When starting Pest Elimination Services of Tennessee (PEST) in 2001 with $500 and a truck, Andy and Julie Yant had no idea what their termite and pest control company would grow to become in the future. Now, after providing service to thousands of residential and commercial customers for 19 years, the couple attributes their success to strategic growth decisions and a foundation on faith and family.
Julie, co-owner of PEST, told PCT that pest control is truly a family-oriented industry, and that much of their company was built on this notion. In fact, family is the reason the Yants got involved in pest control in the first place. Andy, co-owner of PEST and Julie’s husband, developed an interest in termite control and pest control in high school while working for a pest control firm owned by a family member.
Before officially launching PEST, Andy and Julie gradually accumulated used equipment over time to ensure they were being smart with their money.
“We would look for equipment for sale and drive all over the region and stockpile it up because we wanted to make sure and start off on the right foot and not be in debt,” Julie said.
When the couple started the company, Andy was the sole employee and Julie helped in the evenings after coming home from her full-time job at a law firm. Julie had originally planned to go to law school after college but decided against it once PEST began to grow.
“I never pictured myself being in pest control,” Julie said. In fact, early in her career, if you would have asked, ‘Where do you expect to be in five years?’ “[Pest control] would not have been on the radar for sure at any stage of the game,” she said.
SMART GROWTH. In the company’s early years, Andy and Julie were intentional about growing their business strategically because they wanted to ensure they could physically and financially meet the level at which they were growing, especially as new business owners.
“I’m really goal-oriented and, before we ever started, I had a five-year plan and a 10-year plan and still do that now,” Andy said.
To start, Andy did not draw a paycheck because he and Julie wanted to invest all their money back into the business, Julie said. So, Julie continued to work at the law firm for two years and the couple lived frugally off her income.
“God blessed us more than I messed up, thankfully,” Andy said.
Both Andy and Julie recognized their faith as a driving factor in their success, allowing such faith to be a guiding light in both their family and their business.
“We just try to make good choices to make each other better and to make the people around us better,” Julie recalled. “And we just want to let our light shine.”
FAMILY COMES FIRST. As the business began growing and Andy and Julie started a family, Julie joined PEST full-time because she felt it was what was best for their family. Working for their own business has given Julie the freedom to homeschool their two sons and to even bring them into work if necessary. “It was really a family decision,” Julie said.
Knowing the role that family had in their decision-making, Andy and Julie have continued to structure all aspects of the company around family, including marketing.
“Because we are a family business, in terms of making decisions, our branding has been around the family,” Julie said. “That has been successful for us because our customers have seen our children be born and seen them grow, and people dial into that. They’re all about relationships.”
The couple’s sons are now 12 and 15 years old, but Julie said she thinks they are still too young to decide whether or not they want to work for PEST when they are older. However, the couple does immerse their kids in the industry and involves them with all aspects of the business.
“They’ve been exposed to the good and the bad and the in-between,” Julie said, mentioning that one of their sons went to his first NPMA PestWorld at six months old.
Because we are a family business, in terms of making decisions, our branding has been around the family.” — Julie Yant
In addition to family-oriented marketing, both Julie and Andy recognized their partnership as an element that has led to PEST’s growth and success. Running a company with a spouse may lead to some additional challenges, but Julie told PCT that she and Andy are best friends and get along really well. She also said that they have worked together for so long that she doesn’t know any other way.
“Not every day is a day of sunshine but thankfully, more often than not, it is,” Julie said.
Andy noted that listening to one another and communicating well is the key to approaching the business together as a couple.
“Hearing each other out and realizing that we may not see things the same way and we might not understand things the same way, but that we’re both trying for the overall good,” Andy said. “And usually she’s more right than I am.”
The couple also sets boundaries for their time to ensure that the business doesn’t bleed over into other aspects of their personal and family life.
“Always remember that the family comes first, and the business comes second,” Julie said.DIVIDE AND CONQUER.
The couple splits up company responsibilities based on what each of them are good at, Andy said. Andy is responsible for the technical operations of the business, while Julie handles marketing, HR, system management and any other role she needs to jump in and help out.
Early in the business, both Andy and Julie involved themselves in a variety of pest control associations, including the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). Involvement in associations helped grow the couple’s knowledge of the industry while also fostering their connections with other pest management professionals. Meeting other individuals in the pest control industry encouraged Julie to really immerse herself in the pest control industry.
“I was just able to see that this could be a viable career for, not only Andy, but for me as well,” Julie said.
Andy has served as president of the Tennessee Pest Control Association (TPCA) twice, from 2011 until 2012 and from 2017 until 2018, and will serve a third term from 2021 until 2022. He also is currently on the board of directors of NPMA. Both he and Julie have previously held the role of president of the Middle Tennessee Pest Control Association (MTPCA), which Andy’s brother, Bobby, who currently works for PEST, now holds.
In addition to involvement in a variety of associations, Andy recognized PEST’s ability to adapt to a changing market as a key element of success. The business owner said that Middle Tennessee has been a good market for growth but that such expansion created a moving target demographic that has led to additional responsibilities.
“We’ve had so many people move here from different areas we’ve had to educate our customers a little more,” Andy said. “People that moved here from other parts of the country didn’t have termites, and they didn’t have brown recluse (spiders) and they didn’t have some of the other [pests] that we have. So, we are kind of adapting and being patient because some things are much different than they were in the past.”
Andy and Julie value getting to know their customers and place emphasis on community outreach. Some of the ways they have served the community are through providing service and volunteering for the Nashville Rescue Mission, the local Hope Center and Habitat for Humanity. PEST also sponsors a variety of local high school and community basketball, baseball and football teams; oftentimes children of staff members are on these teams. Julie added that the company is also intentional about supporting other small businesses on social media and at other events.
“It’s just what we’re about,” Julie said. “We’re about family, we’re about doing things in our community. So, I don’t know anything better than to support people in our community and other small businesses.”
COVID-19 RESPONSE. PEST has continued to serve and prioritize its customers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Julie noted that throughout the pandemic she has broken some of her boundaries regarding time spent on work because she wants to do whatever it takes to ensure PEST serves its customers to the best of its ability, even if that means answering emails late at night.
We’ve had so many people move [into Middle Tennessee] from different areas we’ve had to educate our customers a little more.” — Andy Yant
“We want to make sure that our people know that we are 100 percent there for them and we are going to be there 100 percent for our customers and that we are just going to continue to move forward,” Julie said. “So, we just tried to set, I would say, hopefully a stronger presence with our leadership than we had prior to [the pandemic].”
Andy added that PEST has followed all PPE requirements and social distancing guidelines and has adapted based on advice of colleagues in the pest control industry. Thankfully, the company has stayed busy despite the pandemic, Andy said.
The company now has 20 employees and will generate about $2 million in revenue this year, the couple said.
Learn more about PEST and the services they provide at www.pestinc.com.