Watch outs for rodents in retail spaces

Godfrey Nalyanya

Retail’s busy season is just around the corner. With the holidays less than 100 days away, stores are preparing for an influx of business. Whether you’re a food retail business or you sell non-food products, rodents represent a real risk to your business this season. Understanding these pests and what attracts them can help you put the right defenses in place to keep them out of your store.

How do rodents get in retail stores?

Rodents aren’t that different from humans when it comes to their basic necessities: they want a warm place to live, food to eat, and water to drink.

Rodents are very opportunistic and will take advantage of structural gaps, open doors, and easy access to get to what they need.

Many retailers that don’t sell food may think that they are immune to rodent problems, but that’s not the case. Just about any business can be at risk for a rodent problem.

Rodents often stroll into stores in the same way people do – through open doors. If your employees are going outside for smoke breaks, or propping doors open when they take the trash out at night, they could inadvertently be giving rodents easy access to your store.

Receiving dock doors are a major culprit for rodent entry. These doors often remain open for long periods of time, giving rodents quick and easy access to the interior of stores. What’s more, these doors are often in close proximity to trash or dumpster areas, which can serve as a buffet for hungry rats and mice. Making the move from dumpster to loading or receiving dock is just a quick scurry.

There’s also the issue of structural integrity. Mice and rats have the unusual ability to be able to squeeze through the smallest of spaces – a mouse can enter a facility through an opening the size of a dime! It doesn’t take a big hole in the side of your building for a rodent to gain access. And remember, gaps, cracks, and holes at any point of your structure are a risk: under doors, along the roofline and foundation, through underground access points like sewers, and more.

Retailers can also have rodent problems introduced via supplies and shipments. If a rodent problem exists at a distribution warehouse, rodents can easily travel into your store on pallets or other supplies without you ever knowing it.

Employee break areas or personal desks are a prime target area for rodents. The presence of food is a major attractant: whether it’s tucked away in cabinets or desk drawers or simply crumbs are left behind by messy employees.

In multi-store or mall-type environments, a problem in one area can quickly spread to other locations. Rodents will take advantage of any opportunity to explore and get to food. Rodent infestations in these communal environments can often be found in ceilings. Mice and rats can also use HVAC and ductwork to travel from one store to the next easily.

What types of rodents can be a problem?

There are three main species of rodents that plague retail environments and each can cause extensive damage. Each of these pests has specific behaviors that will be important to helping to resolve a problem, so proper identification of the rodent is critical.

  • House mouse
  • Roof rat (also called the black rat or ship rat)
  • Norway rat

The house mouse is most likely to be a problem in retail environments. In 2018, house mouse infestations have been on the increase, particularly in the Northeast U.S.

What problems can rodents cause?

Gone unchecked, a rodent infestation in your store can create big problems. Rodents can carry and spread harmful pathogens that are dangerous to humans, creating health and food safety concerns in area they or their droppings or urine contact. They can also be very destructive, damaging equipment and property that can take a bite out of your bottom line.

Here are just a few consequences of a rodent problem in your facility:

  • Contaminated food, surfaces, or equipment that can pose a food safety hazard
  • Contaminated products that need to be destroyed
  • Chewed or gnawed wiring that can lead to electrical issues and fire hazards
  • Structural damage
  • Employee or customer allergies
  • Employee or customer fear
  • Employee morale issues
  • Health department shutdowns
  • Negative media or press
  • Negative viral social media exposure
  • Brand reputation damage

What can a store do to prevent rodent problems?

There isn’t one silver bullet for preventing rodent problems at your store. An integrated approach that involves good sanitation practices, exclusion, a defensive rodent prevention program, and good communication is integral to helping you keep rodents out.

  • Form a good relationship with your property management company. Your property management company is a great resource. They can help you select a reputable pest control company, alert you to problems in shared spaces, or can be leveraged for communal sanitation needs.  


  • Hire a reputable pest control company with retail experience. Not all pest control companies have commercial property expertise. This is a necessity for providing you with the best service, anticipating issues, and knowing how to solve problems.


  • Inspect your store in 360 degrees. Rodents can enter your facility from anywhere. Properly conducted pest control inspections will look high and low, in ceilings and sub-floor or basement areas, inside and outside, and get a 360-degree view of your property to understand the rodent pressures, where rodents may take advantage of structural deficiencies, and what other practices you can implement to prevent rodent entry.


  • Keep doors closed when not in use. Don’t prop doors open to get better circulation. Use signs to remind employees to keep doors closed, even when they are outside for “just a few minutes.”


  • Monitor employee break areas. Keep any food in sealed containers and clean up spills and crumbs immediately.


  • Pay close attention to receiving dock doors. While receiving dock doors may need to remain open more often than others, there are things you can do to eliminate rodent entry in these areas. Inspect new shipments when they arrive to be sure products are free of rodents or evidence of rodent activity (gnawed product, droppings, etc.). Clean up product spills that happen on the dock to prevent attracting rodents. Talk to your pest control provider about what types of mechanisms you can use in the area to help restrict rodent entry.


  • Keep dumpster and trash areas clean. Dumpsters and trash areas can be a major source of rodent attraction. Locate dumpsters as far away as possible from facility doors. Keep trash can and dumpster lids closed and ensure that dumpster drain plugs are in place to prevent rodents from getting inside. Ensure that all trash is placed in closed cans or dumpsters; conduct daily checks to ensure that trash areas remain clean. Dumpsters should be cleaned regularly to eliminate organic debris build up. If you have a contracted trash service, your dumpster provider may replace the dumpster regularly instead. Dumpster pads should also be cleaned regularly.


  • Address storage and utility rooms. Storage and utility rooms are a favorite nesting place for rodents because they are often filled with spaces to hide and offer plenty of nesting material. Clearing out clutter from these areas will make inspecting for rodents easier and limit their ability to hide. Don’t forget to perform exclusion on these areas, too, by sealing holes, gaps, and cracks.  


  • Stay attuned to dramatic weather shifts or weather events. If temperatures suddenly drop or spike, rats and mice may look to get inside to escape the heat or the cold. Similarly, extreme weather events, such as excessive rain or flooding, may put your facility at risk for rodent invasion. Weather events can move rodents from one area to another as they look to escape.

Get started with a rodent management program today

As cooler temperatures move in around North America, now is the time to look at your rodent defenses. Rentokil experts will be happy to conduct a free inspection of your property and offer program recommendations to help you keep your store protected this season. Contact us today or call 800.488.9495 to get started.

Godfrey Nalyanya
Godfrey Nalyanya

Godfrey Nalyanya, Ph.D. is the Regional Technical Services Manager and Entomologist for Rentokil Steritech, overseeing several states in the Northeast U.S. As an expert in urban integrated pest management, Godfrey is primarily responsible for maintaining and enhancing service quality through training. He also troubleshoots and resolves unique pest challenges in accounts, conducts quality assurance reviews, and performs new product evaluations and testing.He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biological Sciences from Egerton University (Njoro, Kenya), and his Masters of Science and Ph.D. in Entomology from North Carolina State University. He is an active member of the Entomological Society of America and Maryland Pest Control Association.

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