It’s every c-store operator’s nightmare: A viral video starring an army of cockroaches or a family of rats parading through your products. Not only are pests and rodents bad for business, but they’re hazardous to staff and customer health.
There are ways to spoil this pest party, however. We consulted four experts across the country for their top tips to safely protect the integrity of your business from creepy crawlers of all kinds.
A growing problem for c-store owners
“The volume of mouse, rat and wildlife issues out there is exploding, year after year,” says Bill Dowd, owner of Hamilton-based Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control.
“Rodents carry more than 60 diseases that are transmissible to humans, so there's a health and safety risk for the store owner, the employees, and their customers.”
Pests will damage or devour your product, eating into your bottom line and your reputation.
Don’t let them in
C-store owners should proactively hire a pest company to find all potential entry points pests can use to get into the store, suggests entomologist Taz Stuart, director of technical operations at Poulin’s Pest Control in Winnipeg.
“Make sure foundations, cracks and crevices are filled so there's no access for rodents or other pests; that includes using rodent-proofing material like Xcluder,” says Stuart.
Inside, make sure all doors—front, back, side and receiving—are covered with mechanical devices and bait stations where required. Get a pest’s eye view by inspecting the bottom of your exterior doors, suggests Jun Bukht, associate certified entomologist at Major Pest Control in Edmonton.
“Old weather stripping doesn't work well; if you can see light coming through or you can put a pencil through, mice can get in,” says Bukht. “If your gap’s the size of a quarter, rats can enter, too.”
Make your facility unattractive to them by reducing clutter and making sure there's not a lot of brush right up against the building. Set up mechanical and glue traps throughout the building, where back entrances meet the walls.
“Some people do it with weather prevention in mind, and they don’t realize how tightly it needs to be sealed if you want to keep ants out, for example,” says Moncton-based entomologist Sean Rollo, technical director for Orkin Canada.
“We see people using expanding foam to seal gaps, but that’s not going to stop rodents – they’ll just burrow right through that.”
Watch for warning signs of pests on patrol
When restocking shelves, look for black or brown, rice-shaped droppings behind products or on the floor, especially in corners, says Bukht.
“Rodents communicate through their poop: Usually, if you see just one dropping, there's a female rat or mouse ready to mate. Multiple droppings tell other rats or mice there’s a food source here,” he explains.
Other signs of unwanted guests include packaging that has been chewed or scratched, and teeth marks on cardboard boxes or drywall. Listen for rustling, scratching, squeaking or gnawing noises, and sniff around for a musty odour. You may also see rodents scurrying about, especially the more curious babies. They like to nest around or under coolers and refrigerators, under the sink or inside walls, notes Bukht, who uses talcum powder at night to see where rodent footsteps lead.
If you see signs of pests, don’t ignore it, warns Dowd. “Rodents reproduce every 21 days, and they typically have five to seven babies per litter, so things get out of control very quickly."
Keep everything clean and properly stored
Pests usually choose your store due to poor sanitation, so wipe spills up promptly, especially pop syrup, which attracts flies, roaches and rodents, advises Bukht. Garbage should be removed daily.
“As soon as boxes are emptied, throw them out,” says Bukht. “Mice like to hide in there for shelter and cockroaches love corrugated cardboard sheets.”
Don’t store things in gaps between coolers and the wall, where mice like to nest. To trap cockroaches, set up insect monitors anywhere near food, says Stuart.
“With roaches, you’ve got to be hospital clean. You don't want them to get established: In 32-36 days, you’ll have another 24-48 from a female cockroach,” he explains.
In back storage areas, keep boxes at least a foot off the floor and store food in sealed plastic bins.
Be diligent about deliveries
Pests travel to c-stores through food and supply delivery. Stuart suggests asking suppliers whether they have pest programs in place. When a supplier has a rodent problem, you'll often see teeth marks or find fecal matter in the plastic wrapping or on the pallet, he adds.
When doors are propped open for deliveries, that’s another open invitation to critters, so keep them closed. Of course, c-store owners should be realistic about how vigilant their team can be when it comes to pest duty, acknowledges Rollo.
“An employee can't spend 10 hours searching through every shipment to see if there's pest activity, but they can do some inspections,” explains Rollo.
“Cockroaches are harder to spot; they like to hide in corrugated cardboard. But if you unpack, put things on shelves and take the cardboard out immediately, that helps.”
Prioritize a pest control protocol
A pest control contract, where a licensed technician will set and check traps monthly and seal off entry points can help protect your business. A thorough inspection plus recommendations to remove or prevent pests can take anywhere from an hour to half a day depending on the size of your store, notes Rollo.
“It's money well spent. It's not an expenditure; it's an investment,” he says. “It's no different than a security system company that evaluates your property for weak spots in your building that criminals can access.”
Bukht adds that c-store owners need to face potential pest problems right away.
“Keep on top of it, rather than waiting until a customer shoots a video through your window of the rats all over the chocolate display,” he warns.