When COVID hit, everything went virtual. We’ve got three young kids, and we’re a pretty adventurous family, so we decided to pack up the Airstream trailer. We once lived in it for eight months in our driveway while we renovated our house. At the time I thought “We were never getting back in that thing again,” but as the months wore on, we thought, “Let’s see if we can take it across the country to all of the national parks. When else can we do something crazy like this and just take off?”

And I had another idea. I have a lot of friends in this industry. There are a lot of people I respect, and I’ve always wanted to go to their offices. This was the perfect opportunity. We’re all in this COVID crisis and I wanted to see what they were doing, and talk about their plans for 2021. So, I pieced a route together based on the national parks we wanted to visit.

The Parkers in front of Half Dome, Yosemite National Park.

I knew I would get a lot of great information out of these visits, but what about the people back at home thinking about how the pandemic is going to affect their business, their team, their culture and even their families? I figured they were wondering what other people were doing too. I wanted to share the experiences and conversations I had and open it all up for other people.

Everyone I went and spoke with was pretty candid — and I did poke and prod a little. For the first interview I had some notes, but I ended up fumbling through the questions a little bit. After that we decided to go straight on, roll tape, and it became what it was supposed to be: having “Coffee with Court.” If you’re a PMP you can visit https://bit.ly/3nuUsxU and watch these videos. You’re a part of the room. I’ve always had great experiences networking with other PMPs, and I wanted to share that with other business owners in the industry who might not have had that opportunity yet.

So, we headed out on August 14 and pulled back into the driveway on New Year’s Eve. The trip ended up taking 135 days and 158,000 miles through 27 states, 31 national parks and 15 interviews with PMPs.

 

Living out of the Airstream was just like being at the house, but we were moving sites every four days or so, which kept things interesting for the kids. Even though they had their devices, we tried to keep the drives under five hours.

We kept to East Coast time as we traveled, so I’d wake up with the kids around 5 a.m. They’d log onto virtual school and I’d log onto work at the dinette of the 28-foot trailer. My wife would ease into the dining area, and then I’d go for a walk outside or sit in the truck for my conference calls. I took a lot of conference calls from laundromats actually, but I never missed my Tuesday leadership meeting.

Once the kids were done with school, we had the rest of the afternoon to explore. Every single day we did something. We did tons of hiking, hiked the Narrows in Zion and surfed on the West Coast. We had our e-bikes and our paddle boards. We did just about everything imaginable out West. We saw so much wildlife, and we were able to have the kids participate in the U.S. National Park Service Junior Ranger program. They’d answer questions, went on hikes and even earned Ranger badges. It helped keep them motivated. We also tried to maintain some normalcy, like our taco Tuesdays and Skyping with friends.

The Parker family at Thatcher, Devon, Finn, Sawyer and Court Parker.

It was interesting to see how intense the COVID precautions were in different parts of the country, too. We always had our gaiters and made sure we kept our distance, but things definitely looked a little different. We were able to walk through San Francisco and there wasn’t a soul there. We also didn’t hit much traffic when we were driving. Some of the national parks weren’t 100 percent open, but the majority of the places we wanted to go were just fine. We were smart, and no one got sick on the trip, not even a cold or stomach bug.

As for our favorite parts of the trip, each of my kids will talk about every national park differently. I loved South Dakota. I just had no idea how beautiful it was. We saw Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave and the Badlands. The Badlands looked just like Star Wars, in fact, I’m pretty sure they filmed part of it out there. And there was a lot of history there that I didn’t expect. The five parks in Utah were amazing too. Utah itself could be a national park, everywhere you turn is another unbelievable view.

From a business aspect, I picked up all kinds of great nuggets. Just seeing my colleagues’ offices was beneficial. It gave me the opportunity to check out something as simple as billboards, safety signs and even clever bathroom signs. Each PMP I sat down with had a different focus. Some were diversifying, while others were honing in on their specialties, some were building businesses to sell, while others were building distribution warehouses. There were actually a lot of conflicting messages, but what it showed me is, there are so many ways to succeed in this business.

These were some of the highlights from my conversations:

Justin McCauley

McCauley Services, Benton, Ark.

Justin and I talked a lot about family, and building the business around your family so they understand how important it is.

Stacy O’Reilly

Plunkett’s Pest Control, Fridley, Minn.

At Plunkett’s, Stacy let me in on her secrets to scalability. She’s always planning for the future, as evident by her beautiful facility. With her distribution warehouse, she’s able to ship out product to team members in 20 states.

Jeff Phillips

Blue Chip Pest Services, St. Louis, Mo.

Jeff is all about the details, because those small details are what will drive steady, constant growth. And don’t we all want that?

Right photo: At Sequoia National Park, the Parker family posed in front of a group of trees named after another Parker Family.

Michel Botha

Retired PCO, Montana

Michael emphasized the importance of reading. There is always time to learn something new, and to use it to help grow your business.

Treleven Family

Sprague Pest Solutions, Tacoma, Wash.

For the Treleven family, consistency matters, as visitors can see from their Wall of Fame featuring 20-year tenured employees. At Sprague, they don’t change for the sake of change. They take the time to plan it out and project manage the what ifs and whys.

Bjorn Gjerde

Senske Services, Kennewick, Wash.

When I sat down with Bjorn, we talked a lot about the profitability of cross selling your own customer base, a tactic many PMPs can benefit from.

Sean McCauley

Anatex Pest Control, Brentwood, Calif.

Sean McCauley has built two pest control companies and sold them off. Now on his third business, he’s always thinking about recurring revenue that will drive his business into other avenues for passive income. He’s using property management to diversify and is amassing a real estate portfolio.

JamIe Ogle

Lloyd Pest Control, San Diego, Calif.

Jamie reminded me that bugs don’t care about the economy. We’re in a great industry that always grows, which allows us to build our teams for future growth. He’s determined what Lloyd Pest Control is best at, and put the spotlight on it instead of doing a little bit of everything.

Jason Payne

Payne Pest Management, San Diego, Calif.

In a competitive pest control market, Jason talked to me about finding your niche, and then growing your business fast, while still under the radar.

The first stop on the Parker family tour was Benton, Ark., where Court caught up with Justin McCauley, president of McCauley Services.

Bruce Tennenbaum

Arizona Pest Control, Tucson, Ariz.

Bruce is reducing his footprint while increasing digital marketing, and he’s enjoying great CPS and density of services.

Bobby Jenkins

ABC Home & Commercial Services, Austin, Texas

For Bobby, commitment to the community is not only good for the business, but good for the soul. Giving back just makes sense!

Dauphin Ewart

Bug Master, Austin, Texas

I talked to Dauphin about how challenges can really show you just how great your team can be. Finding the right talent from the get-go is what makes a company.

Zach Ivey

Cypress Creek Pest Control, Houston

Zach talked to me about exploring new market segments. Dive in and become the expert, and you’ll have a leg up on the competition.

Ty Ferraro and Marie Knox

Control Solutions Inc. (CSI) Pasadena, Texas

For Ty and Marie, developing their brand is crucial, but they’re also always looking to the future and what’s next.

Raleigh Jenkins

ABC Home & Commercial Services, Houston

Raleigh and I talked about how diversifying can be great; however, mistakes happen. As long as you learn from them and don’t repeat those mistakes, you’ll end up with synergy.

WHAT’S NEXT?

After being home for a few months, people have asked me, “Hey Court, you’re pretty good at talking to people. Now what?” I’ve been thinking I’d like to take these vlogs and turn them into a podcast, so people can easily listen in while sitting in the car.

I plan to continue running my business, but I’m also looking at providing consulting for smaller PCOs to help them get to their end game, whether it’s building to sell, scaling to three or four employees or developing leadership skills.

One of the best things for myself and my business has been being part of industry associations. If I wasn’t a part of them, I wouldn’t have been able to meet with these leaders from across the country. I want to help create the type of network for smaller pest control businesses.

Court Parker, CEO of Bug Busters, Woodstock, Ga., can be contacted at court@bugbustersusa.com. Watch his PCO video interviews at https://bit.ly/3nuUsxU.