With the mergers and acquisitions market continuing to buzz, some pest management industry observers wonder if there is still a place for the “small” guy in a landscape dotted by a handful of large and rapidly expanding regional, national and global companies?

In the case of Beltsville, Md.-based Innovative Pest Management (IPM), the answer is a simple and strong yes. Founded by longtime industry entomologist and educator Dr. Richard Kramer in the mid-1990s as a consulting firm, IPM eventually evolved into a second-generation family business that differentiates itself from the competition by successfully applying old-school principles blended with innovation and execution across all service functions.

Pictured (l to r) are IPM Partners Richard Kramer, Josh Kramer and Luke Krikstan.

The result is a fast-track of growth and customer loyalty across commercial and residential customers, laser focus on customer service and leaving no stone unturned to solve a client’s pest issues.

“It is about delivering quality service to the client,” says Kramer. “It’s putting 110 percent into your work and not quitting on the customer. As you grow it gets harder, but the payback comes with a satisfied, long- term customer.”

With nearly a 98 percent customer retention rate, IPM walks the walk when it comes to client satisfaction.

The company’s client list includes your typical residential homes and chain restaurants across the Washington, D.C. metro area, but also high-profile facilities, including the National Gallery of Art (see sidebar), American University, George Washington University, the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Department of Interior and more than 200 government buildings in Montgomery County (Md.).

“We always put the time and effort in up front with clients to get to know them and understand their needs,” says Kramer. “Our retention rate is something we pride ourselves on.”

HOW IT STARTED

Following a distinguished 22-year career in the U.S. Army as a medical entomologist, Kramer, a Florida native, knew he wanted to stay engaged with protecting public health from pest threats. After stints as technical director for NPMA and a large regional pest control firm, Kramer felt it was time to strike out on his own and he had the ideal partner in mind. Kramer’s son, Josh, was working in pharmaceutical sales in Chicago at the time, and the only way the elder Kramer would start the company was if Josh was on board.

The younger Kramer agreed to take the plunge along with two experienced field technicians, including Luke Krikstan, who was one of the original field representatives. (He remains an equity partner in IPM and one of its most valuable employees.) With those moves IPM, the full-service pest provider, was born in late 2004.

“We started with nothing and were working out of a cottage on my property in Maryland,” recalls Richard.

With Richard handling the technical side of the business, it fell to Josh to lead the company’s sales efforts and secure clients. “We had zero customers and we went old school, taking out full-page ads in the Yellow Pages to get the phones ringing,” says Josh. “We knew if we could get a customer to commit to us there would be no issue keeping them.”

With service quality at the foundation of its business plan, IPM started to gain traction and grew to a $1 million operation in three years. It was then that the Kramers knew the business would survive.

THE DIFFERENCE MAKER

Every company should know what separates it from the competition and at IPM the formula includes treating employees and customers well, staying ahead of the curve on innovation and following the core formula.

“We all have the same tools in our bag, but who you having using them and how they are using them are the difference,” says Josh. “The difference is delivering the knockout punch for the client and diagnosing the fundamental issue of the pest problem.”

With Richard’s extensive background in training and education, it is no surprise IPM devotes significant time and resources to have all of their applicators certified and provides financial incentives for achieving those certifications.

“We want a company culture that awards achievement and at the same time helps deliver a higher level of service and a more satisfied customer,” adds Josh.

This dedication to deliver a higher level of service has earned the company Washington City Paper’s Best of DC Readers’ Poll honors three years running as a top pest control company in the city.

Another key to success is IPM’s focus on people and processes, led by Sharee Hixson, director of operations. As Josh said, “She is the magic that happens between our technical field teams and our inter-office team.”

Working in the D.C. metro area means opportunities for government and commercial work, but it is a competitive market. The younger Kramer started by making cold calls on restaurants, office buildings, grocery stores and property management companies seeking to establish a foothold. “We discovered property managers changed companies frequently and because we demonstrated our expertise and delivered results they ended up taking us with them to their new companies,” says Josh. “We not only kept the former properties but landed new ones as well. It really helped fuel our growth.”

Richard’s contacts in the government sector, especially within the Department of Defense, led to IPM getting its foot in the door for facilities such as Fort Belvoir in Virginia and the high-profile institutions previously mentioned in this article.

THE FAMILY FACTOR

Historically, the pest management industry includes numerous family-owned and -operated businesses. Some pass from generation to generation without a hitch and some have seen a promising start end up in a sale because the generations didn’t see eye to eye.

When asked to reflect on his father’s influence on the company, Josh says Richard’s technical prowess is an advantage few competitors can rival, but it is his integrity and commitment to core principles that set him apart.

“Richard can adjust to his audience whether it is a government procurement official or a classroom of third graders,” says Josh. “He listens, takes a genuine interest in what is being said and is willing to get out there and roll up his sleeves. It is those situations where he shines brightest.”

When asked what working with Josh has meant to him, Richard says the blend of their skill sets — his technical expertise and connections, and Josh’s outgoing and engaging personality that complement sales, is a perfect balance.

“It is great to work with him and none of what we have achieved would have happened without him,” Richard said.

The author is a partner of B Communications and can be reached via email at jfenner@gie.net.