Everyone knows the phrase or a variation of the phrase: “Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.” The reality of thinking carefully about what you want and being prepared to have the wish come true applies in all areas of life—including owning a pest control company.
It is normal for a business owner to wish for the company to grow, but what happens when that growth occurs rapidly over a short period of time? Even when planned, rapid growth is disruptive even to the most prepared business owner. Three company owners share their experiences and lessons learned when their customer base and revenue increased over a short period of time.
YANKEE PEST CONTROL
When Galvin Murphy first started his company in 1990, it was a side business that he conducted on his days off as a firefighter. Eventually it grew to three or four employees, but it wasn’t until his son returned from his tour of duty in Iraq and wanted to join the family business that Murphy—who had retired from the fire department—made plans to intentionally grow the business, which had $1 million of business each year at that point.
“I wanted to create income and security for my family members as well as my employees,” explains Murphy. “After about eight years of growing $3 million each year, we now have 17 licensed employees and eight front office employees for a total of 25.”
The centerpiece of Murphy’s growth strategy was a pest control package that gave residential customers the confidence that Yankee Pest Control technicians would inspect and treat their homes at regular intervals for evidence of pests—a common practice for his commercial and multifamily customers. “One person who had been in the industry for years told me that he wouldn’t advise it because it requires a lot of employees,” says Murphy. After evaluating the pros and cons, he redesigned his business model to include residential packages. “I do need more employees, but I can budget more effectively because I know how many customers we have and how often we have to visit them during the year. Our busy times are predictable.”
The successful strategy resulted in rapid growth that occurred mainly through word-of-mouth from satisfied customers. Murphy turned to technology to make the company more efficient. “We have moved to a completely paperless environment with technicians using handheld devices for all paperwork,” he says.
Because employees are critical to the company’s success, ongoing training is part of the company’s culture, says Murphy. “In addition to the training, we track callbacks, complaints and time spent on the call, to identify employees who may need additional training,” he says. “We want everyone to be proud of the service we provide.”
Murphy also points out that as a company grows, he or she has to rely on others to handle some responsibilities. This applies not only to employees, but also to third-party professionals who can handle vehicle mechanics, human resource functions, accounting and business development. Hanging onto tasks that may be enjoyable but take time away from leading the company will limit growth, he adds.
When asked what he would do differently in the future if the company experienced rapid growth, Murphy suggests that he would plan better for the workforce development needs. “We knew we’d need more employees, but the pace of growth made it difficult to hire and train people before we had the work.”
EDGE PEST CONTROL
Ten years ago, Andrew Richardson, founder and CEO of Edge Pest Control, started his company as a one-man, one-truck business. Today, the $35 million business has eight locations in eight states, employs 350 people and was 27th on the PCT Top 100 list in 2018.
The company has grown 163 percent over the last three years and has done so organically versus acquisition of other companies.
“I attribute the rapid growth we have experienced to clarity of vision, tenacity and amazing employees,” says Richardson. “We know what we want to accomplish, where we are headed, and what we need to do to get there.”
Growth is an integral part of the company’s strategic plan, says Richardson. “We prepared early on by developing and creating our own proprietary software and processes,” he explains. “I knew that we had to differentiate ourselves by leading the industry in developing and refining protocols that relied heavily on customer experience, retention and automation of our business processes.” These processes and automation have allowed his people to serve customers more effectively and spend less time on tasks, he adds.
“One of the greatest challenges in scaling rapidly is maintaining the strength of our culture and consistency of our service,” says Richardson. “We have invested millions of dollars back into our company—both leadership and employees—to ensure we get these two things right, and we will continue to improve this as the future unfolds.”
Richardson shares a few lessons he’s learned throughout the company’s rapid growth:
- Focus on people, not growth. “The biggest growth catalyst is to focus on your customers and employees. If you provide phenomenal service for your customers and an opportunistic environment for your employees your business will thrive.”
- Maintain a strong and healthy culture. “Culture is essential to creating an environment where individuals want to grow and progress.”
- Never compromise. “I see plenty of business owners that grow at the expense of quality or longevity. This never made sense to me. Grow the right way. Growth is good if you can build something that lasts.”
When asked what he would do differently when facing rapid growth in the future he said, “If I could go back and do anything differently, I would’ve enjoyed the journey a little bit more and embraced the grind when we started. I tried to, as much as I knew how, but now looking back I cherish those moments when we first started.”
BIG TIME PEST CONTROL
Purchasing a pest control company, or any business, in 2007 was risky, but Mike Bullert and Big Time Pest Control did not just survive the recession—they grew and thrived.
“When we purchased the company in 2007, there were two employees,” says Bullert, president of the company. Eleven years later, there are 30 employees and an expanded service area.
During the recession, Bullert and his employees focused on growing the business through excellent customer service. Beginning in 2015, the continual effort to grow the business paid off with a 30-plus percent increase over each year for three years. “We doubled our business in less than three years,” he adds.
“The challenge was not in finding new customers, but in getting techs out to a customer’s home within 24 hours of their phone call,” says Bullert. To support efforts to hire enough employees to handle new business, he streamlined his onboarding process and designed training to give employees the skills they need to be able to work independently more quickly.
The next greatest challenge was getting to the point that he felt comfortable delegating responsibilities and giving people the authority to make decisions, says Bullert. He describes the three stages of a business owner’s journey:
- The owner is the business.
- Staff is hired as the business grows and the owner manages everyone.
- The owner leads managers who lead other employees.
“When you reach the third stage, you can scale your business up at a rapid pace,” says Bullert. It is not easy to relinquish control, he admits. “You have to let them make mistakes but also be there to support them.”
Bullert relies on key performance indicators and process checklists to make sure everyone is on the same page. Sharing information that he previously kept to himself, such as revenue growth, customer retention and profit, with managers is necessary to help him guide the company. “I also had to document processes that I had in my head to guide managers and employees, so we were consistent in how we did business.”
Part of Big Time Pest Control’s strategic plan is a well defined plan for growth each year—which helps determine how many employees should be on staff. “We hire for the business for which we budget,” explains Bullert. “This means that we can hire and spend time training someone as we find new customers.”
More importantly, Bullert recommends that pest control company owners that want to grow quickly, pay attention to employees’ attitudes. “Employees who don’t share the vision of the company won’t add value to your business. I would have saved a lot of heartache if I had realized that sooner.”
By Sheryl Jackson