Even pest control has now entered the digital age – Paul Seven, founder of Instant Pest Solutions in Merseyside tells LBN how the traditional ‘rat catcher’ operates in the 21st century. Tony McDonough reports
Digital technology is now a ubiquitous presence in all of our lives and the pest control business is no different.
“The old fashioned way was you put the mouse trap down and go and check it a couple of weeks later,” said Paul Seven, a pest control professional who has worked in the business for 33 years.
“Now we have sensor technology where that trap goes off and sends you a text message. There is no question we have very much moved into the digital age.”
Paul is the founder of Instant Pest Solutions (IPS), a Knowsley-based business that has been in existence for 14 years. He heads a four-person team that works in Merseyside and across the North of England.
“From Hull to Liverpool, from Kendal to Stoke, we cover a big area. We also do work for a number of hotels in Birmingham,” explained Paul.
“I started the business in 2009. I worked for a number of blue chip companies before I went on my own. At the time there was a change in dynamic in the company I was working for. I just thought ‘I can do this myself’ and it just progressed from there.”
IPS services a diverse portfolio of clients. Although the firm does handle domestic call-outs, mainly through housing associations, much of its customer base is commercial, in particular retailers and manufacturers.
And the emphasis these days, says Paul, is very much on prevention. He added: “In reality people don’t realise how widespread and how intense the job is. Everyone just thinks you turn up at peoples’ homes and get rid of rats and mice and bees and wasps.
“We do that but we mainly look after commercial food premises, manufacturing, major industries and it is as much about pest prevention of their properties and their businesses.
“Sometime we will get called in after an infestation has occurred and that makes it a more difficult task as certain methods may not achieve the desired result. Businesses are now much smarter in minimising the risk.”
Paul’s team work with food manufacturers who supply major retail outlets such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco. They insist on high standards from their food suppliers and will carry out strict audits of production facilities.
This is where the experience and expertise of the IPS team becomes very valuable. Paul said: “We can put in place a monitoring system and we work quite closely with the food industry on this kind of thing.
“If you are looking after a food factory where there may be pests then you have to be able to have that traceability. You are protecting against the event and you have these measures in place to minimise the risk. Getting ahead of it before it happens is always the best way.”
“We are also diversifying into bird installations such as netting on big buildings. And we have just won a job with a big well known business. So rather than just turning up to individual domestic premises a lot of our work is big jobs for commercial businesses.
“And also do food silo cleaning where we actually get inside the silo and that is all breathing apparatus and rope access. We do a lot of housing association work and that is where most of our domestic work comes from. But much more of our work is commercial.
“A lot of the work we do is for restaurants and we work for one large retail chain across the North West via a third party. It is a big area that we cover.
Because the volume and intensity of the work carried out by IPS is so high it is critical Paul has a good team working with him who all know what is expected of them.
One of his team members was trained up from scratch and now, for the first time, IPS has gone down the apprenticeship road. Jack Atkinson joined the business more than two months ago and is now well into his training.
However, getting an apprentice in was initially quite a challenge for Paul. He explained: “Finding a pest control apprentice is quite difficult. Not in finding the person but identifying a college that does the training.
“Of all the kids leaving school each year so many thousands will want to be plumbers and so many will want to be electricians. So the colleges all have that kind of training already in place.
“There aren’t so many looking to go into pest control. The British Pest Control Association (BPCA) has written a programme for a pest control apprenticeship but the hard bit is finding a college to take it on.
“Knowsley Chamber directed me to Knowsley Works for an ILM programme which funds people to get them into work. So we were delighted to give Jack the opportunity to start his career with us.
“He is the first apprentice we have had at the firm. I have trained up another lad from scratch but that wasn’t through the apprenticeship programme.
“I’ve come across people in my life who are very good technicians in this job. But if they come over from another business with their own way of doing things then the transition can be quite difficult.
“You want them to get into the way your company works rather than how their previous employer worked. Developing someone from scratch to become a good pest controller is a much better way of doing it.
“The training itself is always the same as it is done through the BPCA. But every business has its own methods and its own values and it’s important that everyone buys into that.
“Jack is more than two months in. We have got him the accreditation he needs to work in places such as building sites but on the pest control side he had to pass a BPCA foundation course, which he has.
“Now he is doing a 60-hour intense online course with three modules. He will eventually get his Level 2 in pest management qualification.
“Sometimes you can work on your own but we also come together to do larger jobs. So it is important we all get on and we all work together well as a team. There is the technical side but it is also about not putting your foot through someone’s ceiling when you are removing a wasps’ nest.
“We have a great team here that works really well and Jack is now already an important part of that team.”
According to Paul, IPS is constantly busy. In fact he says at the moment the firm is “absolutely snowed under”. There is a seasonal nature to the work – rats in the winter and more ants, fleas, wasps and flies in the summer – but it never stops.
“The pest control business never really goes quiet – it is always really busy for one reason or another,” he added.
“The focus on prevention and pest control in the food industry is pretty intense. They need to protect their products. Businesses are much smarter now and more proactive than they used to be when it comes to pest control.
“We also have collaborations with other pest control businesses. They might win a big contract nationwide and we might look after that in the North West on their behalf.
“I have looked at the possibility of growing through acquisition. But we are focused on slow and steady growth. A lot of work comes through word of mouth because I have been in the industry for so long. Our clients have a lot of faith in what we do.”