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He called me from thousands of miles away to share his pest management story. “My neighbor Mary had a squirrel living in her attic,” he said, “and since our local pest company doesn’t do animal control, I offered her a helping hand. When I got to her house, I checked the eaves, and quickly saw a hole you could push a baseball through. I figured that’s how the squirrel was getting in. I wasn’t sure how to seal the hole, so I bought a can of that expanding foam at the hardware store, then pumped the whole kit and caboodle into the hole. That was a week ago and Mary hasn’t heard a peep since. Say, Mike, do you think I got the job done?”

“It’s a good thing you did the work during the day,” I said, “because the squirrel was likely outside foraging. It was probably a solitary male, because if you’d have sealed out a female with young to care for she would have chewed through that foam like a chainsaw through butter. If Mary hasn’t heard any noises in the attic, and the foam is undisturbed, you were likely successful. Let’s call it beginner’s luck.”

“Well, great!” he said with a touch of pride in his voice.

So, who is this mystery man? He’s the one who taught me how to ride a bike, catch a fish, and hit a baseball. Why didn’t he call me before starting the job? I suppose he wanted to remain a heroic father figure in my eyes, and the best way to appear heroic to an animal control professional is to successfully complete an animal control job.

I tip my pest control hat to Dad. Without asking for anyone’s help, he went to the aid of a damsel in distress, thought up a plan, scaled a ladder, executed his plan, and saved the day… because that’s what heroes do. Have a heroic week, everyone!

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I always feel good when I see a flying squirrel. On a lucky evening, I glance at the handrail on my back deck and see one of the nocturnal critters sitting there, happily munching on sunflower seeds. On a really good evening, I see a pair eating seeds like two teens sharing a chocolate malted after the sock hop. (Where have you gone Mickey Mantle? Are you still belting homers in the All-Star game?)

Like those 50s teeny-boppers in their saddle shoes, flying squirrels are super cute. They have big dark eyes, soft gray fur, and feather-like tails that help them balance as they glide from tree to tree. If you’d like to see one, place a handful of unsalted sunflower seeds on your deck handrail at sundown, then cross your fingers, keep your eyes peeled and your lights down low. They avoid bright lights.

Flying squirrels sometimes live in attics, and concerned homeowners call us with questions: Do they chew wires? Do you guys hurt them? Trap them? Relocate them?

Flying squirrels don’t seem interested in chewing electrical wires. Like rats and mice, however, they do live in attics. When we find flying squirrels in your attic, we catch and release them outside where they belong, then seal the openings they used to get inside. Don’t worry, the forest will welcome them back.

While us mountain folk sleep, dreaming of sock hops and chocolate malteds, Mother Nature’s little All-Stars are playing the game of life as they set a record-setting glide here, then nail a perfect landing there, all under the twinkling starry sky. Ladies and gentlemen, please rise and salute our amazing flying squirrels. 

Maybe The Mick is still belting homers in the sky after all. Have an All-Star week, everyone!

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By the age of twelve, I felt I had mastered most of life’s important lessons and I mostly stopped listening to adults giving out warnings. Luckily, I was smart enough to make a few exceptions. I remember the day on our grandparent’s Illinois farm when my brother and I told Grandpa we were headed back to Bear Creek to hunt crawdads. To get there, we had to walk across the big cow pasture. 

“Listen, boys,” he said with a deadly serious expression, “I moved the bull into the pasture yesterday and never turn your back on a bull… you may never know what hit you.” Minutes later, we climbed the rusty barbed wire fence and jumped into the cow pasture. Walking toward Bear Creek, I kept my eyes locked on that bull. He was the most powerful animal I had ever seen and I knew he could end my life in an instant. In matters of life and death, grandpa knew best.

Since I don’t enjoy being on the receiving end of lectures, I avoid giving them out. But, once in a while, I make an exception. And here it is: Listen, folks, never let branches touch your home. Ants nest in trees and they use branches as bridges into your kitchens and bathrooms. I’ve treated thousands of houses and sometimes the only way I can get the ants out—despite my arsenal of 21st century pest products—is to grab my ladder, climb up to the roof and cut branches. If you can’t safely cut your own branches, I recommend calling a professional tree trimmer—the sooner the better. It’s getting warmer outside and hungry ants are on the warpath. And that ain’t no bull.

Finally, if I come to your home and see branches touching your roof, well… I recommend you stay away from cow pastures. Have an ant free week, everyone!

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Last week, I debated whether a business owner should ever scold an obnoxious customer. I wrote that, even though I know a few small business owners who allow themselves the luxury, to me there is something unholy about a business owner blasting a customer. But, we’re all human and anyone can have a bad day. What then?

“Mike, your workers don’t know what they’re doing,” a customer once told me, “they’re installing these thingumabobs on the crawl space door and they’re putting these whatchamacallits all around and what good is that doing?” After her thorough critique of my workers’ thingumabob and whatchamacallit installation skills, she went on to inform me that Bob at her church, and his mom, had gotten mice out of their home and she was thinking about hiring them to finish the job. She spoke to me as if she were scolding a child. Oh well, nobody told me there’d be days like these, but nobody told me there wouldn’t be days like these. Let’s call it a draw.

I was tempted to give her a piece of my mind, but I’m a seasoned professional and I held my tongue. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say I had lost my cool and read her the riot act. Let’s say she had taken offense, fired my company and hired Bob and his mom and everyone lived happily ever after. Problem solved, right? Wrong. In my view, I would still owe her an apology for my unprofessional behavior. After all, she was a paying customer and I am a business owner, and a professional should never let a customer get his goat. (Unless he sells goats.)

At the highest level of owning a business, professionals should be able to—after a cooling off period—kick into “business owner gear,” admit they were wrong and apologize to the most nasty (or oddball) of customers. I can’t honestly say I’ve reached that level, and I hope I never have to find out. Have a great week tending your goats, everyone!

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“I don’t like you. I don’t want your money. I hope you never call me again.”

I imagine that most small business owners have wanted to speak those words—or a more vulgar variation thereof—to one of their customers. The question I’d like to debate today is: Should a small business owner tell off a customer?

There’s a school of thought that it’s OK to do it. “Once a year,” a store owner once told me, “I allow myself the luxury of telling off a customer.” I certainly understand why. A tiny minority of customers will lie, hurl insults, and throw hissy fits to get their way. When they’re dealing with big corporations who have measures in place to give people the runaround, that’s one thing, but we small business owners have a more human relationship with our customers. Don’t we deserve to be treated as human beings? Of course we do.

Another school of thought maintains you should never tell off a customer, and with good reason. Customers are the boss, they pay the bills, and running a business is not for the faint of heart. And if you start venting at customers, where will it end? Won’t it just become easier and easier until you’re telling off everyone who makes a flip remark about your bad hair day? 

“I thought I was having a bad hair day,” a customer once said to me, “until I saw your hair.” (She was speaking the truth so I didn’t take offense.)

My verdict: There’s just something unholy about a business owner telling off a customer and you just don’t do it. You… just… don’t… do… it. And if you have a bad day and give in to temptation, then you need to read next week’s article: The art of the apology. Have a great hair day week, everyone!

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For many years, I hated the schedule book in our office. For me, it represented being chained to an “1800s way of running a business,” as I used to complain to my secretaries. I encouraged them to toss that tattered book and switch to an internet calendar to log our technicians’ daily schedules. But my secretaries fought tooth and nail to keep their beloved book, and, as the human world slowly becomes overwhelmed by the almighty computer, I have seen the future and I now admit my secretaries were right all along.

“I love our schedule book,” says Erika, who has worked in my office for 18 years. “Writing down appointments is much easier than typing them into a program. With the book, I know exactly where to go and what to do. Plus, if I want to make changes, I just erase the appointment. That doesn’t require much thinking, so I make less mistakes.”

“Gil (our manager) loves the book too,” Erika adds, pausing to answer the phone. “Every morning, he looks over the schedules and makes little adjustments so our guys aren’t driving back and forth between different areas. He knows the whole mountain, from Crestline to Big Bear. The book allows us to keep the human touch on our daily routes.”

I couldn’t say it any better. Now I can proudly boast that our office is powered by an 1800s-style schedule book. It even smells like an old library. That book doesn’t chain us to the past, it connects us to the best part of the past. It has a bright future with our company.

Oh, if only we modern folk could go back in time, just for a day or two, and collect butterflies, play board games, and read the latest Sherlock Holmes mystery. That sure sounds better than spending two hours on the phone with tech support. Have a great week, everyone!

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Well, Home Defenders customers, after a slick salesman made his pitch to me and my secretaries yesterday, you folks were almost reduced to nothing more than pie chart statistics. But, we quickly realized that human customers are better than statistical ones, so we put an end to the whole affair.

It all began with a flyer for hi-tech pest control software. “Easily organize your routes with automated scheduling!” it promised. “Run your company 100% paper free!” Paper free sure sounded good on paper.

But hi-tech just won’t work for us. We can’t have a computer schedule service treatments because a machine can’t know that Mrs. Garcia in Deer Lodge Park only wants Alfredo because she thinks he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. And our computers can’t know that Mrs. Laurence in Moonridge only wants Gil to treat her home… on Friday mornings… first stop of the day because she takes her mom to physical therapy at 9:00 am. 

The software package offered a cornucopia of pie charts to track the customers who canceled service along with their reason for canceling. That’s fine for big corporations, but we already know that the Jones’ canceled service because they retired and moved back to Mrs Jones’ home state of Tennessee. And we know that the Smiths temporarily paused service because they’re doing an extensive remodel at their home. We don’t need any deep dive pie charts. (Though deep dish cherry pie is always welcome!)

We run our company pretty much like they ran ‘em a hundred years ago. Every month, we call our customers and schedule their service treatment, then write their appointment in our schedule book. Our technicians carry paper work orders, and live secretaries answer our phones, pencils at the ready. We like the feel of paper in our hands, and we see no need to fix what isn’t broken.

In these computerized times, we Home Defenders relish the fact that we offer a benefit far superior to hi-tech software: people who care about their customers. Have a good, old-fashioned week, everyone!

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I was standing in the doorway of a long time Home Defenders customer, taking flak: “Mike, your workers should have seen those mouse droppings on our bed!” Mr. Jones bellowed. “My wife took one look and threatened to head home to Long Beach and never come back.” I apologized to Mr. Jones, drawing on decades of experience in public relations to keep him happy. Half the art of pest management is old-fashioned customer service.

Months ago, my crew had sealed their vacation cabin against rodent entry, then they followed up monthly to check for fresh activity. Had my techs missed that mouse poop? Answer: They might have, because even an experienced tech can miss a few droppings that a wife can spot like Superman with his microscopic vision. (Wives have other superpowers that vex us pest professionals, but that’s another story for another day.)

My workers might not have missed those droppings because every night platoons of mice probe our cabins for entry openings. Even if they can’t find one, they’ll put their fuzzy noses to the grindstone and chew holes with teeth as tough as drill bits. And the band plays on.

I didn’t explain all that to my customer. Rodent control isn’t a murder investigation where theories and timelines are critical. Rodent control is the art of dealing with the reality in front of your eyes. And the reality was that determined mice—somehow, some way— had beaten our rodent proofing work. But I would be keeping an eye on this job, and two sets of eyes are much better than one.

I called my crew chief and told him to get the critters out ASAP. From then on, keeping my customer happy was the reality in front of my eyes. (Update: We Home Defenders soundly defeated the mice on our second attempt. Memorial services for the dearly departed were held in a private ceremony.) Have a rodent free week, everybody!

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“Will this onslaught never end?” I thought. “This is surely Mother Nature’s most amazing animal.”

After squeezing through a little plywood door made for munchkins, then worming around heating ducts, I found myself deep inside a crawl space last week, checking mouse traps. I had been coming to this cabin for weeks and I was working hard to exterminate the last of the mice, but I kept catching them in my snap traps. That’s no surprise, since mice are unrelenting when they infest an old mountain cabin. I set more traps, then crawled back into the blessed March sunshine. I would be back in two days.

Returning to my office, a question popped into my head: Why do mice, with their tiny brains, present such a challenge to us pest professionals? There are many reasons, but let’s focus on one.

Whenever I see a mouse, the first thing I notice is how healthy and beautiful it looks. Its fur is perfect—no touch of white hair around the muzzle, no receding hairline. Mice breed quickly and die young, so they are always in the prime of life, speeding through their days with the timeless energy of youth. When pitted against that master hunter called man, mice can more than hold their own. Let’s tip our hat to the born survivors.

If you see signs of mice in your home, like little black droppings, or hear telltale scratching sounds, call us Home Defenders today and we’ll chase them out with the timeless energy of professional expertise. We’ll find their entry holes and seal them as tight as a Munchkin’s front door when the Wicked Witch is on the warpath. Guaranteed!

Beauty aside, we are in the business of sending mice straight to mice heaven where they can compete in all the beauty contests they want. Good luck beating those adorable flying squirrels. Have a rodent free week, everyone!

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“… if you’re gonna do something, man, F-ing do it!” One guy said to the other. “Oh, yeah?” came the response. “F-ing bring it on, man!”

That’s a snippet from an F-bomb filled shouting match I saw in a grocery store in Ventura a few weeks ago. Is it just me, or has the world gotten more angry and confrontational in the last few years? And don’t get me started on how nasty customer service phone reps can be. There’s nothing they seem to hate more than a business customer who spends thousands of dollars a month. Please let me apologize in advance for my failings, oh great ones.

How should I respond to confrontation? Should I fight fire with fire? I shed light on my questions by inventing a Boy Scout oath of sorts: “I pledge to let others determine how I behave toward them. If they are friendly with me, I will be friendly back. If they are nasty to me, I will be nasty back. I pledge to be a weak jellyfish of a man who allows others to manipulate him like pizza dough.”

I think you see where this is going. From now on, when people are nasty, I will either: a) ignore the insults. b) act confused and waste their time. c) speak respectfully and hope they see the error of their ways. (That’s unlikely, but I’m an eternal optimist.) d) make smart-ass remarks that can be retracted as being lighthearted jokes. (Which can be deliciously satisfying, especially when the dimwit has no comeback.)

I will not fight fire with fire, mainly because I am terrible at being confrontational. Full-time jerks know I’m a cream puff in a second. Also, being confrontational has never, ever gotten me anywhere. I should have realized that long ago, but I guess I’m a little slow. (That comes from all those years of banging my head against a wall.) Have a non-confrontational week, everyone!