Monday, January 5, 2009

Making the most of pest control's "dog days"

Historically the term "dog days" refers to the hottest, most sultry part of the summer. According to Wikipedia, the term was first used by the Greeks and Romans (who called this period caniculares dies-- literally, days of the dogs) after Sirius, the "Dog Star", the brightest star in the heavens which becomes visible each year around early July. For the ancients the dog days marked an evil time "when... wine turned sour, dogs grew mad, and all creatures became languid." In modern usage, "dog days" also refers to a slow, unproductive time of year, or as the Random House Dictionary puts it, "any period of quiescence [resting, or inactivity]".

By the latter definition, January is surely the "dog days" of the pest control business. As I sit inside and watch the freezing drizzle out my window, it's hard to remember how busy we all get during the termite, ant, spider and scorpion season (though cockroaches don't seem to care what season it is).

Entomology Department Head Kevin Heinz addresses Texas Pest Control Professionals at the 2005 winter workshopNevertheless, there's plenty to do right now. This is, after all, one of the best times of year to get yourself re-trained, and to invest in the professionalism of your employees. Next week one of the best training opportunities of the year for those of us in Texas will take place in College Station at the 63rd annual Pest Management Conference and Workshop.

The keynote speaker for this year's meeting is Lloyd Smigel, columnist for Pest Management Professional magazine, motivational speaker and pest control company consultant since 1988. You won't want to miss him or any of the other great speakers and topics next week. The conference traditionally kicks off with the Bill Davis Memorial Golf Tournament on Tuesday (Jan 13), and the sessions run from Wednesday 7:45 am to noon on Friday.

Whether you live in Texas, or Kentucky or California or Florida, make it a point to support your university or association annual training conferences. Yes, it can be expensive to send yourself or your employees for 3-4 days of training at an out-of-town site. But consider the benefits. Some of your staff (perhaps for the first time) will begin to see themselves as professionals, part of a large, important industry. Others will be encouraged when they see the kinds of research being conducted by a large university to answer their questions and help them serve their customers better. All should be inspired by presentations by graduate students who are dedicating their careers and lives to the pest management industry. And if it's available to you (it is at the Texas A&M conference) don't pass up the chance to tour campus research labs devoted to urban entomology research. And last, but not least, among the benefits of these training classes, you and your employees will establish contacts with other professionals, some of whom may become lifelong friends.

One of the things that impresses me most about our industry is how people are willing to share what they've learned with others--including competitors. Knowledge may not be free, but it's available to anyone willing to learn.

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