Audrey Hall has had the unique opportunity of getting a taste of nearly every aspect of working at a pest control company from a young age. Today, she’s president of Eco Serve Pest Services, Orchard Park, N.Y., working alongside her husband and Eco Serve CEO Scott Hall. But growing up, she learned the ropes at Buffalo Exterminating, where her father, John Zimmerman, was co-owner. Starting on her high school summer breaks, Audrey worked in customer service, marketing, accounting and human resources. Then, she earned her state license and worked in the field as a technician and outside salesperson.
As she was working her way through the company, her future husband and business partner was doing the same. Scott started working as a technician at Buffalo Exterminating when he was a teen, eventually scheduling and then running the company’s IT department. Most recently, he ran the company’s special services department.
“Scott has the same drive and work ethic I was raised with, so we are both really invested in our careers,” Audrey said.
Naturally, they decided to take the next step in their careers together.
“Eco Serve was actually my dad’s Saturday business that he started in 2000,” Audrey said. “He ran a very small route about an hour north of Buffalo where our family has property on Lake Ontario. It was a way for him to make some extra money in the summer. I spent a lot of time in high school and then in college working on Saturdays with my dad and Scott.”
In 2012, Audrey graduated with her business degree and took over at Eco Serve. At the time, she said, the company was making about $36,000 in annual revenue. Scott joined her full-time in 2015.
“I loved the people side of the business, controlling my own schedule and really having something Scott and I could design and build the way we wanted to,” Audrey said. “Looking back, I don’t have a clue how it all happened. It was a lot of work, a lot of tears, so much exhaustion and buckets of financial stress.”
LEARNING CURVE. The learning curve was steep for the first several years.
“The first $300K was a real grind,” said Audrey. “Scott and I were tackling most of the business issues together, and we didn’t really have our own lanes or responsibilities.”
Audrey was used to calling the shots prior to Scott joining the team, and they were both incredibly passionate when it came to making business decisions.
“We had a newborn at the time, and managing all of that and growing at nearly 100 percent a year can really take you over the edge,” she said.
On top of that, Audrey said she had a habit of taking work home.
“Not responding to customers at 10 p.m. was a big one that I needed to let go of,” she said. “I remember Scott telling me they would still be there at 7 a.m. the next day.”
Over the years, Audrey and Scott adjusted and developed their own roles and responsibilities. “We meet weekly for two hours, sometimes three, and just hash out projects we have going on and moving the needle forward,” said Audrey. “They can be mind-numbing meetings, but at the end of the day, we both just want what’s best for the team, the company and our customers. We sometimes just want to get there on different routes. I have learned to not take things so personally, which is still a work in progress. Scott has learned to be less A to Z and more strategic in our discussions, knowing that we both are probably going to end up in the middle somewhere. Oftentimes, we make the best decisions this way.”
They also hired a business consultant at the end of 2019. “He ran personality profiles and a Behavioral Strategy for Accomplishment for each of us and several other key players on our team,” Audrey said. “From that, we focused on where our strengths were and what the business needed from each of us at that time, and then looking down the road one to three years.”
The consultant also helped them create a roles and responsibilities document, as well as profiles for future roles — like an operations manager and a general manager — on their growth map.GOALS AND GROWTH. Eco Serve’s growth is guided by five goals, established by Audrey, Scott and her father.
“The five goals are talked about every single day here,” she said. “Every team member knows them by heart. One is their tagline, “Pest control that’s personal.” “We want to offer our customers a very relationship-based experience when they work with us,” said Audrey. “We also want to be their partner in pest control and build long-term solutions to prevent pests from being an issue.””Another goal is to be empathetic and educational. When adding to the Eco Serve team, Audrey said it’s crucial that candidates have a great personality and will take a customer’s issue to heart.
“In addition to that empathetic attitude, we take the time to explain what we are doing, why we are doing it and what drives pest pressure,” she said. “There are so many ways a homeowner can help themselves keep pests at bay. If we spend even five more minutes explaining these conditions to a customer, we are helping them and we are helping ourselves in preventing pests.”
From clarifying responsibilities to establishing goals, the work Audrey and Scott have put in has paid off. This year, Eco Serve is targeting a revenue goal of $1.75 million in 2021.
GIVING BACK. As the company grows, Audrey and Scott are able to reinvest in their Western New York community.
“Our community is the reason we are here,” said Audrey. “We believe that when our customers financially support our company, it is really our duty to use those resources in a way that can help support those less fortunate.”
Audrey is especially passionate about supporting small businesses and entrepreneurship. She’s currently on the board of directors for the University of Buffalo Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Alumni Association. She also sits on the board of the Orchard Park Chamber of Commerce.
Audrey rallies the team when it comes to community causes. Every October, Eco Serve raises awareness and funds for the Breast Cancer Network of Western New York. They look good doing it, too, with pink polos, boot covers and gloves. In December, they adopt a family for the holidays, and the team will take a field trip to the toy store to shop for the kids. Plus, Eco Serve holds a biannual food drive, matching up to $500 worth of food donated straight from customers’ and employees’ pantries or brought in by staff.
“We have a lot of fun giving back, and it feels incredible when we can accomplish something together as a team,” Audrey said. “All of these activities really help drive our culture we breed here. We are all about teamwork and making a difference for our customers and our community. It makes getting up and going to work every day feel very worthwhile.”
The culture Audrey is helping build at Eco Serve is earning her recognition in the pest control industry, which she says she’s simply grateful to be a part of.
“Over the years, I have been able to meet some incredible people in our field, many of [whom] are women, who have all made an impact on my success and the success we have here at Eco Serve,” she said. “I am really fortunate to have a solid team and business partner that allow me to be involved in the industry and step away from the day-to-day functions without anyone missing a beat.”
LESSONS LEARNED. After more than a decade in the pest control industry, Audrey has some advice for PMPs just starting out.
“Get a mentor right away,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to reach out to the state associations or the national association if you don’t have any immediate contacts in the industry. Everyone knows someone willing to help, and just having a person to talk to and ask advice from can really turn a terrible day into a learning experience. And a learning experience can change the entire direction of a company.”
It’s no secret that growing a business costs money, so Audrey advises PMPs to charge what they’re worth.
“Don’t undercut yourself to the point where you are charging half what the other guy is just to get a sale. Insurances, vehicles, fuel, materials and uniforms add up so quickly,” she said. “If your work is quality, you may take a little longer to build your customer base. However, it will be the customers you want.” These sorts of customers will be likely to understand when you have to raise your prices to keep up with your company’s growth, she added.
Finally, she recommends keeping a clean and consistent image. Trying to use big words or fancy images is a quick way to confuse potential customers. Basic is often better, she said.