Pest manager Jay Turner shares his approach to managing the needs of different types of customer during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We are entering scary and uncertain times with the advent of COVID-19 and there is no doubt we are all going to feel the financial impact from this. One thing I have been trying to do is pre-empt which areas of my business this financial downturn is going to affect, and how.

To do so I have been looking at each of the different categories of work we do. The most obvious one is food production premises such as restaurants and cafes. The second is strata managed properties (commonly called body corporate managed), where properties are jointly owned and comprise multiple units, common areas and common facilities. Here I’ll share some information on how we are managing our services and customers within these two categories.

If you have been anything like me, you would have been fielding calls from your commercial clients left, right and centre for the last few weeks. If you’re getting these calls, here’s a few important points to consider when discussing potentially suspending their services during these enforced closures.

Despite the financial constraints clients might be experiencing, pest control is more important than ever. A shut down kitchen, in 24-hour darkness, without a frequent cleaning schedule, is a pest time bomb waiting to happen. I have personally seen this on several occasions, and it isn’t pretty. Foodstuffs are not going to be turned over or rotated as frequently, possibly being left to spoil, making them highly susceptible to stored product pests.

Drains and sinks are not going to be regularly flushed with water and will be left to stagnate, causing ideal conditions for moth and fermentation flies. With fewer staff frequenting the premises, observation of pest activity may go unnoticed for some time. A rat that gains access to an unoccupied kitchen would have a field day and a small German cockroach issue could soon develop into a big one and undo all our hard work.

I have been dealing with each client on a case by case basis, but in most instances, we’ve organised with the client to space our services out a bit, and keep it to a minimum, by inspecting and treating only as required. It’s more about just keeping an eye on things so that when they do reopen for full operation, they don’t find any nasty surprises and have to deal with a pest issue as well!

I have spoken to many pest managers over the last few days, and many owner-operators have opted to service their handful of commercial clients at no cost to the client, and others with a larger portfolio have offered to service at cost price only. This is no doubt a very hard decision as we are all feeling the pinch, and typically I’m not a fan of discounting as it decreases the value of our services. But these are unprecedented circumstances and a time where we have to weigh up the need to earn a living versus trying to do the right thing. What you arrange with your client in regards to servicing and pricing is up to you and your client, but I would strongly advise against completely suspending services for your commercial clients during this period.

Strata managed properties, such as holiday let accommodation such as resorts, or permanently occupied residences and businesses, are a slightly different story. My first thoughts were that pest control would be one of the first expenses that these establishments would drop in order to cut costs over the coming months. However, after spending the day speaking to several of our resort managers and body corporate managers to get a feel for what will happen, this doesn’t seem to be the case. The main reason being that body corporate expenses are typically forecasted and budgeted for in advance. Therefore, the funds for pest control have typically already been put aside.

The other reason is that the body corporate fees that each individual owner has to pay is divided up into an administrative fund and a sinking fund. The administrative fund is used for those everyday anticipated expenses such as maintenance, gardening, pool servicing, cleaning, electricity and water for common areas, and of course pest control. Whereas the sinking fund is used for capital expenses for the building such as painting, major repairs, replacement costs and any other infrequent expenditure. So, the sinking fund is often used for those unexpected costs, possibly even shortfalls from owners not paying their body corporate fees, during an economic downturn.

There is no doubt that there will be some smaller body corporate managed properties that will feel the pinch from this economic downturn due to poor financial planning and not having any reserves in their sinking fund. But the common consensus is that pest control is an essential service and one that should not be impacted by the predicted COVID-19 financial crisis. I was even advised by a body corporate manager not to discount our services during this period as it will only cause issues with financial predictions for the following year.

To end on a further positive note, holiday let premises are at their all-time lowest occupancy rate, meaning access into most units is going to be a lot easier, with fewer visits required. And then add the fact there will be a lot less mopping between guests – meaning our products should last significantly longer. And hence less chance of service calls!

Jay Turner, Owner, Laguna Pest Control

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