Last year, despite its unpredictable, pandemic-related obstacles, was a successful one for Midland Park, N.J.-based Horizon Pest Control. The company increased its revenue by nine percent (its total revenue in 2020 was $7.67 million) and projects to grow another 15 percent by the end of this year. But the business, which has more than 65 employees, started with humble beginnings.
Bernie Holst Jr. and Mary Joyce Holst founded Horizon 51 years ago with the motto “let our family take care of your family.”
“It was basically my father and my mother,” CEO Bernie Holst III recalled. “My father was going out and doing the work. My mother would be home with my older sister at the time, and she would also be typing up proposals, answering phones. And my father at the time actually was working two jobs. He was doing pest control — it was a brand-new startup company — and he had a garbage route to pay the bills while he started to get enough clients to support his new family.”
Holst’s father had previously worked at Bliss Pest Control for several months before he decided to set off on his own and launch Horizon.
“My uncle, who was older than my father, said he should try to own his own company, and that’s what he did,’” Holst said.
Though their parents are still owners, Holst and his sister, Kristin Fowler, now run the second-generation business, with Holst as CEO and Fowler as marketing director.
Holst has been with the company in an official capacity for about 26 years, but growing up, he pitched in part-time.
“I actually started working for the company before I could drive,” he said. “So, I was probably working at the company from around age 13 part-time, over the summer.”
Holst said his father, who served as New Jersey Pest Management Association president from 1990-91 and National Pest Management Association president from 2006-07, was well recognized in the industry.
“It is a really great industry to be part of,” he said. “I am proud to be part of it. I don’t think there’s too many service organizations or services out there that protect on the level that we do. I mean, we protect people’s health. We protect people’s property. We protect their buildings and homes and reputations. So, we kind of cover the whole gamut.”
Horizon, which serves central and northern New Jersey, and Rockland County, Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx in New York, offers general pest control to commercial and residential clients, including termite, bed bug and bird control services; canine inspections; and disinfectant services. However, Holst said it is not the services themselves — which any business can offer — but the customer service and positive work culture that have fostered his company’s success.
Horizon was named one of 40 top workplaces in New Jersey by NJ Advance Media in 2020. The distinction was earned after employees submitted anonymous surveys about company life.
“We have a strong family culture, and we try to make sure our employees are treated like family, not like numbers, with the goal being that [our culture] will transfer to our clients as well. [We want] our employees to treat our clients with very high regard, because they should never be a number either,” Holst said.
Acknowledging and rectifying mistakes is also important to the company’s values.
“We’re going to make mistakes,” he said. “We own that. Our goal is to get out on the doorstep and work with the client to the point that they’re happy. At times, we might put a foot to a ceiling or whatever, and it might cost us money to make sure everything is taken care of the right way. But in the long run, it’s who we are and what we want to be for our clients. If we caused the issue, we need to fix it.
“More importantly, from a pest control perspective, we do what we say we’re going to do. If we underbid a project, we’re not going back and saying, ‘OK, well, we made a mistake. We have to charge you more.’ If we bid the project, we’re going to live up to our word and get the project done.”
COVID CORRECTIONS. Last year, Horizon’s revenues from commercial work declined, Holst said, so the company sharpened its focus on the residential market. He attributes 2020’s revenue increase partially to people spending more time at home during the pandemic.
Plans for growth are not slowing down. Holst said he would like to open additional offices and expand his company’s service area to larger markets.
“Ultimately, the goal is to cover all of New Jersey and have a lot more saturation in the New York City metro area,” he said. He has financial ambitions of “$10 million in revenue and beyond.”
Holst’s advice to fellow pest control companies looking to expand is to focus on quality team members.
“Find and keep the best talent you can,” he said. “If you’re turning and flipping people often, I think you’re going to have a tough time growing. But also know when you don’t have the right people, you have to be able to make that decision as well.”
He emphasized the importance of caring about employees as much as clients.
“I think that’s one of the keys to success,” Holst said. “They’re the ones, ultimately, that are going to allow you to make sure you’re keeping the clients and keeping them happy.”