How I started my pest control business

Almost every kid says at one time or another… “I want to be a (fill in the blank) when I grow up.” It’s invariably a fireman, doctor, teacher or some other laudable career but I have yet to hear “I want to be a bug man” from any youngster. Not even my own kids are thrilled with the idea but they do have a knack for the job. I don’t think anybody seeks the career of pest control so much as I believe the career finds them. I am one of these people that pest control found and I share this story for those who are also in the industry that may be curious and to those just visiting my blog that may be considering a job or even starting their own business. Hopefully for all of you it will provide some insight and just maybe my story will help you advance in your endeavors.

I was 22 and by now I had done everything from building dog houses to window washing but early in 1984 I found myself as a short order cook for a semi classy sandwich shoppe. I hated it and I made the worst sandwich’s known to man but the money was good and despite my lack of bread artistry the lines outside the doors never ceased. At one point I told the mgt. I was going to quit unless I got a huge raise thinking they would let me go and release me from this hell. Much to my surprise I got the raise and if I had a car I’m sure they’d have given me my own parking spot. Now I was really stuck and hated it even more because I felt trapped in a 12 x20 kitchen with the ungodly heat of the ovens sapping my body 8 hours a day. My only glimpse of the outside world was the front window but that was always filled with hungry unsuspecting people. I wanted out but how could I leave now?

By summer I had perfected my sandwich making but now it was hotter than ever both inside and out and I was desperate to leave but there were no jobs out there that paid as well. One day while commiserating with my girl friend (now wife) the phone rang and it was a friend of mine who worked for Terminix. He said there was a position coming available and it paid $11.00 an hour. That’s all I needed to hear and I was at the branch office the next day. I remember walking into this busy office with phones ringing, technicians coming in one door and out the other and everyone seemed so professional and doing such important things. I wasn’t at all sure of what a pest control guy did but I knew I wanted to be part of this profession. I was hired on the spot and I left my sandwich making career forever in my past. (almost)

A lot happened since then and I learned so much but fast forward to 1990 and my wife & I moved to Florida on the promise of a major career advancement for me from a very large company. It only took a week after uprooting from a very comfortable life in Baltimore to find out that not everybody in the business world tells the truth. My promised position (if it ever existed) was gone and instead of a company car I was handed the keys to a ratty old pickup and told to run a route. Devastated to say the least I now had to make ends meet on 1/2 the salary and twice the work I had planned for. It didn’t take long for my wife and I to decide we needed to go out on our own.

I was certified in Maryland but had to wait at least one year to take my Florida test to be able to run my own business and it couldn’t come fast enough. In the mean time I bought into a franchise pest control outfit just to get away from the evil corporate giant that all but ruined my career. It was great at first but it came with no customers, little support and let’s just say we operated in the gray areas of Florida law in many ways. When the time came I took and passed my tests in 3 categories but instead of getting away from this ramshackle franchise I was convinced to stay with the position of area mgr. and promise of good things to come. I guess I helped them with one gray area (you have to have certified operators) but I’ll be damned if another promise wasn’t worth the paper it was written on and it seemed the only people making money was them, from me!

In 1993 I had had enough and struck out truly on my own. I remember distinctly the first months grand total for the work I did. $193.00 and that was all- if it wasn’t for our faith in God and my wife working double shifts during these dark times we never would have made it. Each month got better however and in this sleepy little town where only the slick salesman made the big bucks or someone in the good ol boy network make it big, I was dead set on making a name for myself. Since I was neither of these things it proved to be slow and there were a lot of peanut butter sandwich’s along the way. (I told you I ‘almost’ put that career behind me) I tried everything to increase my company and even set up a booth at a flea market with termites in a fish tank eating a little cardboard house I made. For all I lack in sales skills I knew I made up in my service and although I took the long way around my wife & I had finally built a very decent sized route. In 2003 I was able to buy out a small company which is one of the best things I’ve ever done, we did that again in 07 and although we’re not the biggest in town still-I’m sure we’re the talk of many an office and a force to be reckoned with.

There is of course hundreds of stories in between the lines and I’m sorry I made this such a long article. Maybe some day I’ll have them all finally written down or you can come by the house and I can tell you a few. Just call before you come, that way I’ll be sure to have a sandwich all made up and waiting for you.

About The Bug Doctor

Jerry Schappert is a certified pest control operator and Associate Certified Entomologist with over two and a half decades of experience from birds to termites and everything in between. He started as a route technician and worked his way up to commercial/national accounts representative. Always learning in his craft he is familiar with rural pest services and big city control techniques. Jerry has owned and operated a successful pest control company since 1993 in Ocala,Florida. While his knowledge and practical application has benefitted his community Jerry wanted to impart his wisdom on a broader scale to help many more. Pestcemetery.com was born from that idea in 2007 and has been well received. It is the goal of this site to inform you with his keen insights and safely guide you through your pest control treatment needs.
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  • Jeff Ledford

    Jerry, I started my career in pest control in 1989. I was working Flight Line Service at a local airport and wanted to do part time work to support my ministry. So I took a job with an old family friend who had just taken over his dad’s pest control business. I worked 4 days a week spraying apartments for ROACHES. And I mean ROACHES. They would fall off the door onto your head as you opened the door to go in.

    In 1994 I opened my own business, and had incentive hen to look into a better way, as my wife had many health concerns and pesticides were not good for her to be exposed to. Today, after selling my business back in 2007, I find myself starting from scratch again – totally unexpectedly. After working for over a year as a security officer for a local resort, I caught 2 fellow workers doing things they ought not. I learned that there is no such thing as protection from retaliation – I got the boot for turning them in, along with video evidence of what they were doing. Not having much else to chose from, I started a new pest management business in September 09. I guess once the bug bites you, you are just infected……lol

  • Jeff Ledford

    Jerry, I started my career in pest control in 1989. I was working Flight Line Service at a local airport and wanted to do part time work to support my ministry. So I took a job with an old family friend who had just taken over his dad’s pest control business. I worked 4 days a week spraying apartments for ROACHES. And I mean ROACHES. They would fall off the door onto your head as you opened the door to go in.

    In 1994 I opened my own business, and had incentive hen to look into a better way, as my wife had many health concerns and pesticides were not good for her to be exposed to. Today, after selling my business back in 2007, I find myself starting from scratch again – totally unexpectedly. After working for over a year as a security officer for a local resort, I caught 2 fellow workers doing things they ought not. I learned that there is no such thing as protection from retaliation – I got the boot for turning them in, along with video evidence of what they were doing. Not having much else to chose from, I started a new pest management business in September 09. I guess once the bug bites you, you are just infected……lol

  • The Bug Doctor

    It amazes me to hear different stories and I think you’re right–once bitten you can never go back. Some people run for the exits with the kind of start you had. You must have pest control in your blood for sure.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    The Bug Doctor

  • The Bug Doctor

    It amazes me to hear different stories and I think you’re right–once bitten you can never go back. Some people run for the exits with the kind of start you had. You must have pest control in your blood for sure.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

    The Bug Doctor

  • Will

    Hey Bug Doctor I’m 24 and I started my own pest control company in January and I’m struggling. I was amazed by your story on this website. I just wanted to ask u what all u did to advertise and get your company out there. I can’t seem to get any customers. I’ve gone out and put flyer on cars at walmart, told friends to tell other friends, and even put a nice big ad in the local newspaper. I just can’t seem to get a consistent rout going. So if there’s any advise u have for me and your willing to tell and help me it would be very nice. Thanks for your time.

    Will.H

  • Will

    Hey Bug Doctor I’m 24 and I started my own pest control company in January and I’m struggling. I was amazed by your story on this website. I just wanted to ask u what all u did to advertise and get your company out there. I can’t seem to get any customers. I’ve gone out and put flyer on cars at walmart, told friends to tell other friends, and even put a nice big ad in the local newspaper. I just can’t seem to get a consistent rout going. So if there’s any advise u have for me and your willing to tell and help me it would be very nice. Thanks for your time.

    Will.H

  • The Bug Doctor

    Hey Will,
    I can almost feel your struggle by the words you’ve written. I reread my article again and then ended with the comments which fit so well with the story as if I had them written specifically for the post. This is not a unique thing to the bug world but so many of us go through it. Actually a good friend of mine (was in the franchise too, which is where I met him) started his company 3 months after I did so we were able to ‘bounce’ things off each other and be sounding boards etc. When I was down he’d pick me up and vice versa. Now all these years later we reminisce about those days and wonder how we ever made it. Now I am along farther than he at this point but he got to his goal along time ago and is fine with where he is–
    For advice to help you which believe me is my privilege to do; let me tell you what my friend says to me as to why I excelled.

    #1 I have a partner (wife) who did anything and everything including spraying for a week while I learned how to walk on a cast and crutches. He had no real support and to him that was the biggest difference.
    #2 The flea market I wrote about was a nice boost and probably was my best lead generator. (the market was on Sundays so it made for a long week)
    #3 While we all benefitted from the housing boom around here I continued to build my route and didn’t do as much real estate. When that burst I wasn’t hurt quite as much.
    #4 (and he admits this grudgingly and I attribute it to having kids so I HAD to) I worked anywhere, any time, any distance and always shot for the big commercial jobs–that always opened me up to a big pool of new prospects and it all worked out.
    #5 I bit the bullet and bought a small route in 03 which was really key. I didn’t have the cash so it took some work at the bank to get the deal done.

    There is a lot more of course & not knowing you’re situation all I can tell you what worked for me. Both my friend & I did everything you mentioned and even door knocked which I hated.. I’m always wary and mindful of what it took and I still do 10 and 12 hour days partly because I never want to struggle again.

    Not sure if this helps but please feel free to e-mail me anytime if you ever need a little advice or encouragement. It sounds like you’re on your way but the first few steps are always the hardest.

    Thanks for reading
    The Bug Doctor
    thebugdoctor@pestcemetery.com

  • The Bug Doctor

    Hey Will,
    I can almost feel your struggle by the words you’ve written. I reread my article again and then ended with the comments which fit so well with the story as if I had them written specifically for the post. This is not a unique thing to the bug world but so many of us go through it. Actually a good friend of mine (was in the franchise too, which is where I met him) started his company 3 months after I did so we were able to ‘bounce’ things off each other and be sounding boards etc. When I was down he’d pick me up and vice versa. Now all these years later we reminisce about those days and wonder how we ever made it. Now I am along farther than he at this point but he got to his goal along time ago and is fine with where he is–
    For advice to help you which believe me is my privilege to do; let me tell you what my friend says to me as to why I excelled.

    #1 I have a partner (wife) who did anything and everything including spraying for a week while I learned how to walk on a cast and crutches. He had no real support and to him that was the biggest difference.
    #2 The flea market I wrote about was a nice boost and probably was my best lead generator. (the market was on Sundays so it made for a long week)
    #3 While we all benefitted from the housing boom around here I continued to build my route and didn’t do as much real estate. When that burst I wasn’t hurt quite as much.
    #4 (and he admits this grudgingly and I attribute it to having kids so I HAD to) I worked anywhere, any time, any distance and always shot for the big commercial jobs–that always opened me up to a big pool of new prospects and it all worked out.
    #5 I bit the bullet and bought a small route in 03 which was really key. I didn’t have the cash so it took some work at the bank to get the deal done.

    There is a lot more of course & not knowing you’re situation all I can tell you what worked for me. Both my friend & I did everything you mentioned and even door knocked which I hated.. I’m always wary and mindful of what it took and I still do 10 and 12 hour days partly because I never want to struggle again.

    Not sure if this helps but please feel free to e-mail me anytime if you ever need a little advice or encouragement. It sounds like you’re on your way but the first few steps are always the hardest.

    Thanks for reading
    The Bug Doctor
    thebugdoctor@pestcemetery.com

  • Jonathan

    i want to do pest control for myself. Do i need a certain liscense to apply chemicals when custermers call me, or do i act like it as a side job.

  • Jonathan

    i want to do pest control for myself. Do i need a certain liscense to apply chemicals when custermers call me, or do i act like it as a side job.

  • The Bug Doctor

    Jonathan,

    It would be a great world in which to live if we could all just do what we wished with no training or thought of other people and their safety. Not only do you need a license you really need a thorough understanding of what you’re getting into. I’ve written an article with local links for pest control. http://pestcemetery.com/links-pest-control/ Find your state and you should be able to find the qualifications you’ll need and if it’s something you think you can do, then let me be the first to say. Good Luck.

    Thanks for reading
    The Bug Doctor

  • The Bug Doctor

    Jonathan,

    It would be a great world in which to live if we could all just do what we wished with no training or thought of other people and their safety. Not only do you need a license you really need a thorough understanding of what you’re getting into. I’ve written an article with local links for pest control. http://pestcemetery.com/links-pest-control/ Find your state and you should be able to find the qualifications you’ll need and if it’s something you think you can do, then let me be the first to say. Good Luck.

    Thanks for reading
    The Bug Doctor

  • Pingback: Is Your Pest Control Company Built On A House Of Cards?-It May Not Be Up To You()

  • Charlese37

    Well I’m pretty new to the industry and I’m not making a whole lot of money and me and my wife have a baby on the way crazy thing I been promised a lot of things since I started at this company like a raise when I got LICENCED didn’t happen a truck for my route DIDN’T HAPPEN still using my own vehicle. It feels like I’m making this guy rich and def under appreciated I want to go out on my own so bad I been saving every penny I make and all my side work I been building good customer relations. Really what should I do I post things on Craig’s list and I’m starting to branch out on the Internet I’m looking for a cheap insurance rate but I’m def scared of this blowing up in my face since I’m so new but I can say I picked up on this really quick any feed back would be appreciated. Charles from

  • Hey Charles,
    It can & often is a long hard road to establish a new route.
    For some more insight & perhaps ideas-I’ve got several articles that may help you in my “The Business of Pest Control” section. In the blue topic section and just scroll down. Also- I have a course coming out soon which is designed specifically for those who like you (& me 20 years ago) find themselves in need of help on how to build a business and grow.

    In the meantime, this article may help as well
    http://pestcemetery.com/single-operator-setbacks-keeping-faith/

    Keep in touch & All the Best to you & your family.

  • Ron Bradford

    Hi, I started a pest business a few years ago. I had another job that paid the bills while I built the pest business. It seemed to be on a roll at first but has leveled off the past 2 years or so. I have contracts but have rarely used them. I think this has hurt me. I tried being nice by not making customers sign anything. To them, that’s great, but its killing me. Customers seem to be dropping off gradually. When money gets tight they cancel service. Its easy for them to do because theyre not under contract. Ive talked to other pest owners and some have warned me that I better use contracts/agreements. Others have told me theyve never used them and their business is doing great. I dont have money to advertise. I just use signs and business cards. Word of mouth isnt working like it once did. I give them great service but I think Ive just been too nice. When a potential customer would ask if there is an agreement to sign, too often I would proudly say “I rarely use contracts, I dont like signing them and I dont expect my customers to.” I think Im paying the price for this now. I often think about going back to work for a pest company, then I remember the things I hated about it. Like many pest guys, the pest industry found me. Running a pest business also found me. It just kind of happened. It wasnt some dream of mine but I do love the freedom I have. Since I started this my goal was to never hire anyone. I want to be a one man show who never has to worry about someone else and what theyre doing. I just want a nice size route with plenty to do. Do you have any advice as to how I can get things rolling again?? Thanks!

  • I like that tag line about not liking to sign contracts so you don’t ask your clients to… I’m gonna use that one 😉
    I don’t have contracts except for termite and commercial pest jobs. I feel as you do and I have often wrestled with the same thoughts. You could “dip” your feet into the contracts by approaching your commercial clients first– see how they react. Most pest insurance companies encourage contracts so that could be your rationale rather than saying you’re trying to lock em in… I don’t think however contracts will stop somebody from canceling.especially for small companies (like me) who don’t have lawyers and collection agency muscle to back up any demands…when the money isn’t there it isn’t there…I lose some I’m sure because of no contract but I’m not sure how many ‘less’ I’d lose if I did have them…Plus when the year is up do you ‘re-sign’? You might look at putting a statement on your service ticket about the importance of timely maintenance visits or do a flyer..I’ve done both and they worked ok (I guess) In our business we’ll always lose some but getting a steady new supply that out paces the loss seems to me to be the answer… I use referrals as my biggest weapon… and my office is relentless at calling and recalling people who put us off. (nice-but relentless) I have a section of my site that may help.http://pestcemetery.com/category/business/

    I cover a lot of these things in different articles I’ve written. Hopefully something may stir up some hope and a good direction for you. Most important, never give up. Your goal is a GREAT one and the path to least frustration. The trick will be getting to that point of ‘cruise control’ where it’s hardly an effort anymore and you get to and stay at a nice comfort level. If I can help in anyway please let me know. You can get to me directly via my ask the bug doctor tab. http://pestcemetery.com/bug-doctor/

    Good luck

  • Ryan Barnett

    Hey Bug Doctor,
    How did you go about buying your first business? How many routes or employees did it bring on? How expensive was it? And did you keep the name of the company you bought, or change it to your company name?
    Thank You,
    Ryan – Pied Piper Pest Control, Inc.

  • Hey Ryan,

    A lot of those questions are answered in pretty decent detail in my topic section The Business of Pest Control. If you find that you need more info-let me know…I’ll do my best to help. http://pestcemetery.com/category/business/

  • bobby

    i also fell into pest control by chance, i was an ambulanceman in glasgow and making £40 odd pound a week back in 1976, as i sat in the ambulance waiting for emergency call out’s i seen the rentokil serviceman parking up and getting his servicemans bag and sprayer out and going to do work in the hospital, i said to myself i bet thats a interesting job as i was into biology and stuff like that.
    so i got out the ambulance found the public phone and phoned a top pest control company up for an application, the application form came through i then filled it in and sent it back to them.
    eventually i went for an interview and got a position and my wages doubled with them sold my car and got the company vehicle that was a saving too i worked for them for many years and eventually left as i
    moved away and worked for 2 other companies til i worked for this small one man band, i eventually built the business up working with him over the years and when he was ready for retirement i bought my round off him for £22,000.00 but it was worth £32,000.00. many years passed bye since i took over in 1986 and the business has just increased over and over the years due to public health and legislation and now i have 2 other serviceman working for me, but believe me its its not all sunshine and people throwing money at you and your always on call for your customers, so if you do fancy going into pest control check it out thoroughly and give it serious consideration and remember to wear your knee pads as i need 2 new knees due to the job…. always a price to pay lol… all the very best to you all….

    ps i dont get anyone to sign contracts just verbal agreements and if they don’t want pest control or finding it hard then we just cancel it and if you did have a signed contract its just not worth taking them to court for but if they cancel me after i clear the infestation it and it all starts up again after 6 or 9 months i either get them to pay a year up in advance or i just say to them that they let me down and go find someone else to mess about…

  • Bobby

    just to put the matter right it was 1996 when i went out on my own when i was 40yrs old and not 1986 sorry for the mistake folks…

    Maybe ive been just lucky but in the past i had to cold call customers but now ive cancelled all advertising too and the more customers you have the more you seem to get recommendations from and pest control just seems to regenerates on its own.
    over the years ive built a great working relationship with the Chinese and the Asian community and its all about trust and doing a good job at a fair price and most of all being honest and to HONOUR YOUR WORD AND YOUR WORK at all times……….

  • wise words…Thx.

  • Great comment and story!! Thanks

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