Businesses, like families, have ups and downs. It’s how you support your employees and staff during the tough times that test the character of an organization.
Editor’s note: May PCT featured the 10th annual PCT Top 100 List, a ranking of the industry’s largest pest management firms. Due to space limitations, we were unable to run the following four articles in that issue. See page 86 for information about the Food Protection Alliance; see page 92 for a first-person account titled "Why I Hate the Word ‘Exterminator’"; and see page 96 for graphics that tracks the industry’s largest firms throughout the past 10 years.
A commitment to cutting-edge marketing, combined with a state-of-the-art disaster relief plan and enlightened management, have enabled Tim and Liz Hulett to create a true "family culture" at Hulett Environmental Services, a third-generation business serving the highly competitive South Florida market.
Tim’s father, Guy, founded Hulett some 40 years ago. During the past 40+ years the company has experienced consistent growth despite the inevitable ups and downs of the economy. Family owned and operated, Hulett Environmental Services is headquartered in West Palm Beach, Fla., and has 12 offices serving customers throughout the Sunshine State. "Given the state of the economy, we’re lucky to be in this industry," says President Tim Hulett. "We grew seven percent last year and expect a similar growth rate this year."
Consistent Advertising. "In terms of marketing, we’ve never stopped advertising because it’s worked well for us in the past," says Randy Hulett, son of the owners and the third generation of the Hulett family to be involved in the business. "We believe in it." A member of the company’s marketing team, Randy Hulett reports they’ve been able to purchase advertising more cost effectively over the last two years because of the downturn in the economy. "We decided to continue to invest in advertising during the recession," he said. "While our competitors were cutting their ad budgets, we were protecting ours and getting more for our money."
Florida’s economy tanked at the end of 2006, but in 2008 the company continued to advertise, according to Greg Rice, another member of the marketing team. "And we bumped up our advertising dollars in 2009, even though the economy still hadn’t turned around completely. Our offices got inundated with leads, which were up by as much as 70 percent," he said.
Hulett has since added more radio and TV advertising to its marketing mix and enhanced its Internet and social media presence. "Increasingly, the Internet is where the consumers’ eyeballs are," says Rice.
It’s difficult to track leads generated by TV, said Rice, the longtime "face" of Hulett Environmental Services, "but we’re moving to a cost-per-lead model with our marketing efforts. We’re now tracking all of our advertising down to the smallest marketing effort. Every online ad and every Yellow Pages entry is being tracked. This will allow us to evaluate our ad performance much more effectively this year."
TV-Driven Organization. The company is a strong TV-driven organization, Rice said. "We know TV supports all the things we do to market the company," he said. "For instance, there are hundreds of pest control companies advertising in the Yellow Pages in South Florida, so how does a customer pick Hulett? That’s where our corporate awareness (branding) efforts come in. We’ve emphasized our company brand through TV ads for more than 21 years throughout the state. That’s allowed us to stand out from competitors. A potential customer is probably familiar and comfortable with us because of our TV advertising over the years."
Rice also shared a new direction, established in March, for Hulett’s TV commercials — the creation of the "Hulett Man", a youthful, customer-friendly technician played by a local actor. Rice and his late-brother John — well-known local celebrities throughout South Florida — starred in many of the company’s TV commercials, but with the passing of John a few years ago, Hulett was forced to revamp and introduce the new character. "The ‘Hulett Man’ plays the role of a clean-cut young technician, very IPM-oriented, which ties beautifully into our three-year-old ‘HealthyHome’ marketing initiative," Randy Hulett says. "That’s our green program, which is a GreenPro Certified service that does not [include] baseboard spraying." Rice says the commercials utilize comedy to make a selling point and also entertain the TV audience. They push to make their ads entertaining and informative, but also strive for high production values, he said.
Enhanced web Presence. The company has had a lot of success with TV advertising, but is also interested in further updating and expanding its online presence (see a comparison of the old site vs. the redesigned site below). "We’ve now made our website more of a sales tool rather than just an information source for our customers," says Randy Hulett. "Customers can make payments, log into their accounts, send us notes, etc. We have no auto response. If they contact us, we’re very quick to respond — within five minutes, if possible. We want to be out there the same day if a customer needs us or has an issue with our service. We want to complete the service cycle in one day. And if there is a problem we want to service it with an extreme sense of urgency."
He says that normally most pest control companies around the country use their corporate name as their domain name. "We on the other hand, are www.bugs.com. The name Hulett can be spelled 12 different ways, so it’s easier for the consumer to remember bugs.com."
To prove Internet effectiveness, Hulett reports that one of the company’s branches — an average-sized branch — generates $1 million in sales, and gets 50 leads a day. "The real challenge is keeping up with that many leads. Seeing customers the same day and maintaining the same level of urgency throughout the sales and service cycle is critical but it’s a great problem to have."
Disaster Relief. Another significant reason for Hulett Environmental Services’ growth — and survival — over the years was the creation of a disaster relief plan prompted by the three hurricanes that clobbered Florida several years ago.
"Recovering from the hurricanes was stressful and represented a lot of hard work and planning for the future," recalled Liz Hulett. "After living through the experience, we were very committed to ensuring that we would not fall short again when it came to disaster preparedness. Our computer system went down during the last hurricane and our records were at risk as a result of the storm."
The two owners vowed then and there that they would never put their business at risk again. "We had our whole lives in our building and it could instantly be gone without any backup," says Tim Hulett, so they began the process of putting redundant systems in place for their back-office operations. The company’s computer databases — the lifeblood of every service business — are now backed up by a mirror system located in Charlotte, N.C., far from hurricane-prone South Florida.
"If our system here should go down again, we could switch to our back-up facility and be up and running again in minutes," Tim says.
They also showed exceptional consideration for their employees both during and after the hurricanes, when a number of their staff lacked access to food and shelter, as well as fuel since South Florida was under a state of emergency for several days. "We opened up our building, which has impact-resistant windows and other hurricane-resistant features, to our staff. They brought their children and pets to our building," he said. "We had birds. We had cats. We had dogs. It was like a little Noah’s Ark. We bought giant ice machines to help them keep their food and baby bottles fresh. We bought hamburgers and hot dogs and fired up the grill to feed everyone."
Added Mike Fearns, VP of Hulett’s pest and lawn operations, "We even used our fumigation tarps to help cover the damaged roofs of the homes of our employees."
According to Frank Dowling, vice president of sales and general manager, they even bought gas for employees so they could go to and from work. "We tried to ease their minds. If they could take care of what they needed to do at home, they could think clearly and do their job for us."
As a result, the staff, having gone through that trauma, feels more like family than co-workers, which is paying dividends for Hulett Environmental Services now.
"Tim and Liz have created a family culture here," said Fearns. "They’ve given us employees the ability to treat Hulett as if it’s our own company. Liz and Tim are the owners, but they make everyone feel like they’re wanted and needed."
The author is a contributing writer to PCT. E-mail him at email@example.com.