Editor’s note: PCT regrets to inform readers that Dale Bagby, age 79, passed away on Dec. 20, 2017, after a brief illness. Dale lived a life devoted to his businesses, his customers and his beloved family. Fortunately, Dale was able to read a preliminary version of this article prior to his passing, which helped him to know just how much he inspired his family. Through his story, we hope he will continue to inspire the pest control community.
Like many in the pest management industry, Dale Bagby, a 54-year veteran of the profession, created a successful business path, which has allowed his children, grandchildren and perhaps further generations to follow in his footsteps. With his exceptional pest control business and customer service skills, plus his inherent desire to assist people, Dale transferred his passion for helping people to four of his seven daughters, their husbands, and one grandson, each of whom own their own pest control company.
“People always say that you need to like your job if you’re going to stay in it. And, I did. I couldn’t wait to get up in the morning to go to work. I was ready to go,” said Dale, a Texan from the Austin area who worked in the pest control industry as a technician, manager or business owner for more than half a century until retiring just last year — even though he wanted to keep working.
IN THE BEGINNING. Dale began his pest control career in 1964 at Orkin. “I answered an ad in an Austin paper. They were asking for service technicians, and I thought it was something I’d like to try.” After two years, Dale moved on to Terminix and stayed for three years. While at Terminix, Dale met and married his third wife, Sue, with whom he celebrated his 50-year anniversary in September 2017. In 1970, Dale and Sue, utilizing Dale’s experience in the industry, decided to open their own pest control business, Modern Pest Control.
Starting “from scratch” with just a truck and a sprayer, Dale knocked on doors and did everything he could to create new business without taking any old customers from his former employers. It took about five years for Dale to build the business and “feel like I was making a living.” In 1977, another pest control company located in Houston called to explain that they had owned the “Modern Pest Control” company name first and would be moving into Austin. They never did, but Dale and Sue changed their company name to Research Pest Control to avoid any potential issues.
Around this time, Dale explains that the “high-tech business hit Austin,” and Texas Instruments began providing him with quite a bit of business. Within six months, Research Pest Control grew from one to three trucks servicing customers. During this time of growth, Sue expressed interest in acting as the secretary for the business. “Dale said the only way you can work the office is that you have to pass your pest control test. I surprised him and I passed it!” she recalled. For the next two years, Sue ran a route, and treated apartments and dorms, before announcing her retirement from the field. She preferred working in the office. Dale and his crew continued to grow Research Pest Control for the next eight years.
THE REST IS HISTORY. Beginning in 1980, Dale continued his pest control business pursuits, while beginning to mentor his daughters, involving them in the industry as they desired. In 1980, he helped eldest daughter Susan Anderson and her husband create a new pest control business in Mexia, Texas, and gave his third daughter Pam Hammonds a job at Research Pest Control. In 1987, Dale decided to sell Research Pest Control to his fourth daughter Tami Hood, who owned the firm for the next three years. Dale continued working at Research through 2001 when he considered retiring. He and Sue moved to Burnet, Texas, and built a house.
But, the pest control bug caught Dale again when he saw an ad in the paper for a small pest control business for sale: Circle S Pest Control. He knew his third daughter Pam and her husband Jeff had expressed interest in owning their own pest control business, so Dale bought Circle S. “I told them I would run it for five years and then they could take it.” Dale bought the business in 2002, worked to grow and establish the company for five years, turned ownership over to Pam and Jeff in 2007 and continued working for the couple until his retirement in May of 2017.
REMINISCING. Dale and Sue owned a 9.5-acre piece of property in the country that required a bit of outside work, keeping them active during retirement. They took care of their place, Sue made and sold jewelry, and the couple traveled frequently. The Bagbys enjoyed taking road trips, they traveled to Alaska and last year they visited Cuba. Dale said, “I retired not because I wanted to, but because I had to [due to health reasons]. I’d be right back working today.”
In reflecting over his 54 years of pest control service, Dale said the industry has changed quite a bit. When he started in the business, all he needed was a truck and a sprayer and he could go to work, he said. Dale explains that the pest control industry wasn’t as structured as it is today. The industry slowly changed throughout the years, as Austin established a pest control board that was eventually taken over by the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). Dale said he liked the enforcement of annual requirements, including CEU credits, which resulted in the industry becoming more professional over time.
His own business services changed over the years, as well. When Dale first started, he established monthly pest control service calls for his customers. When one of his employees happened to get sick, leaving him short-handed for a while, Dale made the decision to switch his customers to a quarterly schedule instead. “That was one of the biggest changes,” said Dale, “and I liked it a lot better than trying to go out and keep up with everything on a monthly basis. You need less employees and it saves the people money. We had good luck with every three months and it really made a difference.” The types of calls shifted, as well. Early in Dale’s career, German cockroaches generated the most service calls. Once more houses were constructed in his market area, scorpions and ants began to make the phone ring with increasing frequency.
Thinking back on his entire career, Dale said, “The best thing I liked was the different people that you meet. All walks of life. Young, old, rich to poor. You meet them all. There were so many things, I could almost write a book on experiences and things that happened. Funny things, sad things, good things.” When asked what kept him in the pest control industry for more than five decades, Dale said that he enjoyed meeting and helping people. He thoroughly enjoyed his job and oftentimes worked seven days a week.
Dale’s wife Sue concurs. Dale worked constantly, but that’s because he was helping people. Sue added that Dale’s work was always focused on “quality over quantity” and that “his heart was in the quality of doing his service.” She remembers many times when Dale would not charge customers who he knew were suffering financially. He would ask these customers if they would mind if he would “test a new chemical” on their house for free so they would not suspect his intentions. “Anybody that he felt that needed help, he wouldn’t charge them. The people came first,” Sue says. And, he helped his daughters and their husbands to see there were many long-term opportunities in the pest control industry.
CREATING A LEGACY. Before Dale met Sue, he and his first wife had a daughter named Susan. Dale and his second wife had three daughters, Rhonda, Pam and Tami. With Sue, the couple had three more daughters, Teri, Gayla and Sandy, totaling seven in all. While Dale was running Research Pest Control, Dale’s oldest daughter Susan Anderson finished high school and some college, married her high school sweetheart, James, and had two children, Windy and Micah. In 1980, Susan said, “James and dad had a conversation” that led to Dale recommending that the couple open a pest control business of their own.
“We were young and basically said, why not? And just did it,” recalls Susan. As a result, Mexia Pest Control, located in the town of Mexia in the middle of Texas, was created. James worked with Dale for two weeks in Austin, came back to Mexia, studied and took his tests. Susan remembers that they obtained their business license, “set up a little table, a phone and a Rolodex in our living room,” and they were in business. After more than 37 years, the business continues to grow with six full-time and five part-time employees. The couple attributes much of their growth to their son, Micah, who has acted as the company’s salesperson since 2003.
Also in 1980, Dale’s third daughter, Pam Hammonds, began working at Research Pest Control until 1985 when she left the industry for a few years. Pam returned to the company in 1988 as an office manager and stayed for 18 years. Dale bought Circle S Pest Control in 2002 and then sold the company to Pam and her husband Jeff in 2007.
To get the training to own this company, Jeff, who had been employed in “corporate America” previously, worked at Research Pest Control for two years prior to taking over Circle S. Since owning the company, Pam’s son Michael worked there from 2007 until October 2016, when he left to start his own company, Pro’s Choice Pest Control, about 20 miles north of Austin.
In January of this year, Pam and Jeff sold a portion of the company to Dale’s fourth daughter Tami and her husband Bryan. The purchased portion will operate in Burnet, Texas, while the remainder of the business will reside in Lampasas, Texas. “We were ready to downsize a little bit,” Pam said, and run a smaller company that will be called Badger Pest Control.
Tami Hood, who owned Research Pest Control from 1987 to 1990 and currently works as an independent accounting and payroll manager, took over Circle S Pest Control in 2018. Having been out of the pest control industry for 27 years, Tami has been getting reacquainted with the latest industry terminology. Bryan has been learning the ropes at Circle S with Jeff, and also is training with James, Susan and Micah at Mexia. “This is really an exciting time for us,” says Tami, who knows that owning Circle S will be a great opportunity for revenue-earning potential. Plus, Circle S could offer a future business opportunity for their children, Lindsay Warr, Kylie Chapman and Brad Hood.
As for Dale’s seventh daughter Sandy Wilson, her involvement in the pest control industry began with her husband, Chris. A firefighter in Austin, Chris’ second job was with Research Pest Control from 1994 to 2001, and then Circle S Pest Control in 2002. Choosing to move back to the Austin area from Burnet, the couple decided to open their own pest control company, Lakeline Pest Control, in 2003. Other than Chris, Lakeline has one other employee, and occasionally over the years, Dale would help out with the company, too. Although the couple’s oldest son Clint worked for Lakeline for a period of time, Sandy is not sure just yet if he or her other two sons, Colby and Caleb, will be interested in getting involved in the pest control business long-term.
COMMON DENOMINATORS. The recurring theme evident within each of the extended Bagby family pest control businesses, aside from operating an efficient and professional business to assist people with their pest problems, is the importance of family. All four daughters specifically mentioned their family bond, but Dale stated it most concisely, “We’re a close family. Not just next of kin. Very close.” And, often that family kinship is extended to the employees of the family members’ companies. “I know this sounds like a cliché,” says Susan, “but our employees are like family.”
Even though each family member’s business is a unique entity, there have been clear ties, dotted lines and transfers of ownership. They’ve been there to support each other. “When we’re all together, we all compare notes, and I think we learn things from each other,” says Susan. In addition, the family has always been there for the customer. Just like Dale, the second generation of pest control operators truly enjoys helping customers solve problems, and ultimately, this is a major component to being and staying in the pest control business.
Most importantly, though, these four daughters and their husbands relied on Dale Bagby for his support and his extensive knowledge and experience in the pest control industry. Tami is “super excited to go back to her roots” and is “ready to continue the legacy.”
Pam sums up her family’s experience by saying, “I was blessed when my Dad offered us the opportunity to purchase Circle S Pest Control in 2007,” and “the most important thing is that I have been able to work alongside my Dad for many years. He as my boss, he as my co-worker, and finally, he as my employee.”
The author is a Cleveland-area freelancer.