Wednesday, May 14, 2008

New termite monitors can lead to hard sell

A recent trend has pest control providers installing termite monitoring stations around residential accounts. These stations are often offered to pest control customers as a free add-on to accompany a standard pest control contract. But there are ethical issues surrounding their use, which I think need some healthy debate.

In case you're not familiar with them, here's how termite monitor stations work. A set of small stations with a termite-attracting, cellulose bait is inserted in the ground around a structure. The stations are designed to be easily monitored by a technician during a regular service visit. Some of these devices have ingenious methods of signalling a termite "hit", similar to the pop-up devices on turkeys used to tell you when they are cooked. Some even allow the homeowner to check their own stations.

The proliferation of these devices begs the question, "What does it really mean to have termites near one's home?" In most cases the answer is, "not much."

Termites, especially in the southern and southeastern states, are commonly found in most yards around homes. Their presence around a house foundation is not usually a cause for alarm. Indeed, they are quite normal.

The ethical issue surrounding these devices concerns what a pest control company does with the information. If the customer is approached with a statement like, "We've found termites in one of our stations, but it's no cause for alarm. I think it would be a good idea to schedule a termite inspection soon, since you haven't had one for awhile. And oh, by the way, I notice that your mulch has been piled a little too high around the foundation, you should lower the mulch and soil line around your foundation to reduce the chance of termites finding their way into your home." This is a responsible use of the information provided by a monitor.

If, on the other hand, your technician or sales person presents the horrified customer with a handful of wriggling termites (collected three feet from their home!) and proceeds to explain that their home is at risk and they should be treated as soon as possible. Well that's not so good. At least one piece of sales literature for a termite monitoring system instructs sales people to tell customers that termite treatment is needed if termites are found in the monitoring station.

To be fair, some customers worry about the smallest termite risk and will want to treat preventatively. This can be a reasonable decision as long as it's understood that the treatment is precautionary and not a necessity. The troublesome issue is human nature. What's to keep some in the industry from putting pressure on a customer to buy a service they don't need? Nothing. The sales literature from one termite station manufacturer offers evidence of that.

It's time to ask ourselves why we really want to use these devices. Is it really customer education? Or is it a marketing gimmick to sell a product that's not really needed? If I'm a consumer, let it be my decision whether I want preventive treatment. If I'm a conscientious pest management business owner, I want a policy in place that tells my sales people exactly how information from termite monitors is to be used.

The last thing the pest management industry needs is negative publicity about how consumers are being duped into buying unecessary services.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Welcome to the new "Insects in the City" blog for the pest management industry. I'm from Texas, and I work for the Texas AgriLife Extension Service as an entomology specialist, so my perspective is unapologetically Texan. But even though some of our pest management issues are unique to the southwest, I trust the interchange presented here will be of interest to others outside our great state and region.

I've grown up with the computer revolution and am generally comfortable with technology, but I'm learning that in many ways I'm still quite new when it comes to the so-called "Web 2.0". This second (2 point Oh) phase of the Internet, with its online communities and interactive sharing of ideas and information, is still a bit of a wonder to me.

Unlike my kids' generation, who have been described as "digital natives", I don't think of my phone as a text message machine. I also don't carry a Blackberry. I'm a "digital immigrant", still in the process of migrating from the old ways of communicating. I still value one-to-one interaction, seeing another person's face, and listening to how the words are spoken, as well as what is said. Nevertheless, I think there's great value in the instantaneous character of communication with the Internet. I can think of no more powerful way to spread ideas and create dialogue than through the world that opens through the keyboard of my PC.

I hope this blog will help us better interact about current topics in IPM and pesticides. I also hope this might be a place where controversial stuff gets discussed. Things like honesty, integrity, the way we present ourselves as professionals, and how our industry is viewed by the public. Most of all, I hope this site will be a way for me to learn from you.

I invite you to share your comments and experiences. That's the beauty of a blog. If you read a posting that really "rings your bell", please add your thoughts at the end of the posting. Positive or not, I'd like to hear from you. Your comments will be available for others visiting the site to read and, in turn, add their thoughts.

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