David Marshall

The approach to opening a pest control business doesn’t always have to start with knowledge of rats, roaches and scorpions. A company can start from a completely different perspective, in this case marketing, and be highly successful.

David Marshall and Amy Bobbitt are the husband and wife co-owners of Arizona Pest Squad, Tempe, Ariz., which provides integrated pest management services to customers in the metro-Phoenix area. And they took a completely different approach when they came into the business.

MARKETING MATTERS. Instead of coming from the technical, “bug side” of the industry, Arizona Pest Squad approached their business from a marketing perspective, primarily based on what Marshall learned during his diverse career and having lived in some of the country’s largest cities. His background includes being a model, an actor and a top-selling car salesperson. Most prominently, and what is likely the greatest influence on the approach used to establish and grow their pest control business, is his work in the music industry. He followed in his father’s footsteps in the industry and became a successful promoter. “Every independent record I worked on came in No. 1,” said Marshall.

“There may be others who know more about bugs, pests and chemicals. What we saw was a lack of partnering with clients to help them solve their pest problems,” said Bobbitt.

“I believe what the industry is sometimes missing is realizing the importance of building customer relationships instead of routes,” said Marshall. “We know where we fit in the marketplace. We’re all about customer service and responsiveness.”

STEADY COMPANY GROWTH. Arizona Pest Squad has grown steadily since PCT included the company as one of 25 companies to watch in 2013.

“We have more customers than we can handle,” said Bobbitt. “We can always use more technicians.” The company continuously looks for PMPs to fill their needs. There’s so much business, in fact, they refer termite, bird and weed work to trusted technical partners, because they “can’t expand fast enough.”

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“We’ve had double-digit growth every year since we started the business in 2011. We would be even larger if we had the infrastructure to service more customers,” said Bobbitt. “We’ve grown as a result of our great customer service.”

“We opened the business with the intent of building a strong customer base — a sticky customer base,” said Marshall. “We’re not interested in simply adding routes. Our forte is bringing in customers and providing great customer service. We don’t compete on prices. We haven’t had to since we’re providing such a positive customer experience.”

LIFESTYLE MARKETING. Using what Marshall refers to as “lifestyle marketing,” Arizona Pest Squad makes customer service and building relationships their highest priority. “It’s about creating a customer experience,” said Marshall. “I believe any type of one-on-one with a customer to be lifestyle marketing. It’s understanding their life and what’s going on.”

Customers prefer predictability and consistency and Arizona Pest Squad delivers. “When you look at some companies, a guy shows up, sprays, leaves a piece of paper and the customer doesn’t even know what he did,” said Marshall. “We don’t send a different technician to an existing account. They wouldn’t know what’s going on. They don’t have the history with the customer. So we do our best to send the same person every time, because the customer already knows and trusts him. We also meet every morning to talk about the day’s jobs,” said Marshall.

“We always cover the details of each of the day’s service calls as a refresher. That includes anything that’s important or unique to the customer, such as they have an old dog or a child. It’s all to help build a relationship,” added Bobbitt.

TAKE THE TIME. “We believe in spending time with the customer,” said Marshall. “We take the time to walk them to the truck — which is always clean — show them the state-of-the art equipment we use, and explain the products we use — which are all name brands — and why. Then we go back to the house and I show them how the equipment would be used in their home. We don’t walk them through the house and sell them. We’re explaining to them what they’re buying. During the process the homeowner is going to naturally share the pest problems they’re having. When you explain how you’re doing something and why, you’re demonstrating that you’re a professional.”

Taking time with the client may also uncover what a customer did to address their pest problems before calling you. “Were they trying DIY methods? Did they have a bad experience with another company? Or did no one show up for a service call?” asked Marshall.

To help prospects make a purchasing decision, Marshall shares his credentials. “We’ll go to their laptop and I’ll show them our license and our CEUs to demonstrate continued training. We’re showing them that this is why you should hire us,” said Marshall.

CUSTOMER PARTNERSHIPS. “We partner with our customers and make them part of the process. Customers are a big part of the solution. We’re a team,” explained Marshall. “We also talk about what they need to do differently to help eliminate the problem. We give clients assignments to prep before treatment. And, most importantly, we talk about what they need to do after a treatment.”

“We also help clients find DIY solutions if they don’t want to hire us. We want to educate them and help them solve their problems,” said Marshall.

SOCIAL MEDIA. “Our business has grown through social media,” explained Bobbitt. “It’s the most efficient means of marketing when you can get customers talking about your company for you.”

“Social media is very important,” said Marshall. “Everyone’s communicating via social media. I do what they call ‘real time’ and post while I’m working on a commercial account or a rodent inspection, or I’ll post a trapped rat and explain what kind of trap I used. People want to know what you’re doing now, not yesterday or last week. Arizona Pest Squad uses a number of social media platforms to promote its business, including Facebook and Twitter.

“A lot of pest control companies are just going for Google click ads,” said Marshall. “If they used some of that budget to hire someone to manage their social media they’d reap the benefits. They’d also be stimulating the economy by hiring someone.”

The company also relies on crowd-sourced reviews published by customers. “Yelp is very important to us. I’ve heard of other companies that pay technicians for every positive Yelp review. We never ask for customers to do a Yelp review. I don’t even want to talk about the review if they mention they’re going to do one. I don’t want to get involved. You can tell the difference between a review that’s genuine and one that’s not. We also use customer responses to help improve our services,” explained Marshall.

ACCOLADES. In May 2016, Marshall was one of only eight who was awarded the Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Advocate of the Year award by the Pacific Southwest Minority Supplier Development Council, which recognizes those who excel in growth and performance. Earlier in 2016, Arizona Pest Squad received several certifications from the City of Phoenix and the Arizona Department of Transportation, including Small Business Enterprise (SBE) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE).

Marshall was selected as one of only 10 individuals for the 2017 inaugural class of the National Pest Management Association’s (NPMA) Executive Leadership Program (ELP). The program is a NPMA initiative that identifies ten industry professionals from across the country who receive professional development and skills training, as well as paid trips to NPMA Legislative Day and NPMA PestWorld.

Participants were selected based on a number of criteria, which included industry participation, commitment to professional development and leadership potential. The two-year curriculum focuses on cultivating skills and knowledge essential to successful leadership within NPMA and beyond.

“Participating in the Executive Leadership Program has already been a great experience and a huge opportunity,” said Marshall. “It gives me peer-to-peer contact. It’s great to be able to talk with someone who’s been through the same thing. I now have a network of companies across the nation to exchange ideas with. It makes me want to reach out to other companies and help them. I’m grateful to be part of the program and to be recognized by the largest association in the industry.”

“Most of those in the program are from big companies. We’re not a million-dollar company, but we will be,” he said.

The author is a Florida-based freelancer at Perspective Communications.