Tips from Three Owners Who Have Been There
Entrepreneurs take pride in seeing their businesses grow, but sometimes the growth may be so rapid that they feel as if “they are drinking from a firehose.” It is easy to be overwhelmed, but three NPMA members share some lessons learned during their periods of rapid growth to help other members benefit from their experience.
ARUZA PEST CONTROL
In June 2016, Aruza Pest Control consisted of two trucks and two best friends who knocked on doors to sell and handle services. The first year’s revenue was $67,000, but four years later, the company reached the $6 million mark, employs 50+ full-time employees and has five locations with two more opening in 2021.
“We had a sales process in place and knew how to generate revenue, but we did not know anything about running a pest control business when we started,” said Solomon Airhart, president and co-founder of the company. “We just figured that as long as we worked harder, we’d be successful, but we did not have a plan.”
As the company continued to grow, and a third partner with sales experience was added, the founders became more strategic and established a clear vision of their annual goals that are designed to help them meet their three- and 10-year goals.
A major decision addressed marketing. “We never wanted to be known as a door-to-door company, but instead an amazing pest control company that utilized door-to-door sales,” Airhart said. In 2018, the third partner came onboard to oversee a second company—Aruza Marketing. “The marketing company provides summer internships for college students that give practical experience in sales, communications, marketing and career development as they sell door-to-door,” he explained. “Because this is a separate company, the sales team can also sell for other pest control companies that are not in our markets.” This allows Aruza Pest Control to be strategic on when and how it uses its door-to-door program to grow its own brand.
“One of the major challenges we faced and are still facing as a young company is having the right people in place,” Airhart said. “When you begin growing rapidly, the tendency is to just hire to fill empty seats.” Overcoming the people challenge required putting a recruitment, interview and hiring process in place that focuses on hiring people who help make Aruza a great place to work, he said. “We also defined an advancement process so as we recruit people, we can show how they can build a career with us, not just have a job.”
As each new location is opened, the primary service offered is pest control, Airhart said. “We focus on our strength, which is residential pest control, to build a foundation, then branch managers can add auxiliary services depending on the need in their community.”
PLATINUM PEST SOLUTIONS
Nine years ago, Michael Panichi, vice president of Platinum Pest Solutions, and his two partners started a bed bug company because they believed that specialization provided the most opportunity. “We also provided general pest control, but we did not market ourselves that way or actively seek those accounts,” Panichi said.
That philosophy changed two years later when Panichi and Jason Sayre, president of Platinum, heard a presentation for bed bug companies. “The speaker told us we should be focusing on recurring revenue, which meant offering and marketing services other than bed bug extermination,” he said.
Today the company’s business is 45% multifamily pest control, 45% bed bug extermination, 5% commercial such as hospitals and retail and 5% residential—with 84 employees and three locations. “It took us 14 months from the day we opened to hit $1 million in sales, but at six years, we were at $5.5 million,” Panichi said. “We converted many of the multifamily properties we had as bed bug customers to general pest control and added other commercial properties.”
The greatest challenge from start-up was cash flow, Panichi said. Personal savings of the three partners, family loans and loans from a small business banker kept the company moving forward, but it was not easy.
“Traditional banks would not give us loans because they don’t like to work with small business,” Panichi said. “We had great accounts receivables, but most multifamily properties are 30 to 60 day pay, and we needed to buy supplies, equipment and hire employees to keep up with the accounts that Jason kept bringing in,” he said. “I recommend that anyone starting a business find a small business banker and work with them.”
Panichi and his other partner, Ken Williams, found themselves handling all aspects of the business, including treatments, while dealing with constant employee turnover. “I wish I had read the Transaction® series of books describing the Entrepreneurial Operating System® before we started the business,” he said. “I now know you need to work on the infrastructure of the business—HR, training, other core processes—to ensure success.”
“Too many sales and rapid growth are good problems to have, but they also bring challenges,” Panichi said. In the initial stages of rapid growth, employee turnover was higher than usual because they could not provide the training and support people needed to succeed because they were scrambling to keep up with the pace of growth. “We now have HR processes in place, and we hire and evaluate people based on our core values,” he said. “We can teach someone how to be a pest control tech, but we can’t teach them how to share our values and work as a team member.”
PASS PEST CONTROL
Now in its 13th month of operation, Pass Pest Control is Kevin Pass’ second chapter in the pest management industry. In spite of starting a business in the same year of a global pandemic, the company is on track to reach the $2 million mark this year.
“My previous life was with another company that I started and ran for 30 years, growing it to seven locations and seeing double-digit growth in the last eight years I owned it,” Pass, founder of the company, said. After five years away from the industry, he decided that he was ready to start another pest management business.
The new company operates in the same area as the previous one but on a smaller scale—by design, Pass said. “We have 17 employees, including office staff, an in-office sales person, a field sales team and technicians,” he said. In the first year, he has focused on sales, building a team that knocks on doors and is supported by internet advertising. “The most growth has been in residential, but my next sales hire will be someone who focuses on cold calling commercial customers.”
While his marketing plan is aggressive, Pass has removed the responsibility for sales from his technicians’ shoulders. One idea from his previous company is the PIG program—Partnership in Growth—that lets technicians pass leads on to a sales person if a homeowner expresses interest in another service. “Not all technicians are comfortable selling, so we let the sales people do what they do best,” he said. “If the customer buys additional services, the technician splits the commission with the sales person.” During the first year, technician leads accounted for 15% of sales, he added.
COVID-19 actually provided a need for disinfecting services, which Pass offered. “Our main services are bed bug extermination, backyard mosquito treatments, and pest and termite control, but the disinfecting service was 20 to 25% of our sales this first year, which was nice to have as we built our main business,” he said.
Pass is doing things a bit different this time. He’s hired an experienced manager to oversee day-to-day operations, and he’s remembering lessons learned during growing pains with his previous company. “We offered all types of different services throughout the 30 years I owned the company, including lawncare, snow plowing and handyman services,” he said. “Now, I am going to keep things simple, and we’ll stay in our lane.”
BY SHERYL S. JACKSON