A family enjoys a summer evening on their screened-in back porch. As the sky becomes darker, a young daughter notices ants crawling on her feet. These uninvited guests have even helped themselves to the brownie on her plate. After squashing a few, the mother heads inside to grab a can of bug repellant from under the sink, only to find the ants’ cousins and friends have invaded the cabinets and pipes as well. Frustrated, the family calls a pest control service to combat the relentless battalions of an organized ant colony.
The Hanover-based branch of Venture Pest Control is one such line of defense. Quentin Elrod has worked with Venture Pest Control for over three years, beginning his time with the company at their branch in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Elrod is originally from Johnson City, Tennessee and worked at restaurants in North Carolina before joining Venture’s team. Quentin is the service manager for the Richmond-area branch, and works both in the office and in the field.
“I didn’t really know much about pest control prior to starting with the company,” Elrod said on the drive to a client’s home. “I worked in restaurants, and I was interested in working in construction.”
Elrod spoke with a man who attended his church, who asked him to consider entering the pest control field. Venture has four offices, in Tennessee, Richmond, Georgia and North Carolina. According to Elrod, the business has two owners who each own two of the business’ branches.
The office Elrod currently works in employs four certified technicians, two office staff and about 10 sales people. Certification to perform pest control treatments without supervision requires 20 study hours and 20 on-site training hours. In Virginia, once the 40 total hours of training have been completed, a certification exam is taken at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
Venture’s technicians stop pests from entering clients’ homes with preventative quarterly treatments.
“It’s a lot easier to prevent pests than it is to get rid of them,” Elrod said. “Our job isn’t so much about killing them as it is controlling where they are.”
Clients pay for these anticipated visits, but their warranty allows for free treatments between quarterly treatments if the usual preventative care isn’t properly protecting their home. The most common reasons that clients request Venture’s services are for preventive care, and eliminating ants from homes.
“We don’t really see too many infestations. If we’re called in between treatments it’s probably a persistent daily issue that hasn’t become a full infestation or too bothersome yet,” Elrod said as he sprayed the barrier around the home’s foundation.
During warmer, busier months Venture employees work Mondays through Saturdays. On an average day, a technician may make 12 to 18 preventative care stops on their routes. The office is open five days a week during colder months, when the technicians handle mostly preventative care and stink bugs.
First-time treatments with a client are more extensive, as a technician works inside and outside of the home. The indoor preventative care requires a light misting of Demand CS, an insecticide which doesn’t stain and is relatively “pet and people-friendly.” The product is sprayed on baseboards all along the interior of the home, around doorways and plumbing.
“Variety helps with insects,” Elrod said as he sprayed around the bottom of the home owners’ kitchen cabinets. “Sometimes an active ingredient won’t work, so it’s good to have some options.”
He explained that insects’ quick reproduction rate make them adaptable and difficult to fully exterminate. “The eggs are pretty well-protected, too. They have a waxy surface that makes it hard to really get inside.”
Luckily, perhaps, for the Venture technicians, they are not certified to handle animal pests. “We don’t mess with snakes,” Elrod said.
Technicians wear blue, medical-looking “booties” over their shoes when they treat inside to prevent tracking dirt into clients’ homes. Elrod is also careful of the order in which he performs steps in the treatment process.
He typically begins inside the home for first-time treatments. “I’d rather do that first and not do it after being outside, and be all sweaty around the client when I’m in their house,” Elrod joked.
He spoke with the homeowner, explaining what he would do and why those steps were necessary. “Other than just doing general preventive treatments, we’ll assess the home and see what needs to be done,” Elrod said. “You just have to keep an eye on the lawn and home and address issues as you need to.”
At one particular home, a homeowner mentioned a recurring problem with ants. Elrod examined the area that the home owner indicated, and began explaining why he thought they were appearing in this area. He explained how some ants are foragers, and leave pheromone trails to and from their nests to find food and water sources.
“Insects in general are interesting,” Elrod said on the drive over to the client’s home. “There are thousands of insects, and in the time humans have been around, we haven’t been able to fully kill off one species [of insect],” he said.
“They all play some kind of role, even if it isn’t necessarily a good one.”
After finishing the interior and garage misting, Elrod applied a solid granular repellant product to the lawn. The water-activated product binds with soil and repels pests from properties. The piece of equipment that Elrod uses to disperse the repellant is much like a carryable version of walk-behind fertilizer spreader.
A hand-operated crank shoots the repellant out as he walks around the property. Elrod then grabs a spider web-remover from the back of his truck. The “webster” is essentially a long duster able to extend into tight spaces as high as the second or third story of a building. He brushes the fluffy tip of the webster into nooks and crannies of the house’s exterior. He can even extend the webster into the second and third floor eaves.
The final step of Elrod’s treatment is to spray liquid Fipronil along the home’s foundation. This insecticide is particularly effective to treat for arthropods, or segmented insects.
“It’s mostly just a logical process. If you spray first, then the repellant may stick to you. And cobwebs are just easier to get down if they aren’t wet,” he said. Elrod also noted that technicians are careful about the placement of repellants so as not to severely disrupt the pollination of plants.
Elrod indicated that Venture had received more phone calls and questions about mosquitos since the Zika virus has been in the news.
“Really, as long as you’re treating the areas mosquitos are likely to nest in and breed you shouldn’t have too much trouble with them,” Elrod said.
He spends a lot of his office time researching pests and the methods of controlling them. He uses this knowledge to assist clients and fellow Venture workers in the field.
“I think my favorite part of the job is taking care of people, making people happy,” he said. “Even just in the office on the phone…That customer satisfaction is a bonus.”
Elrod said that during his time in the pest control business, he has experienced very little physical harm while servicing a home. He said that he’s only been stung once while on the job, but has had some unpleasant encounters with fire ants in Charlotte.
“It’s like being stung by a bee,” he said. “It’ll leave a nice little welt.”
Natalie Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org