Talk about keeping your fingers on the pulse of our country's economy. About four-and-a-half years ago, the Pearson company, a 45-year-old, family-owned plumbing, heating and air conditioning organization in Rockford, Ill., was doing a good business. But they were witnessing the early signs of a deteriorating economy and were determined to be proactive about fighting the business downturn. As a long established residential service business, they decided to take a unique approach that capitalized on their specialty.
"We knew how important it is to strive for growth and stability in a fragile market. In such an economy, you must try to diversify by offering more services to all of your existing customers," said Matt Morgan, the company's director of finance and business development. "It's not necessary to take on more overhead if you provide additional services to your customer base. And it's not necessary to spend a lot of promotional dollars seeking new business when you can sell your existing customers on using your new services."
Several years earlier Pearson had diversified what was a 10-man plumbing shop that was experiencing good growth by adding heating and air conditioning repair, as well as water softening services.
The Beginning. Morgan was sitting in his office one day and happened to watch a big centipede as it crawled along on his desk. "That triggered the idea of offering pest control as an additional service to our customers," he says. Morgan; Greg Lee, Pearson's president; Robert Stenstrom, the company's owner; and the management team kicked the idea around, studied the market opportunities, and decided to offer pest control as another add-on residential service.
"Think about it. The heating business shares the same seasons with pest control, and their service models are quite similar. We already had software and systems in place that were appropriate to those operations," he said. "And our plumbers usually work in basements, under sinks and in bathrooms — high-moisture areas where insects tend to dwell."
After more careful research and deliberation, Pearson learned that the owner of Oxford Pest Control in Rockford was ready to sell his company. In April of 2007 Pearson purchased the firm and integrated pest control service into their overall business. "This venture has been exciting and, I believe, successful,"
Morgan says. So successful, in fact, that Pearson continued to expand in a tough economy.
Morgan says Pearson's pest control business alone has accounted for 25- to 30-percent growth in the company's profitability. That prompted the firm's recent purchase of another pest management company, Adams Pest Control, located about 15 miles away. This enables the Rockford-based company to now provide its integrated residential services to the homeowners and businesses in a multi-county area including the Illinois cities of DeKalb, Oregon, Dixon and Byron.
“We’ve also developed a termite specialty as well as a power spraying capability, which gives us two excellent niche markets. Both help to set us apart from our pest control competition,” says Morgan. “We treat residential neighborhoods in rural areas that see a heightened level of boxelder bug activity, as they are located near farming areas.” [Editor’s note: The preceding paragraph was revised on Sept. 22, 2011, to more accurately explain Pearson’s power spraying capabilities.]
Marketing It. To promote the diversified organization, Morgan and his team are in the midst of rebranding Pearson with an aggressive marketing campaign that promotes the business as a one-stop shop. The campaign relies mostly on word-of-mouth efforts but also utilizes public relations, TV advertising, Facebook and direct mail. "Instead of the unwieldy name of Pearson Plumbing, Heating and Pest Control, we're now known simply as Pearson. We also train our customer service reps to talk up our various services."
Morgan says the company's plumbing and HVAC technicians can help leverage its pest control business too. "As you know, plumbing problems can cause moisture that can usually breed an insect infestation. That would be an opportunity for our plumbers to promote our pest control service. And if our HVAC technicians should spot a rodent infestation because of cold weather, for example, they can let the customer know that our rodent control operation can solve their problem. At the same time, our pest control technicians can cross-promote by talking up our HVAC and water softening services too, should they see the need."
Utilizing integrated pest management as their working philosophy, Pearson offers customers a thorough inspection of their homes or facilities to determine the size and scope of their problems. They then discuss options and any special circumstances and present a detailed proposal that includes a treatment schedule, schematic diagram of target areas, and cost breakdown.
A savvy strategy. Morgan says the company's reputation for quality, integrity and fair dealing has never been stronger. "Pearson takes great pride in training and educating our employees to provide outstanding customer service," he said. "We've taken a solid, well-known plumbing and heating business and expanded it to pest control by building on the trust we've already established with our customers. We continue to be well-known in the area for quality service.
"We think this type of diversification is the wave of the future," he added. "And we think the key to success in an economic downturn is to be open to change, as we have been."
To learn more about Pearson, visit http://pearsonguy.com.
The author is a contributing writer to PCT. E-mail him at email@example.com.