by Brad Harbison
n 2006, Willie Payne found himself at the crossroads. After nearly 30 years as a top-performing sales professional/sales supervisor at Terminix, Payne was plotting his next career move.
“I was 55 and I was at a point in my life when I didn’t want to leave Southern California. I went as high as I could go [in sales], so the only thing left for me to do was work for myself,” he recalls.
After talking things over with wife Kathy and reviewing their finances, the couple took a huge leap of faith and launched Payne Pest Management.
In just 13 years, Payne Pest Management has gone from a start-up company looking to find its way, to a major player in Southern California. By 2018, the company had grown to include three offices, 50 employees and in 2018 it generated $6.4 million in revenue to rank #91 on PCT’s most recent Top 100 list.
HOW THEY DID IT. Willie Payne’s early life experiences included a stint in the U.S. Army where one of his experiences was serving as a guard at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
After leaving the Army he worked for a grocery store, and then learned of an opportunity at Terminix (July 1977). One of his earliest mentors at Terminix was Bob Wilcox, who was the regional training specialist. Other early influencers from Terminix included Harvey Massey, Norm Goldenberg, Steve Good, Wayne Golden and Stoy Hedges, as well as Ernie Richetti and the late Carlos Cantu, whom he considers his mentors. Richetti was his first manager at Terminix, and Cantu was CEO of Terminix’s parent company, ServiceMaster, from 1994 to 1999, a period of time in which Terminix underwent tremendous growth.
Payne excelled as a service professional at Terminix, and by 1989 he entered Terminix’s management training program. Payne would go on to become Terminix’s top-performing sales supervisor in the Los Angeles region. “If there was a $10,000 or more job to close, they would call me to help close the deal.”
As part of Payne’s pest control industry sales journey, he had joined several local community organizations/associations to raise his visibility. These networking experiences would later prove valuable.
A BUSINESS IS BORN. With a confidence in his own sales ability and having networked with many professionals in common industries (e.g., property managers), Payne believed the foundation was in place for a successful business.
Payne’s next step was to build his team, which started with wife, Kathy, who was well suited to handle financials and administrative responsibilities. She owned a business as a bookkeeper for eight entrepreneurs.
“I’m terrible at paperwork and she is terrible at selling. We stay in our lanes. Some days we might only say 15 to 20 words to each other in the office. That is how we make it work,” Willie Payne said.
Payne also turned to Abbas Rad, a 19-year colleague of his at Terminix, to help with operations. At Terminix, Rad performed termite inspections, gave the fumigation preparation meetings, and ran all aspects of termite work for Payne. Rad is currently regional vice president for Payne Pest Management.
Payne’s business plan included targeting multi-family housing. “We started by going after apartments, and then to Navy housing, and it has grown from there,” said Payne. Today, Payne Pest Management services a wide variety of accounts, including HOAs, condominiums, military housing and public utilities. Payne Pest Management has targeted these type of accounts because of their potential to lead to other opportunities. With condos, for example, Payne said, “If you can get one manager under your belt you might be able to get 5-9 different condo complexes in your portfolio. It’s like fishing. Do you want to go after the 10-pound bass or the 400-pound tuna.”
MORE GROWTH. The last piece of the puzzle at Payne Management was the addition of Willie and Kathy’s son, Jason, who joined the company after working in pharmaceutical sales.
“I grew up vacuuming and emptying trash at the Terminix office, so it was in my blood,” said Jason Payne, who took a break from pest control to attend Boise State University on a football scholarship.
After graduating from Boise State, Jason signed up for Terminix’s management training program in San Diego (1998). After completing the year-long program, he became sales manager at Terminix’s Escondido, Calif., office.
In 2000, Jason’s wife, Misty, took a job offer to work in Nike's corporate office in Beaverton, Ore. Because there were no Terminix management positions available in Beaverton, Jason went to work in pharmaceutical sales.
After having done this job for five years, Jason got the itch to start up his own pest control business, and his original plan was to open a business in the Beaverton area. As Willie Payne recalled, “I told him, ‘Why do that when I need help here?”
Together, the father-son team have proved formidable. While Willie has built the business by selling contracts to his property management contacts, Jason Payne has helped the company fine-tune its operations by adopting technology (e.g., handhelds, use of apps, GPS in vehicles, etc.) and improving its social media presence. Jason also took it upon himself to explore the Arizona market. Jason has also been instrumental in helping Payne Pest Management get its foot in the door to help land contracts with the San Diego County Water Authority; Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority; AT&T; Honda America; 20th Century Fox, and recently Disney.
While both father and son have different personalities, they share the same management philosophy. “The goal is to bring people on board who do their job better than you do your job,” Willie Payne said. “Give them the tools to succeed and stay out of the way.” An example of this philosophy is scheduling. Payne Pest Management service professionals have the autonomy to set up their own daily schedules.
Added Jason Payne, “The secret to winning is hiring a good team. We still have 90 percent of the people we have hired on our team.” Jason said the company pays competitively and works hard to maintain its family culture.
GIVING BACK, LOOKING FORWARD. Once Willie Payne decided to launch Payne Pest Management, he knew that an important part of the foundation on which the company would be built was giving back to the community. Throughout the years, the Paynes have been active in the communities they serve.
One example of this involvement is Willie Payne chairing the Permission to Talk Foundation, which educates men on health issues such as the importance of getting screened for diabetes and checked for prostate cancer.
Another example is Willie Payne supporting the philanthropic efforts of Tayari Howard, owner of radio station KKSD. Howard teaches radio classes to underprivileged, minority children and also serves as a mentor. Payne financed studio equipment for the classes and has helped with other financial considerations.
Other charities and organizations the Paynes support include: Jackie Robinson Foundation; Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation; Amvets; The Trinity House; Christian Record Service; Turning Point; The Nestor Torres Foundation; Lincoln Charities; Susan G. Komen; The Monarch School; U.C. Riverside Foundation; Mothers Against Drunk Driving; San Diego Regional Minority Supplier Diversity Council; and B.B. Jazz.
“We do [outreach] from a distance,” Willie Payne said. “We don’t do it for recognition. We like to give back. We have been blessed with great opportunities, and we feel we should take those blessings and pass them along to others.”
In recent years, Willie says he’s “taken a few more vacations” and spent more time on his charitable endeavors. And that is intentional.
“I made a conscious decision to no longer be the face of the company,” he said.
That role has been passed along to Jason Payne, and the elder Payne is enjoying watching his son take the reins at Payne Pest Management and lead with a style all his own.
The author is Internet editor/managing editor of PCT and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.