE INVESTMENT?
Exclusion and rodent-proofing services are part of the standard rodent protocol for many pest management companies. But PMPs often draw the line at hazardous cleanup. In part, that’s because it requires an investment in equipment and insurance. What can be most cost-prohibitive, though, says Vic Palermo, president and entomologist at Ultra Safe Pest Management, is the time a cleanup crew needs to sink into the effort.
“This kind of remediation is extremely labor-intensive, plus it’s not the most pleasant kind of work,” he says. “We offer technicians incentives to make it worthwhile for them, but they really have to put extra effort into it, from training to the actual experience of prepping and cleaning the area. We don’t offer this to customers as a mainstream service, but some circumstances require us to go this extra mile.”
Here’s what Palermo has invested to equip Ultra Safe staff for cleanups:
- Training to educate technicians about protecting themselves and decontaminating areas without causing cross-contamination.
- Specialized insurance policies to cover technicians faced with the unique hazards associated with this type of work.
- Large HEPA vacuums (smaller, portable vacs often aren’t enough).
- PPE including full-body protective suits and full-face respirators.
- Air cleaning machines and scrubbers to filter dust particles and recycle the air.
Additionally, Palermo has worked to build relationships with disposal companies to ensure his team has options for dumping waste materials. “The key to making a profit on cleanup is having the right equipment, staff and training, and setting clear expectations with the customer of our capabilities and what’s required to complete the job,” he says. “If they see the value, then we take the job.”
ABOUT THIS SURVEY
The PCT 2019 State of the Rodent Market survey was
sponsored by Bell Laboratories and compiled by Readex Research, a privately held research firm based in Stillwater, Minn. A sample of 8,713 owners, operators, executives and technical directors of pest control businesses was systematically selected from the PCT database. Data was collected from 459 respondents — a 5 percent response rate — via an online survey from July 30-Aug. 8, 2019.
To best represent the audience of interest, 20 respondents who indicated their companies do not offer rodent control services were eliminated from the survey. The margin of error for percentages based on the 439 respondents who indicated their company location offers rodent control services is ±4.6 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. Charts
may not equal 100 percent due to rounding.