In many ways Dan Collins is a classic entrepreneur. He has a clear vision for his company; he’s on top of trends and technology; and he acts decisively to seize market opportunities.
In other ways, the president of Evansville, Ind.-based Collins Pest Management is the antithesis of an entrepreneur. A self-described introvert, he’s a biologist and service professional at heart, whose true passion is problem-solving — getting on one’s hands and knees to inspect a commercial warehouse, for example. It’s work that requires vigorous attention to detail and can take painstaking hours — not exactly the “stick and move” mentality of most entrepreneurs. But that’s the way Collins performs pest control and this type of service commitment has been the foundation on which he built Collins Pest Management.
“What Dan does very well is pay attention to all the details. He is truly dedicated to doing the job right,” says his mentor Dr. Bobby Corrigan, president of RMC Pest Management Consulting. “He’s probably a little like me in that he’s a perfectionist and an introvert. He sets the bar very high and, to some degree, expects those that work with him to excel to that bar. But that’s what makes the difference.”
In just 12 years, the Evansville, Ind., firm has taken off, developing a reputation for providing standout service. Starting from scratch in 2006, Collins Pest Management has grown to a $1.6 million business, with 13 employees servicing more than 700 accounts throughout Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Collins is one of those fortunate people who have been able to find a profession that matches up with their interests. A native of Haubstadt, Ind., Collins developed a great admiration for nature while exploring his aunt and uncle’s farm. Collins learned the value of hard work from dad, Fred, a production worker at Whirlpool, and mom, Janet, who at age 73 still works in the laundry facility at a local hospital. Collins’ parents divorced when he was an infant and he was raised by his mom and grandparents. He considers his grandfather, Walter Reibel, his biggest early influencer.
One of Collins’ early science interests was birds, so much so that when he enrolled at Purdue University his career goal was to become a neotropical bird researcher. At Purdue, one of his professors was Corrigan, who remembered Collins as a “quiet, but engaged student who would ask great questions.”
While at Purdue, Collins got ahold of “Wildlife in America” by Peter Matthiessen. Inspired by the acclaimed wildlife publication, Collins switched his major to Wildlife Science; he graduated with a B.S. in Wildlife Science from Purdue in 1992.
He started his professional career as an environmental consultant, essentially living out of his truck while performing tasks such as tracking Indiana and gray bats, both of which are endangered.
“I liked what I was doing but I was living in a hotel, I was all over the place making minimum wage. I thought ‘This is not what I went to school for. Gosh, I could’ve stayed on the farm and done this.’”
Finding Pest Control
In 1994, seeking to get off the road and make a better living, Collins started exploring options related to biology. He came across a help wanted ad for Action Pest Control.
Among those who interviewed Collins was Action Pest Control President Kevin Pass, who recognized that Collins had the background and people skills to succeed in pest control, and that he was someone who could help him take his fast-growing company to the next level. Collins worked for Action Pest Control for a year, then left in 1995 to become regional technical specialist (St. Louis) for McCloud Services, a job that lasted only a year, but left a huge impact on him. “They taught me how to do food plant IPM. I learned that there was a lot more to it than meets the eyes. That really got me going and thinking ‘This is what I want to do. I love this work,’ so I started to live and breathe it,” Collins recalled.
While Collins liked the work and the people at McCloud Services, he was less enthusiastic about living in St. Louis, so when an opportunity became available at his old employer, Action Pest Control, in 1996, Collins decided to rejoin the firm as a service manager for the pest control division.
It was a good match for both parties. “I knew how to do route work, I knew the technical work and I was learning the business side, so I think that was a good combination for a growing company.” When Collins rejoined Action Pest Control in 1996 the company was close to a $1 million firm; when Pass sold the business to Scotts (in 2014) it was a $15 million firm.
This second tour of duty with Action also was an important time personally for Collins. In 1999, he met his future wife Shelly, who had a short-lived stint at Action Pest Control in sales. The couple married in 2001.
Field Research Opportunity
In 2003, an amazing opportunity opened up for Collins. Corrigan’s consulting business, at the time located in Richmond, Ind., was rapidly growing and he was looking to hire a field researcher.
Corrigan said he was excited when Collins submitted a resume. He had observed Collins’ fastidiousness while auditing Action Pest Control accounts and he was impressed by how his former student had grown as a pest control expert.
“In many ways we are scientific kindred spirits. I think we both really get into the science of pests and everything that goes with that including behavior and control,” Corrigan said. “He helped me think differently and approach science from a different aspect. And I played the role of a scientific mentor. The years we spent together doing scientific field research were really exciting.”
Collins too enjoyed his time working with Corrigan, whom he said challenged him and opened up his eyes to new and better ways of solving pest control problems. Both Dan and Shelly Collins wanted to move back to their native Evansville, so he left RMC Pest Management Consulting after one year, and rejoined Action Pest Control for a third time, in 2004.
A Company Is Born
In the span of about 10 years Collins had accumulated experiences in all facets of pest management — the only thing left to do was be an owner.
“Shelly was the one that really encouraged me. I was waffling back and forth, and she said, ‘Go for it. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go work for somebody else because you are talented. We’ll figure it out,’” Collins said.
In January 2006, Collins Pest Management was launched. Dan ran the day-to-day operations, while Shelly handled bookkeeping and accounting, which she still does. The early years were both exciting and stressful, and Collins relied on mentors like Corrigan and Richard Kammerling, president of RK Pest Management and Consulting, Huntington Station, N.Y., for advice.
“When Dan started he would call me 2 to 3 times per week and ask owner-type questions such as how to price jobs. I just told him to not to undercharge — not to be like the rest of the industry, and he hasn’t,” said Kammerling. “I knew he would be a success because of his honesty, integrity and commitment to doing things the right way.”
Collins Pest Management survived those difficult first years, and the company slowly began growing and carving out a niche in the competitive food and pharmaceutical segments.
“If there is one thing that separates us, it’s that if we say we’re going to do it, we do it. And if I tell you I can’t do it, I’ll tell you right straight up I can’t do it,” Collins said. “I’m not afraid to walk away from business.”
McCloud Services Technical Director Pat Hottel said the fact that Collins has been in technical, managerial and field research positions has given him a thorough understanding of pests, control of pests and effective business practices. “His ability to grow the business, especially in one of the more challenging types of industries — the food industry — is a testament to his talents and professionalism,” she said.
True to his nature, Collins has grown the business conservatively, but smartly. For example, in 2013 he sold off his residential business to focus full-time on the commercial segment.
As the company has grown and evolved, so too has Collins. The hands-on owner-operator has assembled a team that can run the day-to-day operations when necessary. This includes service manager Bart Jackson and office manager Marie Gallagher.But that’s not to say Collins strays far from his service roots. As Corrigan noted, “If one of his technicians needs help cleaning out a real mess at the bottom of a grain silo, Dan’s right there getting filthy dirty with him. He doesn’t just delegate orders and walk away from the job. He will do the dirty work and the clean work.”
Collins realizes his hands-on tendencies and conservative nature will, in some ways, limit his ability for huge growth. He’s okay with that and, for now, he is just enjoying the ride. “What I’ve learned is that in some respects pest control businesses are not overly complicated, but in other respects they are highly complicated. I’m not a businessman, but a biologist with a little bit of a capitalist streak that tries do things the right way. I’ve been fortunate to be successful.”