Exterminator is pests' natural enemy

Sunday, March 9, 2008
By Douglass Crouse


Joe D'Ambrozio can boil down most of the requests he gets each day to these two: Get rid of my bugs, but don't harm my people.

Lately, he's found a natural way to meet that challenge. While exterminators have traditionally relied on synthetic chemicals, D'Ambrozio has started using plant oils that kill pests with less risk to humans and pets.

J. D'Ambrozio Pest Management Services LLC still employs conventional chemical agents on many commercial and residential jobs. But after 35 years in the pest-control industry, D'Ambrozio sees organic treatments as its future.

Whatever the approach, he and business partner Ron Marrone keep themselves and their customers educated. That means following the latest science, passing it along to technicians and prospective customers and explaining each step of every job before the contract is signed.

"There's a lot of bad information out there, so it's important to have the answers ready when people call," D'Ambrozio said.

He's quick to say that nothing he or other exterminators use is without some risks. Even botanically based organic products can trigger allergic reactions in some people and cause eye and skin irritation if not applied properly.

"Nobody in the industry should be advertising that what they're applying is safe," D'Ambrozio said.

An Air Force veteran, D'Ambrozio started working for an extermination company in Yonkers, N.Y., in 1973. The owner took him under his wing, teaching him the ins and outs of sales, and made him general manager four years later.

He left in 1980 to start his own Yonkers-based business, All-Country Pest Control, which he sold eight years later. He and his wife then moved to New Jersey, where he launched his current company in 1991. Today, the business is about 60 percent commercial and the rest residential.

Marrone joined three years ago and the company started using organic insecticides a year later. D'Ambrozio said he has always sought to minimize chemical applications. So when effective organic replacements became available, he saw them as a logical way to further that goal. His company's primary product, made by EcoSMART Technologies Inc. in Atlanta, is a blend of peppermint and rosemary oils that kills bugs, from beetles to mosquitoes to cockroaches.

A spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association said the group does not keep figures on how many of its 5,000-plus members use organic products.

Not all of D'Ambrozio's clients are sold on organic pesticides. For one thing, they generally cost 20 percent to 30 percent more than conventional treatments. Also, some restaurant owners don't like the minty smell. However, the all-natural option is increasingly popular with residential customers, D'Ambrozio said.

Schools represent another potential growth area, he said. By state law, most conventional spraying can be done only when schools are unoccupied, he said. But with community groups often using buildings at night and on weekends, scheduling fumigations can be nearly impossible. Organic sprays help address that problem.

"School business offices and purchasing offices just need to be educated about them," D'Ambrozio said.

D'Ambrozio also teaches pest-management training classes at Bergen Community College and occasionally certification courses at Rutgers University. These include instruction in integrated pest management, a set of practices that emphasizes an understanding of pest-life cycles to limit use of conventional chemicals.

"We're constantly discovering new habits among the same old pests," D'Ambrozio said.

Most insects, for instance, spend 80 percent of their time hiding, he said. So he stresses the need to spray in cracks and crevices: Chemicals break down in light and circulating air, and will adhere more readily to bugs that brush up against them in tight spaces.

A strong believer in business owners staying involved in their communities, D'Ambrozio served as a Paramus councilman from 2002 to 2004 and president of the Greater Paramus Chamber of Commerce in 1998 and 1999.

He remains active in two chambers -- Paramus and Meadowlands Regional -- and a networking group in Franklin Lakes. Such groups, he finds, promote long-term relationships that lead to dependable referrals.

"How would you feel recommending somebody if you didn't truly know that person?" he said.

D'Ambrozio also employs what he calls intra-industry networking. For instance, he and Marrone might handle a pigeon infestation for a competitor one day, then refer a similarly specialized job to another company the next.

In the office, the two partners encourage constructive criticism from one another. Often, they listen to each other's phone conversations with customers and later provide critiques.

That injects a helpful dose of humility into each day, D'Ambrozio said.

"As a business owner, you can't be someone who thinks they know everything or you won't last long," he said.