The biggest event in the pest management industry calendar, Pesticon 2023, is taking place at The Star Gold Coast from 16 to 18 August this year. Hosted by the Australian Environmental Pest Managers Association Limited (AEPMA) and supported by Rapid Solutions, it brings together suppliers and stakeholders for three days of sharing ideas and learning from experts and each other. If staying current in your knowledge and on top of industry changes is on your list of priorities, this is the event for you.
This year’s theme is “What Customers Want”, with the focus on customer expectations and how to overcome the barriers businesses face in meeting these expectations. We spoke to AEPMA president Vasili Tsoutouras on industry changes in the last couple of years, business challenges, and why everyone should join Pesticon 2023.
You’ve dedicated your whole career, not just as a business owner, to pest management. What do you love about this industry?
I was born into this industry, so it’s in my blood, so to speak. The other reason I love it is that I believe we fix people’s problems, which is honourable in my opinion. I look around at so many other friends of mine in other professions, and a lot of them are seeking purpose. As pest controllers, we’ve got purpose every single day.
We get to genuinely contribute to society and the environment in a positive way, and we genuinely make people’s lives better as an industry.
This industry has afforded me what I consider a wonderful life to date, and I can only see a better life ahead of me. I feel indebted to it, hence my effort towards the greater pest control industry, not just our businesses. I think if you can, you should. It’s a duty.
I can imagine it’s very gratifying to be able to solve people’s problems in such a practical direct way, every day?
Definitely. Our average technician typically wasn’t necessarily the most exceptionally academic person. They probably weren’t the jock at school either. They’ve probably been the quiet person in the room their whole life and then they get to fix people’s problems and get a massive sense of gratification out of it. That’s the person we seek because we find that they’re the ones who are the most successful long term employees in our industry – that quiet person who’s never been super expressive.
They’re hard working, and you grab them and put them into a pest control job and they light up because it’s the first time someone has looked at them and thanked them for a job well done.
The past few years with COVID-19 have been interesting times for pest management businesses in Australia. How did your members fare during the past 3 years? What, if anything, changed in the pest management sector as a result of COVID?
To start with, COVID was obviously extremely scary and you would have hated to be a person in business at that point in time. Owning a business was probably the scariest thing you could have possibly done; that’s the reality of it.
But we soon found purpose again because we were able to offer services like a disinfection service and then we realised how crucial we were because we were an essential service in the end. It’s almost like it took the pandemic to realise how integral we are and really understand that in its entirety. I think we always knew that we were important, but we didn’t know the gravity of the situation and our importance to society and to the whole mechanics of our way of life.
So I think there was some really good lessons. COVID showed us how important we are.
Our industry definitely grew on the back of COVID. We became more professional and we were definitely more recognised by the public. In the end, COVID wasn’t a detractor from our industry. It was something that has made us even more important and it’s allowed us to spread our wings even further and really understand how important we are in the chain.
What do you mean by ‘we became more professional during COVID’?
At a business level, we got better at writing. So for instance work method statements and standard operating procedures because all of that became more necessary in the process of COVID.
There was growth, business owners saw room for improvement. In my business alone, COVID allowed for extra training. We had all of our supervisors and management teams complete their diplomas in work, health and safety.
We all became a bit more professional and that was partly because the consumer required it from us, and partly because we saw the opportunity to be better.
Want to find out more about excellent training opportunities for your staff? Read more here:Traineeships For Pest Controllers And How To Access ThemGovernment Initiatives For Training: An InterviewOptimise Your Downtime With Training
You say you became more appreciated during COVID. What do you mean by that?
I think customers realised that we were genuinely essential, so the level of respect increased. People really understood the difference between what’s essential from a health point of view and what’s not. People started to associate pests with health in a more serious way – whether it’s subconsciously or consciously.
Government, primary industry and food manufacturing genuinely associate us with health now from a conscious point of view. People generally associate rats, cockroaches and pests with things being dirty, unclean, and spreading disease. So you can see the link becomes easily realised as a consumer without us telling them at all.
What are the key concerns for business owners and operators at the moment? Does it differ from state to state?
I think it does differ from states to state as well as business size. But definitely a major theme across the industry nationally would be employment issues and the difficulty of finding people.
On the other hand when I listen to complaints about employment, the reason why some businesses have an employment issue is because they’re not willing to pay people what they’re being paid elsewhere. So you have to carefully consider whether it’s really an employment issue or an issue with attracting people with the right pay. The next would be training and the level of quality that’s occurring in that space from some providers.
Apart from pay, what are some ways that you think businesses can attract and retain employees?
Culture. You get your culture right and get your people talking about enjoying working for your business and then watch magic happen.
I’ve always thought of our industry like this – pest control is not about pest control, it’s actually about people. The business that wins the people battle is the one that wins the day.
And by people I talk about my employees, but also my customers. If I make my employee’s life good and sustainable, help them succeed and offer them the support they need and the tools to be the best, they’re going to deliver to my customer. My customer’s going to enjoy our service and then that relationship’s going be good and that employee’s going to get that dopamine hit that I talked about over at the start where they become important. When they see value in themselves and purpose, all of a sudden you’ve created this system where everybody’s won.
What are the biggest challenges on the horizon for people working in the pest management industry?
There are definitely economic challenges ahead, as well as training and talent acquisition challenges.
And the biggest opportunities?
When the economy doesn’t do well, people protect what they have. And there I see the opportunity for our industry to flourish. We’re not as tied to the economy as what other industries are. Health isn’t going away and the requirements around health aren’t going away. We’ve got an opportunity to really tack onto that and be a part of that movement. Same with sustainability. As an industry, we’re definitely a piece of the sustainability puzzle.
We should make sure we’re actively talking about us being a sustainable sector and our importance to the environment and to people’s health. We’ve got a good future ahead of us if we’re clever. We need to maintain our position and excel in those areas around sustainability, health and asset protection.
AEPMA is a member based organisation – what are the key benefits for businesses to join?
I think the fact that government liaises with us and we’re the ones speaking for the industry is in itself enough reason to become a member.
There’s also the fact that you’d be doing the right thing community-wise, that you’ll get discounts to the conferences, and the direct contact that you get with other members. You’re given information before the wider industry knows about it. You get to be a part of the discussion when it comes to the control of your destiny and the industry.
Find out more about AEPMA here:
Pesticon 2023’s theme is “What customers want”. What can attendees expect from the conference this year?
The theme of what customers want really allows a massive scope for the presenters. There’ll be presentation on wellbeing and making sure your staff are tiptop mentally. There’s discussion around dispute resolution and one on demographics – understanding who our consumers are and what they’re going to look like over the next 10 to 20 years. There’s a lot of really useful information to set your business up for success in making sure you’re offering the most valuable service possible for the consumer.
Watch one of the speakers at Pesticon last year:
Mental health is again a key session of your conference. Why do you think this topic is of particular importance for pest management?
Last year, Rapid Solutions CEO Belinda Smith and I were part of a discussion about sharing our own experience in this space, and people really resonated with it. There’s no doubt in my mind that we changed people’s perceptions and started conversations that maybe had never been had before.
Mental health issues aren’t going away in our community. Mental health is important and if we’re not on top of it or in tune with it we’re not going be serving our customers to the best of our ability. We’re a small industry so almost everybody knows everybody somehow. You don’t want something bad to happen to somebody. We want to make sure that we can have amazing open conversations, look after each other and make sure that we’re all here, safe, happy and prosperous.
We have a lot of blue collar people in this industry who probably aren’t as open as what they could be in this space. They might have been suffering in silence for a long time and, as an association, we want to be leading the way in this space.
Why should owners and operators attend the conference this year?
The program is solid and has a lot of really practical advice to take away to make your business better. Whether that’s making your people better, ensuring that they have the tools to be successful, making sure you’ve got the ability to resolve disputes better or understanding what the demographics are going to look like in the future… There are so many amazing speakers and really valuable topics.
You’d be crazy not to come if you’re an owner of a business and you’re genuine about growing as a business in this industry.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Make sure you get involved. It’ll be the best thing you ever did. One of the things that people have asked me is what I get out of heading AEPMA and the greater industry. You could argue that at times it’s a detriment to my business because of the time I have to spend. But what I argue is that the personal development I’ve got out of being involved in AEPMA far exceeds the impact that time loss might have had.
On top of this, I know I gave back to an industry that has afforded me a wonderful life until now and into the future. It brings about a massive level of satisfaction. So I’d tell everyone to please get involved, it’s so worth it.
A note on Rapid Solution’s attendance at Pesticon
Rapid Solutions is again sponsoring the Pesticon Network Lounge, providing free coffees from the coffee cart and welcoming delegates to have a chat to our heads of insurance and training.
There’ll be special offers for enrolments in Rapid Training courses and the launch of new courses to keep pest manager skills fresh and up to date, helping reduce the risk of customer complaints and claims.
Our Rapid CEO Belinda Smith will be presenting on claims trends and will be at our stand throughout the conference to chat about insurance and claims.
Another message from Rapid: Safeguard your business future
Quality insurance is a valuable tool in keeping customers safe and happy while keeping your business safe too. If anything isn’t to a customers’ liking they may complain and a customer complaint can quickly turn into your financial issue. Work not done well, or causing unforeseen side effects like property damage, a slip and fall or unwellness in people, can spell big trouble. There could be legal disputes and heavy costs involved for your business.
These are just some of the reasons to discover how much pest control insurance costs and why it’s crucial. Find out about getting professional indemnity insurance and general liability insurance for your enterprise. Contact Rapid Solutions online or call us on 1300 309 169 to start your quote.