Free inspection for pest services are not so free

It’s long been a bug-a-boo for me that pest control companies actively advertise, promote and go out of their way to give potential customers a free pest inspection. I realize this sounds ridiculous to any sales person reading this or to the homeowner who just wants a price so they can decide on whom to choose. On the one hand you need to have an inspection to diagnose the problem and get a handle on what you’re dealing with and on the other hand why should there be a cost since you might be getting the business and all you want is an estimate?

Is it really free

How does the cost of cold calling compare to other forms of lead generation, such as advertising? An ad in a trade publication with a circulation of 50,000 will cost about $8,000. If the ad generates 50 leads, the cost per lead is $160.

What about direct mail? A traditional direct-mail package costs about $500 for 1,000 pieces mailed. If you are mailing 50,000 pieces, the cost will be $25,000. Given the typical 0.4 percent response rate – or 200 leads – the cost per lead is $125.

Of course these numbers might not be a one size fits all but you get the idea. What’s not factored in is the hundreds of hours (hopefully) of training, equipment and support to put that smiling salesman at your door. It’s what leads him to the darkest corner of your crawl-space and why he climbs up into your 120 degree attic. Some inspections can take a lot of time trying to track down a stored product pest infestation while others are quite apparent because you and the salesman are now both covered in fleas. Traditionally after the inspection is done is when you sit down for the pitch and sadly this is when most companies say “this is where the real work begins.”

So why is it free?

No ones ever accused me of being a big business man and I’ve never even cracked the top 100 list but I can guarantee you each and every company listed does it the same way or a close proximity. It’s the most effective way in which to ‘sell’ ones services and this is a multi billion dollar industry with no signs of slowing down. These companies pay millions not only to advertise the free inspection but also untold sums of money goes to analyzing their numbers and sales percentages to try and figure out how they can improve this free gift. If the proof is in the pudding and numbers don’t lie then they have it correct. They know that if they can get their salesman in front of X amount of people the result will be X amount of new customers. As long as the profits stay ahead of the costs then everything is good and they will continue to do things in the tried and true fashion.

So what’s my problem?

Besides envy of a multi national company or the upstarts that invade my town every year and put 10 trucks on the road with seemingly little effort I can’t fault this business model on the results. I do however have a problem with number chasing companies who throw out recycled professional sales people who have little or no pest knowledge at all. When numbers rule the roost driven mainly by commission to many bad sales occur. Branch managers in need of numbers hire a person who has water softener sales background but in 3 days time suddenly he is pitching $1000.00 termite jobs. The gal who worked for years in the car industry with less than a weeks training is telling you all about the carpenter ant infestation you have when it is in fact citronella ants.

Before you get up in arms about what I’m saying you should know I worked for companies like this and I see them all the time. As much as I’d like to say it is more of an isolated problem I can’t and it also is not unique to the pest control industry.

When’s the last time you had an a/c man out for a ‘free’ inspection? How bout a plumber or electrician? At the very least you get a service call charge and 9 times out of 10 you get the repair or service done by that company. These people are professionals, trained in what they do and have the answer to what you are bothered with, why shouldn’t they give free inspections?

Somewhere along the road pest control companies thought it a good idea to offer free ‘look sees’ and the idea stuck. Now it is impossible to open a yellow page book and not see the words free inspection. It’s common practice to have an ‘inspector’ comb over your home for an hour or more and walk away not leaving you a bill. We know this service costs money and we can see someone had to pay dearly for the 5 by 7 card you got in the mail. There are a few adages that come to mind here but I believe one fits best.

Nothing in life is free.

About The Bug Doctor

Jerry Schappert is a certified pest control operator and Associate Certified Entomologist with over two and a half decades of experience from birds to termites and everything in between. He started as a route technician and worked his way up to commercial/national accounts representative. Always learning in his craft he is familiar with rural pest services and big city control techniques. Jerry has owned and operated a successful pest control company since 1993 in Ocala,Florida. While his knowledge and practical application has benefitted his community Jerry wanted to impart his wisdom on a broader scale to help many more. was born from that idea in 2007 and has been well received. It is the goal of this site to inform you with his keen insights and safely guide you through your pest control treatment needs.

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