Have you ever walked to and from school with bare feet, in the snow, uphill?- BOTH WAYS? 😉 Now I realize this can be an over used analogy to describe a not so piece of cake period of time in someone’s life but this does describe my time when I started my pest control business some 20 years ago. Staying true to this theme, there were days, weeks, months and years where it seemed I was all alone on a snowy white road with nothing but large waves of snow drifts in front of me that constantly grew with the ice cold and unforgiving winds. One after another with no way around and a sky so whited out, there wasn’t even a horizon to offer a glimmer of hope.
I realize of course, this type of ‘start’ for budding pest control companies is not unique to me alone. In fact I saw others who began on that road about the time I did. A few plowed by me in their big fancy trucks and I envied them and wondered just how they could possibly accomplish this. Most however, were much like me and I was surprised that so many of them who started off hot were so soon frozen stiff by the unrelenting cold realities of the corporate world. A few plodded along as I did- also at a slow but steady pace, some, ahead of me, others drifted farther and farther behind. As the years went by and the long and dreary winter gave way to the hope of spring. Moving ahead became a little easier and I was shocked to find most of the big fancy trucks that once left me behind, were now rusted and abandoned on the side of the road. I had made it through one season but as I came to find out, there were still many stormy days ahead.
Front Row Seat
I’m sure most if not all of you have seen this type of scenario play out several times. You’re at a stop light and a ‘new’ bug truck you’ve never seen before pulls up along side. Or maybe at a Ceu class and you see a person you recognize that once worked for someone else but now has on a different shirt sporting their own brand new companies logo. You mark the new competition in your mind and go about your business. It might be months or even a year or two later when you realize, looking around you no longer see that cute little bug truck traipsing across your territory- that persons gone and it’s then you realize, they have been swallowed up by the harsh blizzards of business.
With the odds so against any new start up I thought for sure I had made one of the smartest moves in my career by buying into the safety of an established opportunity. I wasn’t alone and hundreds of techs and business wanna-be’s from across the state were lured into this ‘unique franchise’ as well. This was sold to all of us as an ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ that offered the easiest ways to pest control riches without the expense. We soon found out however, that we were truly on our own having to supply everything we needed out of our own pockets and somehow we were still stupid enough to pay this company for the privilege. Somehow I rose up to be the area manager of this ragged tagged bunch and it was quite the experience but it’s not something I have on my resume.
To say this franchise was different might be an understatement. We didn’t own any territories or have much in the way of corporate support like advertising or a big well known name. This was just a grand scheme where those who had desires but lacked a license could build a route using the one small certificate that hung in an office 250 miles away. For your fee of $2500 dollars you got a spill control bucket, two vehicle stickers and a hearty “atta boy” from the smooth and oh so believable owner. The idea took the state by storm and the company grew by leaps and bounds. The problem was that no one had any standard company issued vehicles or equipment. Pulling into our weekly meeting was like pulling in to a low budget used car lot. With no continuity of tools, we had no standard of service and problems soon followed and seemed to always plague what looked like on paper anyways, a rock star company.
Like I said, I rose up to be the manager of the North Florida Region-well, more like I was the only one dumb enough to say yes when asked after our Gainesville office was unceremoniously shut down and who knows what happened to the guy that was in charge. It was a fancy title but it came with more baggage than it did perks. The operation was always pretty loose but when the last ‘big dawg’ from HQ vacated the scene and the owner came by less and less, things started to go down hill fast. Now the meetings were at my home and I was responsible for teaching pest control, gathering paperwork and collection of money. The guys/gal were for the most part great but more and more meetings were just me and maybe one or two other techs. I barely heard from anyone but it was obvious they were still operating. The firm had always been in the gray area but now it was definitely over the line. It was as if these guys had too much freedom and began to run amuck throughout the state. I was getting calls from corporate to answer screaming customer complaints from people I had never heard of. Slick salesman in my branch were selling high dollar jobs and then never showing up once the checks cleared. More than once I put 100 miles on my truck just to appease a disgruntled client. I took on so much free work to fulfill the companies side of legally and binding signed contracts that I wondered if I’d ever get paid. The owner would just smile and say in his long drawn out southern accent, “I appreciate you and I’ll make it right, just you wait and see.” Somehow, I was stupid enough to fall for this every time even though I knew it wasn’t true.
With less and less support from the ‘mother ship’ and now the great State of Florida actively ‘peering’ into company activities, it wasn’t long before the meteoric rise of this once promising company began to fall apart. One by one the would be entrepreneurs jumped ship and so many crashed and burned. Some left for the safety of another company but others not willing to give up on the dream struck out truly on their own. As thousands of unhappy customers were left to dangle in the wind, dozens of new companies spawned off of this epic failure and as best I can tell, they simply repeated the process of collapse, albeit perhaps in a different way. Sadly, from those days, there are only two of us left.