Realities of Retail Pest Problems

by Katie Lee

— By Angela Tucker, Ph.D. —

It’s not just a restaurant problem: Here are some common pests in retail facilities.

With frequent deliveries, changing inventories and new visitors every day, retailers face a unique set of pest control challenges and problems. Customers may be alarmed by signs of a pest issue, and these unwelcome visitors may even lead to costly damage to inventory and facilities.

Angela Tucker, Terminix

Retail facility executives should familiarize themselves with general pest control processes and ensure they are followed. Of course, some pests call for special attention. It’s important to understand the threats that bed bugs, rodents, cockroaches and birds present to retail facilities. Here are some steps to help guard against them and signs of an infestation.

General Best Practices

Retailers should follow general best practices to reduce the risk of pest challenges. Structural changes can be made to reduce pest entry, such as air curtains in front of customer entry doors and plastic curtains for vendor and employee doors, helping to dislodge flying pests from visitors’ clothing. Double door vestibules may also help, as the distance between doors helps reduce the likelihood the pests will make it through the second door before being spotted. In addition, retailers should regularly inspect and, if necessary, repair openings around doors, utility penetrations (such as pipes or cables) and windows.

Retailers can also implement staff policies and procedures to help guard against pests. Staff should promptly inspect all deliveries to help reduce the potential for unwanted pests from packages, and management should reinforce those policies at regular trainings. A qualified pest management professional (PMP) can support in these training programs with information about pests and potential damages they can cause.

Of course, even the most stringent preventative practices cannot stop all pests, so it is important to have effective reporting systems in place. The most obvious sign of any type of infestation is a sighting of the pest itself, so it’s crucial to take all reports from customers and employees seriously to get to the root of the issue. Conduct regular inspections throughout the facility to inspect for other signs, such as tracks in dust, open packages of food, fecal droppings or dead insects. These may be found in areas with the necessary items for pests to survive, including behind food areas, under gondolas or in towel and linen storage. Report all evidence of an infestation to a PMP for an inspection and, if necessary, treatment.

Bed Bugs

One of the most challenging and unique pests facing retailers today is bed bugs. They may be brought in on customer clothing or returns, and there are no truly “preventative” treatments that reduce the risk of an infestation. Instead, retailers should institute and enforce internal policies for inspecting returned products, procedures for reporting bed bugs, and guidelines for employees with a bed bug problem at home. Early detection is key, so retailers should work with a PMP to monitor for these apple-seed-sized pests as well as to train staff to identify warning signs.


It’s often said that location is everything for retail, and that same truism applies to rodent control. The likelihood of a rodent infestation in a retail facility may be influenced by its surroundings, such as large parking lots, open fields, abandoned structures and green spaces. Odors from trash may attract rodents closer to the building, leading them to more thoroughly explore the structure and potentially find a hole or weakness to enter. Because everything rodents need to survive and successfully develop a population may be located within a retail space, it is critical to prevent them from getting inside in the first place.


Evidence of just one cockroach in a retail facility may indicate a larger problem. Because cockroaches are nocturnal and prefer to dwell in cracks and crevices, facility managers who see one alive and active during the day should report the sighting to their PMP as soon as possible, who can then investigate whether the structure has been conducive to harboring pest populations and if a larger problem lurks out of sight. Retailers whose facilities are near restaurants may be particularly at risk for German cockroaches, which may be brought in on food, beverages or other deliveries.

Cockroaches can present both sanitation and customer relations concerns, as customers who see a cockroach may not want to shop or eat at the location. For spaces serving food, sightings of dead or live cockroaches or their fecal matter may lead public health inspectors to take additional steps, such as conducting additional inspections, levying fines or even closing the business until the findings are resolved.


Birds flocking in large numbers to a business may present significant health and safety issues. Some species of birds have adapted to thrive in human spaces without migration and tend to generate large flocks, such as European starlings, house sparrows and pigeons. They may roost on roofs and in signage, and generate a large amount of bird feces under these resting areas. This is not only unsightly, but the chemicals may damage the structure over time, and the feces may contain pathogens which could result in illness to some customers and employees.

Location is a key factor for potential bird issues. Birds seek a location with food, water, nesting materials and a location to build their nests, so businesses within 1 to 5 miles of these factors may be at risk for bird flocks. Retailers that keep their doors closed except when necessary rarely have issues with birds inside structures, but exterior flocks may continue to be an issue. Facility managers should consult a PMP who specializes in bird control, as they can identify the structure’s opportunities for bird control and will be familiar with the state laws regarding roosting deterrents.

As with any pest concern, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to prevent infestations in retail facilities. Retail managers should ensure they have a strong line of communication with their pest management professional to determine preventative measures that are most appropriate for their needs, and seek professional support at the first sign of a problem. Working together, retailers and pest management professionals can ensure their business is abuzz for all the right reasons.



— Angela Tucker, Ph.D., is an expert in entomology with leading commercial pest management provider Terminix based in Memphis, Tennessee.





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