Merriam-Webster dictionary defines conventional wisdom as “opinions or beliefs that are held or accepted by most people.” What I love about the pest control industry is it is filled with entrepreneurs who have succeeded by challenging conventional wisdom…and winning; two that come to mind are Al “Bugs” Burger and Harvey Massey. In the early 1980s, Burger and his company “Bugs” Burger Bug Killers, challenged the then-accepted business model, which involved servicing high volumes of accounts at low costs. Burger believed he could charge more if he brought more value to the customer (in his company’s case primarily hotels and restaurants). The value Burger brought to customers was in the form of money-back guarantees; the price he was able to charge for this value was 10 to 15 times what his competitors were charging. This new approach was wildly successful for “Bugs” Burger Bug Killers, which became a major player among commercial pest control providers in the 1980s.
In 1984, Massey purchased Walker Chemical & Exterminating Co., from the Walker family for $4 million. Instead of continuing on with the Walker name (well known in Florida) Massey rebranded the company with his own last name. But his changes didn’t stop there. In the first two years, he bought more than 100 new vehicles; created a new marketing plan; and installed a new budgeting system. Today, Massey Services is a $164 million company.
I’m sure entrepreneurs like Massey and Burger appreciate the story of J.B. Bernstein, a keynote speaker at last month’s NPMA PestWorld. Bernstein created The Million Dollar Arm contest in India; his story was turned into a major motion picture of the same name. If you aren’t familiar, The Million Dollar Arm recounts how a sports agent (Bernstein) comes up with a big, but seemingly far-fetched idea to find and train Indian cricket players to become pro baseball players in the U.S. When Bernstein approached friends, consultants and investors with the idea, he was expecting their responses to be “Why didn’t I think of that?” Instead, “Million Dollar Arm was, according to every expert I talked to, ‘the absolute worst idea they had ever heard,’” he said. Bernstein said it took 15 “nos” before an investor, Will Chang, an executive with the San Francisco Giants, came on board. But Bernstein had a plan he believed in. The idea of finding an international marketing sports star came to Bernstein by following the career of Yao Ming, the 7-foot Chinese basketball star who made a name for himself in the NBA. “There are more than 200 million young men in India between the ages of 18-29, so I figured there would be someone who could throw a baseball,” he said. Bernstein then borrowed and adapted the popular competition format used on TV’s “American Idol.” I won’t spoil the movie’s journey — and ending — but I’ll leave readers with five key factors to Bernstein’s success that he related to those running a pest control business:
Creativity – “It’s not just about coming up with ideas. You have to be creative when targeting customers, when marketing your product and when selling your product.”
Passion — “You will never convince anyone in life to do something unless you are passionate about it. Passion is infectious. Passion is what makes people follow you when you lead.” Overcoming adversity – “Everyone who has ever been successful has failed. Overcoming adversity is one of the key characteristics of anyone who has ever done anything in their lives.”
Planning – “Planning is the most mundane, mind-numbingly boring process you will ever go through, but it is the backbone to success. It’s trite, but ‘without a plan, you plan to fail.’ You need to stick to your plan. It tells you everything you need to know about your idea.”
Ethics – “When you sit across the table from someone you might be doing business with and they are someone who cheats, or cuts corners, or works in a gray area, the only thing you can think of is ‘How is this person going to cheat me?’ When you are faced with the option of cheating or taking an honest path that might require more work, take the honest path.”
In his closing remarks, Bernstein reflected back to a message inside a fortune cookie he kept from his childhood. That message undoubtedly resonated with the room full of entrepreneurs: The greatest pleasure in life is doing things that other people say you can’t do.
The author is Internet editor and managing editor of PCT magazine.