Tech savvy

Using separate lawn care and structural pest control technicians can still save you time and money.

January 26, 2012
Lee Chilcote
Industry News

As many as four dozen types of weeds invade the lawns of the Florida Panhandle each year, and the lawn care techs at Brock Lawn and Pest Control know them all. The front line staff of this 35-year-old, family-owned company comes well-equipped to stop interlopers like broad-leaf and grassy weeds right in their tracks.

That’s why, despite all the chatter in the lawn care industry about universal techs helping to boost efficiency, Brock Lawn and Pest Control owner Tim Brock has retained separate techs for lawn care and structural pest control. To him, it just makes sense from a quality standpoint because of the level of specialization that is required.  

“From a strictly financial standpoint, the universal method makes a lot of sense,” Brock says. “But especially given that product selection is so much larger on the lawn care side, we just felt those techs had enough to think about. You’ve got to think about the quality of service, and so we made a decision to stick with dedicated technicians.”

That’s not to say that Brock’s techs are not prepared to handle multiple types of problems. The firm’s lawn care techs are cross-trained so that they can recommend the right services if they identify structural pest control issues at a customer’s property, and vice versa. Brock’s salespeople are also well-versed in selling multiple services.

What it does mean is that the $3 million company is able to offer its clients both kinds of treatments while also retaining the high-quality service it’s become known for.

“For the majority of our customers that have multiple services, they’re using us for both services,” says Brock, whose company’s geographic territory includes the entire Panhandle, with three offices in Panama City, Marianna and Santa Rosa/Destin.

Deciding to stick with specialized technicians was not easy and required some thoughtful retooling, says Brock, who grew up immersed in the family business and never seriously considered doing anything else after he graduated from college.

“During a typical service period, I’m often sending two techs out to a customer’s house, one to do pest control and termite service and one to do lawn care,” Brock says. “If you’re using the universal method, you can reduce a tech’s route size, which reduces their windshield time. Less driving means they’re able to service more customers.”

Brock overcame this problem by lessening the frequency of his lawn care services – whereas he used to provide monthly service, he now provides it six times per year. When he made this switch five years ago, he also took the opportunity to raise prices, justifying it to customers by explaining that bi-monthly service was more efficient.

“The cost of fuel, vehicles and insurance are high, so for the sake of efficiency we decided to go every other month,” Brock says. “But we didn’t want our quality to go down, so we invested some of the money we saved into product selection. Our quality got better even though we reduced our frequency, and customers appreciate that.”

Another key competitive advantage held by Bock is that it has cultivated its relationships with Florida’s many part-time residents – known as snowbirds – by offering them consistent, year-round services even when they’re living somewhere else.

“That’s been a big advantage that some of my competitors were not providing,” Brock says. “They were not communicating well with customers when they weren’t here.”

Working with the snowbird population requires plenty of both education and communication, Brock says. Many residents that have lived primarily in the North are not accustomed to the level of “pest pressure” that exists throughout Florida. Additionally, these residents are not accustomed to the unique problems that face Southern turfgrasses, which are wholly different from Northern turfgrasses. 

Yet Brock says that many of these challenges can be overcome through educating the customer and providing them with the same high-quality service even when they’re not around.  “Irrigation systems may have to be adjusted, mowing frequency may have to be adjusted,” he says. “It’s imperative that we communicate with the customer or the lawn maintenance company that’s doing the mow, blow and go.”

In some cases, Brock says, they can tweak services on their own – yet communication is still critical. “We can also adjust things like sprinkler head systems ourselves. When we tout our services as being year-round, it offers peace of mind for our customers.”

Despite the recent recession, Brock has found that the company’s lawn care business has actually grown steadily over the last couple of years. “You’d think lawn care would be the first thing to go, but I guess people care what their neighbors think,” he says.

For companies that are seeking to add structural pest control services to what they offer, Brock says do plenty of research and hire an expert on staff. “In Florida, an overwhelming majority of companies provide both services, but that’s unusual when you look at the country as a whole,” he says. “The two businesses fit together really well and have lots of similarities, but they are also different.”

The highly technical nature of structural pest control requires that companies have someone on staff who is an expert on distinguishing between different types of pests. “Bed bugs are a big deal,” he says. “But if a customer complains about bites, your tech needs to know if it’s bed bugs, fleas or ticks. They have to know how to identify them.”

One effective way to educate yourself and your staff, Brock says, is to get involved in your local pest management association. Associations offer a wealth of resources on industry best practices as well as access to various experts in the field. Industry associations can also help to connect you to valuable networking opportunities.

Brock is currently president of the Florida Pest Management Association, and he is also involved in the National Pest Management Association. “Associations can be a good resource for anyone who is looking to add another service,” he says.

This is one of three stories that appeared in Lawn & Landscape's Growing Green e-newsletter. To continue reading about Brock Lawn and Pest Control:

Marketing mix: Brock Lawn and Pest Control hasn’t dropped its traditional advertising to just chase Web surfers.

Mad dash: Offering same-day service can work if you have the right chain of command.