Despain has offered structural pest control services since 1990, forming his own company in 1996 and later adding a landscape services component to his business. Today, structural pest control still remains the backbone of his business, bringing in about 80 percent of the revenue. He says over the years he has learned the common challenges and the best way to face them.
The biggest challenge, Despain says, is the health and safety of the client. He says his goal is to always use the least amount of chemical as possible to get the job under control. The weather dependency of structural pest control is also a challenge. During wet years when food supply increases for pests, so does business. But even in the heat of the summer, Despain says he stays busy with several species of ants. His prime season runs from May through the first freeze in late October.
Though there is crossover with the equipment and skills for landscaping and structural pest control, Despain says adding the service takes some forethought. He offered a few of his best tips for adding a structural pest control division.
1. Start small. Don’t try to do too much, too quickly. It’s important to realize that unless you’re willing to invest a lot upfront, this is a business that takes time to build – five years is a reasonable expectation. When I first started out I had this “I need it now” attitude but had I gotten all the work I wanted at once, I would’ve burned out. I never would have been able to sustain it all. It took me a while to realize this, and were I to do it again I wouldn’t rush into things. A business can easily come to own you if you don’t manage it appropriately. Work into business gradually and develop a niche.
2. Be prepared to truly add on. If you’re serious about doing structural pest control, you really need to add an employee and the equipment to get the division off the ground. Yes, the equipment is quite similar to landscaping but sharing it for both divisions is a recipe for disaster. The pest control equipment can easily become contaminated and destroy a landscape. Imagine grabbing Roundup instead of insecticide and spraying your client’s prized rose bush. That’s the kind of mistake that could hurt your reputation. Everyone in this industry knows how quick people are to share a complaint. You always have to assume that the news of one mistake will spread like wild fire. It’s not a risk worth taking.
3. Expect to invest for success. When my son came on board to take over structural pest control and allow me more focus on landscape, I invested about $15,000 in a truck and another $5,000 to $7,000 for the equipment basics – sprayers and chemicals. Plus, you have to factor in the wages and insurance for your employee. This is not a cheap transition into a new division, but if you’re going to do it, you have to do it right.
4. Separate if necessary. I made the decision this year to separate the two divisions with a different logo – essentially creating two different companies. One thing that this allows for, in the future, is the opportunity to be able to sell one of those businesses. If that’s something you might consider down the road, making them separate entities now might be worthwhile. I have Earthwise Landscape & Pest Control Services as well as Steve Despain’s Pest Control.
5. Align yourself with your supplier. I’ve aligned myself with Arborjet and worked closely with their adviser. If I have a question, I don’t hesitate to call. They’ve been a key source of information and help.
6. Do what you do best. That may sound like simple advice, but it’s truly the best advice I can give. A lot of business owners go wrong trying to be too many things to too many people. You should put your focus on the thing you’re best at – whether that be landscaping or structural pest control. Let the business grow organically – most of our business has come from word of mouth over the years. That takes time and patience but is truly the best way to grow a business.