Change is constant. With a national pandemic altering how pest management professionals (PMPs) conduct business, that tried-and-true saying is more relevant now than ever before. Certified Sentricon Specialist® (CSS) Erin Richardson of All-American Pest Control, Inc., is no stranger to change. In addition to addressing the challenges COVID-19 presents, All-American Pest Control was in the path of a Nashville tornado that leveled buildings and left the office without power.
Fortunately, Richardson has responded to both the tornado and COVID-19 by using each hurdle to rebuild, improve and even reinvent parts of her business. Read on to learn how Richardson has kept her business running smoothly during uncertain times.
1. Learn Your Limitations
When the Nashville tornadoes struck Tuesday, March 3, Richardson quickly learned the limitations of working remotely. “Directly across the street from us was total destruction,” Richardson said. “We were lucky to escape that kind of damage, but we were without power. Phones weren’t working, and we didn’t have enough supplies. We had maybe half the sales team up and running that week, and the power didn’t come back on until Friday.”
While challenging, the tornado prepared Richardson and her team for the COVID-19 pandemic. “The very next week, we put together our COVID-19 plan. We knew our limitations and were able to address them through careful planning,” she said.
Richardson prioritized keeping staff safe by adhering to social distancing initiatives, sending half the team home to work remotely and separated remaining office members so only one employee occupied each room. Knowing that communication was vital during this time, Richardson also shifted weekly leadership meetings to daily check-ins and transformed weekly performance reviews into a daily scorecard system. “The scorecard system helped us stay focused on numbers, allowing us to stay present instead of forecasting anxiety and uncertainty,” Richardson said.
2. Invest in Technology
When disaster struck, Richardson was intent on improving the technological capabilities of her business. “The tornado gave us a lot of clarity. We realized how much we needed to effectively work from home. We ordered more laptops for remote workers, updated our phones to a cloud-based system and transitioned to 100% remote work by mid-March,” she said.
These measures allowed Richardson to continue to communicate effectively with her team and respond to customer calls more quickly by conducting meetings without face-to-face contact, positioning All-American on solid ground for what became months of working in a new way.
3. Cut Where You Can, Spend Where You Must
All that technology didn’t come free of charge. While investing in laptops and a new phone system was necessary, Richardson created a plan to cut expenses in all areas that were unnecessary should their team need to offset costs.
“We created a list of 10 things that we could cut immediately if we needed to,” Richardson said. “We held onto everything that was going to help us grow — and created a plan for everything that wasn’t.”
In the end, Richardson offset the cost of technology by cutting some traditional marketing costs and increasing their use of free PR, such as making connections with local radio stations. Existing paid radio ads were changed to reflect the current moment as well. Richardson noted her team re-cut and re-recorded several radio spots to reflect the commitment All-American has made to remaining empathetic during the pandemic. “We want to take a flexible, helpful point of view rather than sponsoring a strictly sales-forward message,” she said.
Richardson also used social service programs to enhance company visibility while giving back to the community. One such program Richardson implemented involved celebrating a hometown hero, gifting a local figure with free pest control and a free installation of the Sentricon® system to reward the outstanding community service. This year, All-American chose a public health figure to spotlight — a local nurse who has gone above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic.
4. Create a Game Plan for Technicians
Richardson knew that, above all, a pest management business is only as good as the technicians who get rid of the pests. As part of its COVID-19 plan, All-American Pest Control developed additional safety procedures that would allow technicians to continue to service properties while remaining safe and healthy.
“First, we implemented exterior-only service,” Richardson said. “We agreed to keep our technicians outside as much as possible, allowing interior service for emergencies only. We also have our technicians wear their respirators inside, which provide similar protection to N-95 masks.”
Other protective measures included:
- Implementing no-sign service agreements
- Calling upon arrival instead of knocking on doors
- Customer health screenings
- Committing to a summer-long social distancing plan
While strict, the measures are good for business, Richardson said. “If someone at All-American were exposed to COVID-19, all of us would have to be quarantined, and business would slow to a crawl. So, it’s best for both our health and the health of our company,” she said.
5. Above All, Focus On the Now
What can fellow CSSs take from Richardson’s experience? In short: Act quickly yet strategically. By staying grounded in the numbers, knowing what drivers brought the business forward, prioritizing the health and safety of staff and making the most of communication channels, All-American has actually experienced an increase in revenue since the tornado struck. While she is thankful for her continued success, Richardson believes success for PMPs starts with focusing on what matters most: the present.
“More than anything, don’t get stuck in the past. Don’t rely on how you think it should be or how it was. And don’t think too much about the future, either,” Richardson said. “You have to focus on what’s happening now and be completely transparent with your team, as well as relying on others. We’re all in this together, and we’re only going to get through this together.
“We have a saying we’ve been using during these times. Pests don’t hit pause during a pandemic. And neither can we.”