How does the owner of a successful $2 million-a-year pest control business spend most of his work days? For Bruce Carter, president of Farmington, N.M.-based Carter Services, in many ways his days are not all that different from the early days of Carter Services when he was a one-man operation. That's because Carter is usually found in the field visiting accounts, providing pest management services, doing quality assurance checks and anything else it takes to keep his customers happy.
"I like to work closely with our technicians and I feel like I get the best production out of people when I get just as dirty as they get," Carter said.
This same hands-on, customer-centric approach was successful for Carter Services in its early days and it works today on a larger scale — a much larger scale. Today, Carter Services employs 24 people, services more than 4,000 accounts, and covers the entire state of New Mexico, plus portions of Colorado, Texas and Arizona — a geographic area Carter estimates is one-fifth the size of Alaska. As you might imagine, Carter puts a lot of miles on his vehicles. "I'm on the road at least half the week, especially now with bed bugs. We've been doing a lot of work in Denver, which is our biggest market, so it might be a situation where I'll spend a couple nights there and then return home."
Despite these demands, Carter has always found time to be involved in associations — serving as president of both the National Pest Management Association and the New Mexico Pest Control Association.
Humble Beginnings. Carter's interests have always lied in agriculture. He was born and spent his formative years in Socorro, N.M., a small town (pop. 4,000) about 75 miles south of Albuquerque. He and older brothers Don and Jerry were raised primarily by mother Jo, who struggled to keep the family's farm, working for a local savings and loan bank. "We definitely had some tough times, but I also didn't know there was much better out there. As a kid, I loved raising animals, especially pigs, and I looked forward to showing them off at the county fair — which was basically our vacation." Carter said he admired his mom's toughness and grit. "She showed me that nothing in life comes easy and that if you want to achieve something it comes with a price — and that price is hard work."
Carter's interests in agriculture led him to New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, N.M., where he earned a degree in agricultural economics in 1977. From there, he accepted a position as a crop sprayer in eastern New Mexico. It was work he enjoyed but he didn't see a future in it.
In January 1980, Carter got a call from an old high school buddy who had just purchased Pied Piper Pest Control, a small business with offices in Grands, N.M., and Gallup, N.M. He asked Carter if he was interested in becoming a partner and running the Gallup office. Carter recalls, "I was footloose and fancy free and I said, 'What the heck?' All I had was a pickup truck and $3,000 in my pocket. Me and MasterCard, we were real good buddies."
The partners renamed the company Dalco Pest Control. The problem was there weren't a lot of business opportunities in Gallup, which is landlocked by Indian reservations, so Carter also dabbled in other start-up service businesses, including windshield repair, pager leasing, ice machine sales and service and carpet cleaning. "Anything to make a buck. It was like, which Velcro patch do I wear on my shirt at this account?" Carter recalled.
Eventually Carter spun off those other businesses and settled on pest control because of its potential for growth and because he foresaw the need for it in the future. So, a year and a half into the business, Carter bought out his partner and changed the name from Dalco Pest Control to Carter Services.
The early years were a struggle for Carter, who says the support of wife Hazel and children Carrie, Christie and James helped him through these tough times — and also have been instrumental in his company's success throughout the years. "Without family and a great staff I wouldn't have had any of the success I've had," Carter says.
Fate Steps In. As Carter Services began to take shape Carter realized he would need to relocate from Gallup, which presented only limited business opportunities. As fate would have it, he landed a one-time service request in Farmington, N.M. (about two hours north of Gallup) and became acquainted with Frank Garton, a pest control operator who had worked for 40-plus years and was looking to retire. Garton simply gave Carter his accounts (about six). "More importantly, he was from the old ways of doing termite work and he taught me how to do it. He said, 'You can really do well in this line of work.'"
Carter proved a fast study and began refining his operations. He recognized a need for pest control services at commercial accounts in remote locations. These types of accounts include food plants, stand-alone retail stores, warehouses and field and gas companies. A specialty service that helped Carter Services differentiate itself from its competitors was rodent remediation. "We are located in the Four Corners area, which is ground zero for Hantavirus and we developed a reputation for doing really good rodent work in commercial accounts."
Carter also has recognized that servicing remote accounts across a vast geographic area requires a different service model than, say, a pest control business that operates in a highly compacted metropolitan area. For example, instead of having one main office with various satellite offices, Carter Services has one main office in Farmington, N.M., and the company's service technicians essentially work out of their trucks from eight various locations throughout New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Colorado. "What I've done is develop my technicians at every town to function as managers as well, so for me it really is about hiring the right people, training them correctly and then communicating with them all the time." In other words, Carter is always on the phone, either at one of these various locations or while en route. "While I'm working in the field I'm also working in the office," he said.
Association Involvement. Carter also credits his association involvement for his company's success. Through his membership with the National Pest Management Association, Carter worked closely with Ward Combs, president of Presto-X-Company, Omaha, Neb. (now a part of Rentokil North America's pest control operation). "I owe a lot of my success to Ward," Carter said. "He really took me under his wings and taught me a lot about this business. I once asked Ward, 'What do I have to do to be successful in this business?' — and Ward said, 'Jump in with both feet into NPMA and take full advantage of everything NPMA has to offer.'"
Carter draws Inspiration from ziglar's See You at The Top
Not long after Bruce Carter opened Carter Services he found himself in a rut. Carter believed in his business model and in his ability to take care of the customer, but sales were sluggish. One day while walking through a bookstore Carter picked up a copy of See You at the Top, the acclaimed motivational and self-improvement book by Zig Ziglar. "I bought the book, took it home and stayed up all night reading it," Carter said. "The next morning, because I had changed my attitude I had sold 10 accounts before noon."
How did this book profoundly change Carter? He provided this example. "If customers or potential customers would ask me how I was doing today, instead of answering, 'I'm good,' my response was, 'I'm fantastic and if you ask me in another hour I'll be doing even better.' The first customer I said that to responded, 'What are you smoking?' I laughed and told him, 'Nothing but I love life and love my business and I think I need to help you.' To my surprise it worked, and that's how I've run my business ever since."
Combs said, "What I like about Bruce is that he is a good family man and a straight shooter. Once we got to talking I recognized that we had a lot in common personally and a lot of the same philosophies about how to run a business."
Combs has been a great sounding board for Carter — and vice versa — because Presto-X's business is similar to Carter Services in that it services many different commercial accounts in remote locations.
Carter has made significant contributions to both NPMA and the New Mexico Pest Control Association (NMPCA). As NMPCA President, Carter was a unifying force, according to Allen Feuer, longtime colleague and NMPCA member. "Bruce was one of the first presidents (of NMPCA) elected from a lesser populated area — from the Four Corners region — and he recognized the need to include all members and speak in one voice. Bruce probably put 50,000 miles on his car driving across the state and visiting members. He was instrumental in the association developing a chapter system."
Carter also worked closely with NPMA Director of Government Affairs Gene Harrington to fight off unworkable school pest management regulations in 2000. "Bruce almost single-handedly developed contacts with key education officials he had previously never met and explained to them why the original proposal was untenable," Harrington said. "Most importantly, he developed an alternative plan and educated the officials about his suggested changes and why it was a better plan. All of Bruce's changes were adopted and New Mexico's school pest management rule has now been in place 10-plus years and not a single word has been changed, a perfect reflection of the workability of his suggested changes."
NMPCA also became one of the first states to be involved in NPMA's joint state/national partnership and Carter was one of the driving forces behind this initiative. The joint state/national partnership requires that all pest control companies in participating joint states to be a member at both the state and national levels. NMPCA members have received many benefits from this partnership, including greater access to NPMA resources.
Carter has held several different positions within NPMA and in 2008 he served as the association's president. Carter said that the completion of NPMA's new headquarters building in Fairfax, Va., was one of the highlights of his presidency.
Looking Ahead. With 30-plus years of pest control behind him, Carter has seen good times and bad times. And while many companies have hit a rough patch due to the sluggish economy, Carter Services has bucked the trend. In 2009, the company grew 23 percent, while in 2010 it grew 6 percent, and Carter says the company is on track to grow 7 percent this year. But Carter says he's not looking to grow the business much beyond that. Rather, he wants Carter Services to grow within and be able to support its employees. And Carter has no plans of slowing down.
"I've thought about retiring but you can only fish so much," Carter said. "I'm 54 and my health is great and because I do work right alongside my techs I think it helps keep me young. My passion right now is when I sell a new account and the client says 'Thank you,' or when I'm greeted by a technician who enthusiastically explains how he solved a pest problem. I get my jollies from solving problems and supporting my people."