Evolving over four generations of the Gunter family, Gunter Pest & Lawn this year celebrates 70 years of providing service in the heart of Kansas City, Mo.
L.R. (Reggie) Gunter started Gunter Pest & Lawn in the 1950s under the name “L.R. Gunter, the Bugman” after taking over the pest control route of his cousin, Roy Gunter. Reggie Gunter and his wife Elizabeth Gunter ran the business out of their home, where current president and Gunter’s grandson, Jay Besheer, spent a lot of time growing up.
“He lived just a few blocks from where I grew up. I used to go to his house all the time on the weekends and just hang out with him,” Jay Besheer said of his grandfather Reggie Gunter. “We were really close so [working for the company] was just something that I always wanted to do.”
Jay Besheer began working for the company in 1969, at the age of 14, and spent the majority of his summers and breaks from school working with his grandfather. He then joined the company full-time in 1977 after graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in business. Jay Besheer’s father, Norman Besheer, joined the company in 1971 after leaving his career in law.
“My dad and I started around the same time, so we were running sort of like partners all those years,” Jay Besheer said.
Norman Besheer, who is now 91, took over the company in 1979 and still works for Gunter as CEO. Norman’s grandson and Jay’s son, Noah Besheer, recently joined Gunter Pest & Lawn as vice president of marketing. According to Jay Besheer, Noah will one day take over the leadership of the company, making Gunter a four-generation family-owned business.
“I feel it’s pretty impressive that we’ve been able to evolve over four different generations because what worked in the 1960s is not what is working in 2020,” Noah Besheer said. “So, we’ve really tried to evolve with the times and the key, I think, is listening to our customers and providing the services they want and how they want (them).”
LOCAL MATTERS. Located in Kansas City for all 70 years, Gunter resonates well with its local market. According to Jay and Noah Besheer, a number of pest control companies and large corporate franchises have moved into Kansas City, increasing competition and forcing Gunter to continually evolve.
“The competition is so much heavier now than it was before,” Jay Besheer said. “But competition is good, and it makes you have to get better. If you don’t adapt and get better then you go away.”
According to Noah Besheer, being a local, family-owned business has helped Gunter stand out from the larger companies.
“Gunter started in Kansas City and it’s been in the middle of Kansas City for the last 70 years, and a lot of our customers like that,” Noah Besheer said. “A lot of our customers would rather choose a local, family-owned business than a national chain, especially when you have someone coming into your house for somewhat of a personal service.”
Gunter’s popularity in the local market originated in part with its old slogan, “Ask Your Neighbor.”
“Our slogan for a really long time was ‘Ask Your Neighbor,’ because, chances are, if you ask your neighbor who they use for pest control or lawn care, they’re going to say Gunter. That’s because we’ve been in the middle of Kansas City for the last 70 years,” Noah Besheer said.
Gunter has since changed its slogan to “Go Gunter, Go Green!” to highlight the company’s ongoing efforts to promote sustainability and minimize its footprint. Some of the ways the company has supported “going green” are by using solar panels to power its office building and charge the electric Tesla cars and trucks its technicians use for service; and by going paperless.
“Everything we do is in the mind of solving the pest problem but doing it with the greenest possible method,” Jay Besheer said.
70TH CELEBRATION. To commemorate the firm’s 70th anniversary this year, Gunter planned to host a party meant to both celebrate the anniversary and show the community its new green initiatives. However, the event has been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jay Besheer said he is leaving the final decision to his daughter, Hayley Besheer Santell, who works part time as head of sales and public relations for Gunter, but that the company will not be having the party any time soon.
“We want to be safe. That’s important to us for our customers too,” Noah Besheer said. “So, we’re not going to host a big event anytime in the near future, but hopefully it’s something that we can do as things change.”
In addition to its green initiatives, the company has evolved in its use of targeted marketing through social media and the digitization of its operating system. Now, according to Noah Besheer, the company’s communications include a lot of automation in which customers will receive a text or email reminder the day before technicians are visiting the property to provide service. “That’s something that I think has really helped us stay in touch with our customers more in the last year,” Noah Besheer said.
Noah, who now — according to Jay Besheer — plans to take over leadership of the company someday, said that was not always the case.
“For a long time, I never considered working for Gunter,” Noah Besheer said.
Noah had previously worked for a number of corporate entities but got burned out, he said. He recognized the value of carrying on the family business and decided he wanted to be a part of continuing the legacy. Noah also has a son, who might be involved in the company one day.
“I think it’s important to carry on the tradition and I’d love to keep it going for another 70 years if possible,” Noah Besheer said.