HONOLULU, Hawaii — Insects from around the world have found their way into Hawaii, so perhaps having a worldly view of pest control has given Michael Botha, president of Pearl City, Hawaii-based Sandwich Isle Pest Solutions, a leg up when it comes to solving Hawaii’s pest problems.
Botha is a native of South Africa who came to the U.S. in 1988 as an international student studying pest control at Broward Community College, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. But his involvement in pest control goes back to his childhood. Botha’s grandfather, Conrad Robinson, started Durban, South Africa-based Hi-Lo Fumigators in 1950. Botha’s dad, Petrus Botha, took over in 1966 and ran the business for 30 years. “Neither my grandfather nor my father, who really grew the business, had any formal education, yet they were very successful as a direct result of having a great work ethic, always trying to do the right thing, and by being fair and honest to their employees and customers. The company’s motto was ‘if you are going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all.’ My grandfather would tell me when I was a little boy, ‘it does not matter what you do in life, even if you only make sandwiches, make sure that your sandwiches are the best sandwiches that you can make, and you will be successful.’”
Growing up, Botha heeded the advice of his father and grandfather and also saw a promising future in pest control. “The pest management industry seemed to have the ability to withstand all kinds of external challenges. My dad’s company prospered through economic turmoil, severe social and political unrest, and remained a steady provider for our family even when the future was uncertain,” he said.
Botha gained a greater international perspective of pest control in 1986 working in England as a service technician. During summer breaks at Broward Community College he was a fumigation helper for Fahey Pest Control. He gained similar fumigation experience working for Western Fumigation in Florida. Botha then accepted a technician position at Terminix in Southern California. He was promoted to technical specialist and eventually moved from California to Hawaii.
ON HIS OWN. In 1997, Botha ventured out on his own, founding Sandwich Isle Pest Solutions as a one-man operation with $10,000. “I have always been very driven and ambitious,” he said. “I came to the U.S. literally with one bag and less than $2,000. I knew that if I was to reach my goals I would need to start my own business. I did not even consider the risks of failing. With all of the opportunities in this great land, I believed that all I needed was the opportunity to work and that nothing could stop me.”
Botha says his company’s growth has been a step-by-step process. One of the keys to his success has been a willingness to embrace new or unusual services. Botha explains this attitude is simply a by-product of growing up in a business that would do everything from fumigation of ships, removal of giant earthen termite mounds from crawlspaces, general pest control including such problems as wild African bee colonies, and deadly poisonous snake removal where standard equipment included a shotgun.
But that’s not to say Sandwich Isle has not had its share of growing pains. “Make no mistake; we have had our hardships, and have had to learn the hard way more often than I care to remember,” Botha said. “As a small business owner, as the company grows, so your skills and abilities have to grow at the same pace. We have been very fortunate to have a great team of employees.”
An important addition to the company occurred in 2000 when Botha’s father, Petrus, joined Sandwich Isle. Petrus (now age 72) was bored with retirement so Botha suggested his parents move to Hawaii and that Petrus sign on as senior vice president. “He has been a valuable asset, contributing in both management and sales,” Botha said.
In 2003, Sandwich Isle became Copesan’s Hawaii Region Partner. Copesan is an alliance of regional pest control companies. This was another important development for the company as it has helped Botha learn about cutting-edge new technologies and furthered his networking with peers.
Having been in business since 1997, Sandwich Isle Pest Solutions has carved out an impressive niche providing pest control services throughout Hawaii, but Botha remembers lessons learned and he’s been refining operations in response to the current challenging global economy.
“Recently we have focused on growing our company through rather unconventional means (at least for us). In 2008 and 2009 we committed a huge financial investment in new technologies, including switching all technicians to hand-held computer devices, purchasing two canines for bed bug scent detection and becoming a ThermaPureHeat authorized company. In 2010 we became a BedbugFree-certified company, and we started offering wholesale sub-contract services to some of our leading competitors.”