Growing Your Service Company during COVID-19

COVID-19 update for pest control owners

We're one week into the COVID-19 pandemic. The fear and uncertainty of this virus, along with the damage that it is going to inflict on both the US 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. 

The recent ruling from Homeland Security declaring pest industry activities as essential has given many pest control companies the chance to keep their doors open - but the question remains: How is this going to affect your service company?

We're hearing lots of concerning stories in the wake of COVID-19, but we're also seeing evidence that points to the fact that the pest and lawn care industries may not have the same bleak outlook as many others during this global health crisis.

In fact, across the board, this is what Triangle Pest Control and many of our Coalmarch clients are seeing:

Search Volume Has Remained 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% in March 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 – meaning people are actively searching for pest control more this March compared to last, despite the outbreak.

Half of our client base is trending to meet 100% of their March lead goal - and 89% of our clients 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.) 

Customer Behavior Doesn't Show Panic (Yet!)

Listen to this 1-minute call - 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.

(Think that's an anomaly? Here's another one.) 

While we're not quite ready to run a victory lap on consumer behavior just yet - there's a lot riding on the severity of the storm ahead, how long this virus will have it's hold, and dropoffs in unemployment in other industries that may take a hit - we're not seeing an elevated level of panic from consumers in week one.  

Sales are Still Happening

Our hearts go out to restaurant and bar owners right now, many of whom are seeing sales down over 70% (if they're open at all!) These businesses are in the midst of a major depression, with no clear end in sight. 

We're not seeing the same effect on our clients. In fact, we're seeing lots of signs that point to stability.

At Triangle Pest, our sales have been on par to what they were last year. Given the situation - mostly flat is a BIG win. 

Cancellations Have Not Increased (Much) 

Economic downturn and uncertainty like we're facing with the Coronavirus typically results in customers tightening their belts wherever they can. 

The question then becomes - who makes the cut, and who doesn't? What are consumers deeming as essential? 

As we've seen in years past, lawn and pest tend to be resilient.
(Humans are slowing down, but this virus isn't going to stop pests from doing their thing!)

In fact, Triangle Pest Control is seeing fewer cancellations MTD in 2020 than in 2019 so far.

While they haven't exceeded their expected attrition level, billing on April 1 may show otherwise. Cancellations typically happen after first of the month billing, and we'll have a better idea of how the virus plays a part in cancel rate then. 

What Can You Do Right Now to Grow Your Business? 

The pest and lawn industries are in a favorable position compared to many others during this outbreak - but it's the decisions you make over the coming weeks that will determine how your business weathers this situation. 

1. Market, Market, Market! 

The instinct of a lot of companies is to react with fear, and to pull back.

This translates to lower competition online, meaning you'll be able to get greater visibility at a lower cost. (The one time Google's algorithm works in your favor!) We're anticipating that many of our clients will get more customers for their dollar in 2020 than in 2019 - even in the midst of a pandemic. 

The key is to know what you are willing to pay for a customer.

Once you have a maximum cost per sale, it's a matter of maintaining the discipline to spend up to that amount in marketing to generate customers, as well as not exceeding that amount. (Draining reserves to maximize opportunity is risky until we have more certainty in how long this health crisis will last.) 

Wondering what your maximum cost per sale should be? How much risk are you willing to take? 

At Triangle Pest, the average value per customer produces about $500 in annual revenue. The risk tolerance is about $250 cost per sale - a safe, affordable amount that doesn't require the company to dip into reserves. Cash comes back quick, as the account is profitable after 6 months. As a business owner, you may be more comfortable with a higher or lower risk, but you need to have an intentional measure of where that risk tolerance is. 

(Need help calculating your CPS? We're happy to help - contact us!) 

2. Protect Your Production Capability

If you're like most service companies, you know that the limit to growth is in finding people - not in opportunity. Which is why protecting your workforce is critical during this health crisis. 

All it takes is one employee who has been exposed to COVID-19, that person coming into contact with the rest of your team in the office - and suddenly, your entire team is quarantined. 0% productivity. 

Here are some ways you can avoid that: 

Office Staff, Out of Office 

If you can, send your CSRs home. Allowing as many in-office employees to practice social distancing can help limit the spread of COVID-19 and lowers the risk threshold for technicians who can't work from home.  

Triangle Pest Control shared their sample checklist that you can use to ensure each employee's home is able to handle the phones. 

Meetings can be done virtually, and calls can be answered without disruption to customers. In fact, Triangle Pest Control's outbound team has been selling MORE from home this week!

Developing infrastructure for a remote workforce FAST? Here are some tips.

Have Technicians Start from Home

Run your routes starting from each technician's home. Take the lead from restaurants and make chemical and shop visits drive thru service only.

Triangle Pest Control has staggered pickup times, and are having technician text their supply needs in so a manager can prepare a box and leave it for the tech to pick up outside. 

Screen Your Inside Services 

Some business owners have made the decision to operate with outside service only. 

Another option is to start screening customers to ensure that techs are kept safe. Triangle Pest Control implemented a simple screening questionnaire in their call-ahead process (you can view the questions here!) to limit any interaction with homeowners who have been exposed, and so far have not seen any customer pushback.

You can also make sure that techs are protected by equipping them with masks, gloves, and a sanitation solution (1 part bleach, 1 part water) to clean their gear if they do have to complete inside services.  

3. Potential Employees

At the risk of sounding insensitive - COVID-19 has provided you with a great opportunity to expand your workforce. When the market is down, industries affected tend to shed workers rapidly. There are plenty of people facing economic uncertainty, temporary unemployment while businesses are shut down during the pandemic, and potential long-term unemployment if businesses are not able to reopen. This means you have an opportunity to hire people who may have never considered working in home services.

Consider running ads on Indeed or ZipRecruiter to target people in those specific industries while they are out of work. If you need people, now is the time to act. You can help someone who needs work, and they can help grow your business - a win/win.  

4. Reevaluate D2D

There are plenty of businesses that have experienced rapid growth in recent months or years based on a door-to-door format, and while we're not suggesting that you can’t make D2D work in the midst of this pandemic, it's likely that you'll need to rely on other methods to supplement your traditional marketing strategy.

People are less likely to open the door for a stranger during social distancing, and are less likely to have a favorable experience with door-to-door sales tactics during this outbreak. Instead, consider how digital marketing can help you fill the gaps with high-ROI opportunities online. (Coalmarch can help!)

Coalmarch is committed to sharing information and do whatever we can to help your business grow. Our hope is that this information will be helpful to you as you lead your company through this ever-evolving situation. We also hope it will help you make decisions that protect the health, safety, and welfare of your employees and your customers.