After the fall of the termite pretreat market in 2008, Peter Eldridge, president of Apex Pest Control in Rockledge, Fla., knew he had to adjust. He limited spending and paid off all company debts, closed two small branches, laid off about 30 employees and sold off any trucks he no longer needed. He also took the phrase, “We don’t do that,” out of his company’s vocabulary and began providing services they had never provided before, including bat exclusion, bird control, bee control, restaurant pest control, live animal trapping, weed control on airport runways, aquatic weed control in lakes and ponds, and termite fumigations.

“Instead of being a pretreat business, we became a full-service pest control company,” he said. Eldridge’s restructuring to a full-service business was a success. He said he hasn’t submitted Apex’s revenue numbers to PCT since the 2004 Top 100 issue because he wanted that information to remain private. But he said Apex has maintained revenues that would have put him on the list had he done so. This year, he stepped back into the public eye, as he’s now aggressively seeking to buy businesses, he said. With a tremendous number of small businesses fighting to compete, Eldridge thinks the South Florida market is ripe with companies looking for buyers. He just finished his third acquisition and is actively seeking more.

“I would say our goal within the next five years is to double our revenue through organic growth, major media marketing and mergers and acquisitions,” said Eldridge.

He began expanding his market area about five years ago, when Apex established a Miami office. That new location was so busy the firm recently opened its sixth branch in West Palm Beach.

Apex moved its core business away from termite pretreatments and now offers a wide variety of services to its customers.

That market, much like the rest of Florida, has a heavy termite business, although the pest-intense climate means that Eldridge and his team service everything from bed bugs to rodents and animal trapping. “There’s everything here, and there isn’t really anything seasonal about it,” he said. “It’s 365 days a year.”

With the heavy workload, one of Eldridge’s biggest challenges is finding reliable employees. “Finding the right staff with a good work ethic is difficult these days,” he said. “We really look for people that want a career, not a job. When we hire, we want people to be with the company for a long time.”

In fact, 45 percent of Eldridge’s employees have been with Apex for 10 years and 10 percent have been there more than 20 years. “I feel this is very unique in our industry. We have very little turnover and when someone joins our team it is usually for life.”

And those lifetime employees don’t necessarily need to have experience in pest control when they sign on. “We don’t care what they know about pest control, we’ll train them in the trade. We look for ‘people type’ people. Someone anyone could sit down and have dinner or lunch with,” said Eldridge. “This is 90 percent a people business and 10 percent killing bugs. We don’t just hire bodies to perform a task.”

In return, Apex employees often have long-term relationships with their customers, who are willing to pass on some lower-priced offers from other companies and pay a premium for Apex’s exceptional customer service, Eldridge said. — Laura Straub