VISION 2020 – Future trends and implications for the pest management industry

Presented by NPMA in partnership with Bayer, Vision 2020 is a multi-year initiative that will identify future trends and equip the industry to enhance its value to society in the midst of emerging societal, economic, technological and regulatory issues. In this article, we will explore future trends in each of these four areas.

Nothing will affect the future of the pest management industry more than the seismic demographic shifts reshaping America. These shifts represent several important dimensions, each with its own implications for our industry.

Population Growth. Census experts believe that the U.S. population will grow from 314 million in 2012 to 420 million in 2060 – a 40 percent increase in a span of nearly 50 years. These projections represent a slowing of population growth, an increase in the aging population and an increase in diversity. This growth, while minor compared to the “Baby Boom” years, nevertheless will create expanded households all across our country.

Implications: With modest population growth will come a new wave of potential customers for pest management services.

Age. Between now and 2020, America will continue aging as millions of Baby Boomers retire. This “silver tsunami” already is having a ripple affect on healthcare costs, the housing market, purchases of goods and services and, of course, the labor market. According to noted futurist and author Glen Hiemstra, it won’t be long before more than 20 percent of the total U.S. population is over 65, resulting in a nation of “27 Floridas”.

At the same time, a new generation of Americans is emerging, but they are very different from their parents. They are tech-savvy digital natives with a strong sense of community and a short career attention span.

Implications: This generational shift has significant implications from both a customer and labor perspective. From a customer perspective, PMPs will need to anticipate the needs of these seniors as they retire and relocate to new living situations or geographies. PMPs will also have to anticipate the needs of younger consumers as they become first-time homeowners and parents.

From a workforce perspective, PMPs will face a labor shortage – perhaps a labor crisis – as Boomers retire. They will need to attract younger workers, which will require new approaches to recruitment (Millenials want to make a difference in the world), retention (Millenials are quick to change jobs) and training (Millenials want bite-size, just-in-time information, delivered via the latest technology). Most importantly, it will be a buyer’s market, so PMPs will have to become much more aggressive about identifying potential applicants.

Gender. By 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that women’s participation rate in the labor force will be greater than that of men for the first time in history. Women also will continue their ascent as primary breadwinners in many households.

Implications: To recruit the best employees, PMPs will need to find a way to make pest management an attractive career for women, especially working moms. This may include offering flexible hours, nursing rooms and childcare benefits.

Race and Ethnicity. The face of America is changing. Between now and 2030, minority populations will account for 77 percent of the population growth, and 40 percent of that will be Hispanics.

Implications: From a customer perspective, PMPs will need to attune their services and marketing efforts to the needs of an increasingly large Hispanic homeowner. From a workforce perspective, PMPs will need to adapt their approach to recruiting, retention and training.

Values. While the country may be deeply divided on a range of political issues, there are some common values that will continue to cut across age, gender and socio-economic boundaries. These include consumer empowerment, sustainability and healthfulness. Technology will continue to change the way people gather and share information, resulting in consumers who are smarter about the purchase decisions they make and better able to communicate with others to support – or destroy – products and services that don’t meet their expectations. In this new age of transparency, these same consumers will hold companies more accountable for their behaviors. In the years ahead, futurist Hiemstra believes, a growing number of health-conscious consumers will want to be assured that the products and services they buy won’t harm people or the environment, but rather will contribute to the overall health and well-being of society over the long term.

Implications: PMPs will need to adopt the latest technologies so they can communicate with and serve the needs of consumers empowered by massive amounts of data. They’ll also need to position their services in the context of changing values around sustainability and health. This may include adopting softer solutions, dialing up advocacy and education efforts and, most importantly, repositioning pest control so that it is less focused on the killing of bugs and more focused around the positive benefits of protecting public health where people live, work and play.

Advancements in science and technology will continue to change just about every aspect of the PPM industry, from how we diagnose problems, to what solutions we recommend and how we interact with customers. These advancements will come in several forms, each with its own implications for our industry.

Mobility. The adoption of mobile computing devices of all kinds—phones, tablets, auto devices and even “wearables” such as glasses and watches—is accelerating at a rapid pace. In the years ahead, PMPs (and their customers) will be carrying, wearing or driving around with more computing power and connectivity potential than at any time in history, improving their ability to communicate and solve pest problems effectively and profitably.

Implications: Mobile technologies will allow PMPs to improve scheduling and routing, saving time and fuel. They’ll also improve PMPs’ ability to communicate “on the go” with customers. And wearable technologies such as Google Glass™ will allow PMPs to capture pictures and data at the time of service, improving the diagnosis and treatment of pest issues.

Building Materials. Nothing has the potential to shake up the PPM industry more than modern building materials and related technologies. These advancements include construction materials—made from novel polymers or composites, for instance—that eliminate the threat of wood-eating insects. They also include “exclusion” technologies that will sense the presence of pests or even repel or trap those pests through wireless signals or scents.

Implications: These technologies represent a prime opportunity to redefine “solutions” in a way that is broader than conventional pesticides. It’s also an opportunity for PMPs to leverage—and capture value from—their knowledge of pests with new audiences, namely architects, engineers and construction managers.

Chemistry. The PPM industry is just beginning to see “softer” chemical and biological solutions that work as expected and also have improved safety or environmental profiles. This trend will continue in the coming years, as technology partners strive to meet the public’s growing desire for solutions that are as effective as they are sustainable.

Implications: These products will expand PMPs’ portfolios, giving them more options to meet customer needs. These products also will allow PMPs to appeal to the small-but-vocal “natural” pest control segment. And they will give PMPs positive talking points about what they’re doing to continually strengthen their ability to control pests responsibly.

Big Data. These days, Americans generate more data in a single year than in all of the previous years of history combined, and that trend is expected to continue, thanks to the explosion in computing power and mobile technologies. Moreover, an increasing amount of this data will be available to those who choose to access it and use it to their advantage in business and in life.

Implications: PMPs will need to invest in their ability to harvest data that gives them insights into their customers’ attitudes, behaviors, buying trends, etc., so they better anticipate needs and tailor services accordingly, resulting in higher perceived value and stronger relationships.

The signs are everywhere. In front yards, hotel rooms and businesses, signs beckon people to recycle, share a ride, conserve water or stop polluting, plus countless other actions aimed at protecting the environment and our natural resources. While no one can predict the future with any specificity, few question the fact that overall public awareness of environmental issues—and intense regulatory scrutiny of pest control—will continue to grow in the years ahead.

The Vision 2020 participants identified four key future trends and their implications relative to regulation and the environment, as follows:

Greater public understanding of exposure. Who hasn’t read headlines about the dangers of exposure to allergens associated with peanuts, cockroaches or fire ants? Thanks to an increasingly health-conscious society and an ever-expanding flood of health-related information in news and online, consumers are more aware than ever of the potential effects of exposure to a full range of elements. Consumers are likely to become even more attuned to these issues in the years ahead, as the push to keep people healthy continues.

Implications: Pest management professionals (PMPs) should play a lead role in educating consumers about the role that pests play in public health and the importance of professional pest management in protecting the health of individuals, families and communities. At the same time, PMPs must also be more transparent about the potential health effects, if any, related to the exposure to pest control solutions.

Growing concerns over water and air. Just as experts are concerned about producing enough food to feed a growing world population, they’re also concerned about having enough water to meet residential and commercial needs in the future. These same experts also express concern about the reduction in air quality, particularly in densely packed urban areas. Collectively, these concerns are likely to spark additional regulatory scrutiny and, worse case, more restrictions aimed at protecting both the quality and quantity of our natural resources.

Implications: The bugs aren’t going anywhere, so people and businesses will continue to need a full measure of professional pest management. However, given the potential for greater concern and scrutiny over environmental issues, PMPs have a huge opportunity to introduce “softer,” more sustainable solutions to pest management.

Local versus national regulations. The idea that “all politics is local” has never been more true than it is today. Due to perpetual gridlock in our nation’s capital and the challenges of reaching national consensus on a range of legislative issues, more and more states and municipalities are opting to pass their own laws that are right for their residents. In addition, more and more special interest groups, including NGOs, are finding it easier to introduce new legislation at the state or municipal level rather than at the federal level. This trend is likely to accelerate in the years ahead, unless the winds of bi-partisanship change were to sweep through Washington, D.C.

Implications: This trend provides pesticide critics with more avenues to pursue in opposing the use of certain products or application techniques. In the years ahead, it will be critical for the professional pest management industry to build strong advocacy networks at the federal, state and local level—especially online, given that many “anti” campaigns are waged digitally. Having an army of respected, vocal advocates in all the right places will help protect the industry’s best interests in the increasingly decentralized regulatory environment. On the flip side of the coin, this trend also represents more platforms to engage and educate policy makers and members of the public about the important role pest management plays in public health and about the industry’s evolution from tool-based to knowledge-based solutions.

Climate change and population shifts. Most (but not all) scientists agree that climate change is real and will have an impact on pest management from several perspectives. As parts of the country become warmer or cooler, wetter or drier, pest populations may shift accordingly, causing pests to enter or exit the scene. This, in combination with population growth and the emergence of mega-cites, is likely to aggravate existing health issues (i.e., allergies) or usher in new ones (i.e., new vector-borne diseases).

Implication: While some of these issues will be years in the making, PMPs need to be ready for the emergence of new pests to their regions. In addition, with every changing condition comes a terrific opportunity to become “the expert” in educating residential and commercial customers and the changing world of professional pest management.


In the professional pest management industry, our goal is for commercial and residential customers to place a high value on the services we provide and the impact of those services on public health and quality of life. In other words, we want our services to have a high value-to-cost relationship.

The reality, however, is that the perceived value of what we offer—and what almost all industries offer—depends a lot on the overall economic forces at play. When consumer confidence slides and people begin to worry about jobs and disposable income, for instance, their willingness to invest in environmental protection, or “green” products, often wanes. Conversely, when economic forces drive prices too high—as is often the case with gas, meat or vegetables—even in good times, consumers will change their behavior accordingly, looking for more economic alternatives.

Perhaps more than any other dimension of the future, macro economic forces are going to affect most every aspect of the professional pest management industry, including both supply and demand. The Vision 2020 participants identified five key future trends and their implications relative to the economy and markets, as follows:

Household income. While things may change pending the performance of the overall economy, many economists currently predict that the income gap between the wealthiest and the least wealthy will continue to grow and that the average income may continue to decrease, resulting in a smaller upper and middle class.

Implications: Smaller numbers of upper- and middle-income customers will mean two things. One, pest management professionals (PMPs) may be in greater competition for available business. Two, PMPs may need to explore marketing efforts that increase the perceived need for and value of professional pest management services among lower-income consumers.

Rising input costs. In an increasingly unstable world, the price of raw materials has become increasingly less predictable and that is likely to remain so in the years ahead. This could affect the cost of fuel, fertilizer, utilities and other inputs.

Implications: Rising input costs of any kind will force PMPs to find ways to become even more efficient, or consider consolidating with other PMPs to obtain greater scale and efficiency.

Changing workforce. A seismic shift in the labor force will occur in the years ahead, one in which millions of older, white workers are replaced with millions of more ethnically diverse millennials. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there will not be enough of them to get all the work done.

Implications: This trend will force PMPs to change the way they recruit, train and retain workers. They’ll have to compete for the best workers and will have to explore new avenues for finding talent, perhaps in untraditional places. The industry also must find ways to become more attractive for women, who are entering the workforce in greater numbers than men.

Housing market. The economy has taken its toll on housing. And while new home construction has picked up again, the number of people renting continues to grow at a disproportionately high rate. Further complicating matters is urban sprawl, which over time will result in major metro areas coming together to form “mega cities.”

Implications: As the housing landscape changes, PMPs will need to consider how best to tackle emerging markets represented by new homeowners and property managers. This may include partnerships with smart building suppliers or others capable of offering a holistic approach to pest management. Finally, PMPs will have to rethink their service territories and transportation strategies if they want to follow the sprawl…and the money.

Green economy. While actual spending on “green” products and services tends to wax and wane with the economy, most everyone agrees that interest in environmental protection by government and consumers alike will continue to increase and that sustainability will become a mainstream national value. Evidence of this is the number of start-ups and investment funds aimed at developing “green” innovations capable of addressing environmental issues, creating jobs and stimulating the economy.

Implications: Demand for “green” innovations will continue to grow. The key to capturing value, however, will be delivering tangible benefits that people are willing to pay for. Case in point is the introduction of “softer solutions” that have less environmental impact but meet customer expectations for pest control.

For more information on the Vision 2020 initiative, please visit