[2011 Leadership Winner] Jeff Springer

Features - 2011 Leadership Awards

Having built his success “from the ground up,” Springer upholds an open-door policy on sharing his knowledge — with peers and competitors alike.

October 19, 2011
PCT Magazine

The year was 1976; a young Jeff Springer had just tossed over the keys and walked out of his family's Sacramento liquor store business. It didn't take long, though, to realize that if he wasn't going to work there, he'd better start looking for another job to support his wife, Connie, and soon-due first child.

Seeing a pest control office on the corner, Springer decided to check it out. He walked in, filled out an application and was hired on the spot.

Arriving to start work the following morning, Springer was met with a surprise: his supervisor put him in his truck and drove him to a vacant property. Then Springer was handed an Army shovel and a pan and told that his first job would be to dig out the crawl space of the 2,000-square-foot home from its current 12-inch depth to the regulation 18 inches.

"If I could have quit in the first hour, I would have," Springer said. But that was in the days before cell phones, and he'd been left at the property with no vehicle and no means of communication until his supervisor returned at 4 p.m.

"I was just 19 or 20 at the time, so I came back the next day," he said. And he spent every day for the next six weeks, digging out that crawl space.

The Start of a Career. Jeff Springer's first pest control job would have been enough to send most people scurrying to another industry, but Springer not only stuck with that task, he has stayed with the industry for 36 years, rising from dirt digger to company owner, and sharing his knowledge and experience every step of the way.

"Jeff is one of those people who is a very unique individual," said Kevin Pass, president and CEO of Action Pest Control. "He has unique ideas in our industry, and he shares them."

In fact, Pass said, "There is no limit to what he would do for you." Even if it is a person in another pest control company asking for help, he jumps to help, Pass said, adding, "I look at him as a leader in our industry for that."

These unique ideas and penchant for sharing are the result of a career of making it on his own with a few exemplary mentors. "What I've gone through to stay in the industry over the years has probably been one of my greatest achievements in life," Springer said.

In fact, the second job he was put on was that of termite repair. Although he worked with a taciturn group of military veterans, he got one piece of advice that set him on his path to success: "You're not a repair guy," one of the vets told him. "You need to get your termite license and become a salesman."

So that is exactly what Springer did. On his own, he went through a training program over three weekends, then applied for and attained his license. "I then went to my manager and said, 'I got my license, I'd like to go into sales.'"

He didn't, however, get quite the response he'd planned on — he was let go.

But, as Springer was to show over and over throughout his career, it would take more than that to stop him. Since he had built a relationship with the termite class trainer, Springer gave him a call. Impressed that Springer had gotten his license — "At that time, it was difficult to get a termite license," Springer said — the trainer referred him to Howard Oats, Terminix manager in Salinas, Calif.

Springer drove the 130 miles down to Salinas, and, once again, he was hired on the spot. "If you want to be here Monday, I'll put you to work," Oats told him.

For the next several months, Springer worked sales in Salinas, driving home to Sacramento on weekends to be with his wife and new baby, and continuing his steady rise in the industry. "I had sold enough business by December that I received the President's Award," he said. The award was given to the person with the highest annual sales — Springer topped the list in only 4 ½ months.

Being on commission, his sales also took him into the six-figure income bracket; "I was making lots of money as a 20-year-old," he asserted.

As such success tends to do, Springer's achievement brought him a promotion offer as branch manager. While it was a step up on the ladder, it was several steps down in income, since the manager position paid only $1,300 a month. Within a short time, Springer was managing five branches, then was transferred to continually higher branch positions along the West Coast, then the Midwest and back to California.

Then it came to a stop.

"I was 24 years old when the vice president called and said, 'Pick me up at the airport, I'm coming in to town to talk with you.'" Knowing that the company was looking for a new regional manager, Springer thought another promotion was on its way. Instead, referring to Springer's lack of a college degree, the vice president declared, "You are uneducated, and you are running the fourth largest branch in the company. You're at the end of your line."

"That stopped me in my tracks," Springer said. But not for long.

Clark Pest Control. Clark Pest Control, in Stockton, Calif., had been recruiting Springer for a while, and having no further opportunities at Terminix, Springer decided to take Clark's offer as corporate sales manager.

Going into the job, Springer said, "I thought I knew a lot. But [Clark founder] Charlie Clark was the most amazing man I'd ever met. I learned more from him in the first two months than I'd learned in my previous seven years in the industry."

Springer stayed with Clark for five years. Then, he said, "I made a mistake and lost my job. It was my mistake, my immaturity."

He was offered a job back at Terminix in Salt Lake City. But because the Springer family had enjoyed its time in the Midwest and Connie was originally from Iowa, the family sold everything and relocated to Des Moines in 1989.

"I started looking for a job with the intent to start my own company, but I needed income," Springer said. Finding a local want-ad for a route man, he approached the owner of the company, Able Pest Control, with his offer: "I'm not interested in running a route, but I'll buy the company from you."

Springer incorporated as Springer Pest Control and built the business from a one-man company to the largest in the state. Revenues grew — at one point hitting a high of $9 million — to an average of $5 million per year. "No one had ever done what we were doing," Springer said, adding, "I didn't know any better; I was following the Clark business model."

Reaching saturation in that area, Springer jumped over to Florida to expand the business, even moving his family to Florida for a time. It didn't take long to realize that was not the right move. "We were successful," he said, "but I wasn't happy." So the Florida business was sold off and Springer headed back to Iowa and began looking at other growth opportunities instead.

Today the company operates as Springer Professional Home Services, adding complete home care to its pest and termite control offerings, including handyman services, insulation, real estate services, and carpet and surface cleaning. And it's "continually looking at other home services," Springer said.

Share and Share Alike. Although Springer has had a career with highs and lows, with positive and negative influences, it is the positive on which he chooses to focus, with the greatest of these being that which he took from his time with Clark. "One thing I learned is that there are no real secrets to pest control. The industry has always been tight-lipped, but the truth is that killing bugs is killing bugs. Implementation is the only issue."

With this in mind, Springer takes it further to contend that any knowledge and experience that can be shared is beneficial to the entire industry. Thus he follows the example he learned from Clark and maintains an open-door policy to his business — for peers and competitors alike.

"Charlie Clark would bring competitors in and share what he knew to make them better competitors," Springer said. "I've done the same thing. I have an open-door policy; I give them everything I have."

Mike Rottler, president of Rottler Pest and Lawn Solutions, has benefitted from Springer's openness. The two had developed a friendship and during one of their business discussions, Rottler said, he was finding it hard to believe all the claims Springer was making about his business. "No one can be that good," Rottler said to Springer. "I'm going to come visit." Rottler flew up a month later and saw it for himself. "I learned a lot," he said. "He was very open and sharing, and he has been to this day. He is a great mentor; a great friend."

When he initiated the visit, Rottler said, he thought it would be a good way to determine, once and for all, which of the two had the better business. But, as he wrote in a testimonial on an NPMA mentoring program, "After meeting with Jeff in Iowa, I wrote a plan to change the direction of our company. As a result, our business has grown from $1.5 million in revenue to over $7 million."

Rottler (and Springer himself) will be the first to acknowledge that not everyone in the industry holds the same opinion of Springer. He will say exactly what he is thinking, Rottler said, and some people are put off by that.

Pass agreed. "He isn't someone who will tell you what you want to hear; he'll tell you how it really is."

"What people don't know about me is that I'm actually a shy person," Springer said. "People put me as an outgoing, even arrogant person. But in reality, I'm shy."

"Take the time to get to know him," Rottler said. "He has different experiences to draw from, and I have learned a lot from that."

Springer also spent "countless hours" helping Pass conduct a SWOT analysis of his business, added Pass, who counts him as both friend and mentor. "It's been very profitable having him as a friend and a mentor."

Industry Contributions. Both Rottler and Pass are also affiliated with Springer in Associated Pest Control Services, an international association of pest control companies, to which Springer ascribes a measure of his success. "Being involved with the Associated Pest Control group is probably one of the best things that happened to me," Springer observed, citing the open sharing of information among its more than 65 member companies as very unique and non-competitive.

Springer also has contributed to the industry through his active participation in and service to a number of industry boards and associations, including serving as NPMA at-large director, vice chair of the QualityPro Board of Directors, and member of the Bed Bug Task Force and Leadership Development Group Mentoring Program. He is also a member of the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines, and has spoken at meetings of the Pacific Northwest Pest Management Conference.

Springer and Connie, his wife of 33 years, have two daughters, Gina and Dena, and a son, Brad, all of whom have worked in the company at some point. Now Dena and her husband, Derek Wetlaufer, currently own the Cedar Rapids branch of Springer Professional Home Services.