The day is May 12, 1979: It’s 6 a.m., and 17-year-old Ken Fredrick has just arrived at his grandfather’s house. It is Fredrick’s first day on the job, working for his grandfather’s pest control business, Conquistador Pest & Termite, Inc., in Tucson, Ariz.
At 7 p.m. that night, Fredrick finally arrived home from his first day on the job. After that long and grueling day servicing accounts in the Tucson area, Fredrick, who had been working as a disk jockey for local events and parties, saw a career opportunity. And in the 35 years since that fateful day he hasn’t looked back. “I really enjoyed it,” he said. “So I decided to give it a shot.”
Ken Fredrick now owns the business that his grandfather, Vince McCartin, started in 1976. A third-generation pest control operator after taking over the business from his mother in 1991, Fredrick has found success in keeping hard work the focus at Conquistador, and the small business has thrived under his committed leadership. Balancing the everyday ins-and-outs of running Conquistador with his deep industry involvement, Fredrick has made an impact on the structural pest control industry in his home state and the industry as a whole.
Fredrick helped found the Arizona Pest Professional Organization (AZPPO) in 2005, and has served as president of the organization or on its board since its inception. He also has provided leadership when the regulatory oversight of the Structural Pest Management Commission in Arizona transitioned from the Department of Administration to the Department of Agriculture.
Fredrick has a real love for the industry he’s built a career serving in and bettering. “I’m a people person. I love the relationships I have with my clients and customers, and when I got involved with the association, getting to know other pest management professionals, I really enjoy the people inside the industry,” he said.
Conquistador’s nine employees (four of whom are part-time, and include Fredrick’s wife and three children) echo those same sentiments for Fredrick. “He’s been in the industry for a while, and understands everything that goes on,” said Ammon Goldsworthy, a technician with Conquistador who has worked for the firm since 2008. Jody Charter, office manager for Conquistador, adds, “I’ve known the [Fredrick] family for quite a few years. I like working with [Ken] because he’s very fair to everybody. He has his finger on everything that’s going on in the company.”
Learning Every Day. Vince McCartin started Conquistador Pest & Termite in the mid-1970s, after having worked for the Arizona-based national firm Truly Nolen for several years. Some time in 1976, McCartin decided he wanted to start his own firm.
“Initially he wanted to call it the FBI — ‘Flying Bugs and Insects,’” Fredrick relates, though for legal reasons that idea did not come to pass. McCartin ended up naming his new firm for the old Conquistador Hotel in downtown Tucson. McCartin began knocking on doors and passing out fliers, having made an agreement with Truly Nolen not to solicit existing customers. Fredrick notes, however, that he remained friends with many of his old customers.
McCartin had a friendly relationship with Truly Nolen himself as well. McCartin began working for Nolen in the late 1950s, and became a branch manager during his tenure, gaining valuable industry experience that would serve him well later in his career. McCartin enjoyed being his own boss, gradually building the business and passing along his love for the pest management industry to his grandson, even if Fredrick initially had different plans for his future.
Back to 1979: At the age of 17, Fredrick’s dream was to be a marine. “But my grandfather said I was too nice a guy,” Fredrick is quick to add. Having the family business as an option was convenient at the time, but Fredrick says he quickly took to the industry and the work. As well, he learned the value of hard work and integrity from working closely with his grandfather. After spending several years as a technician, he had worked up the technical skill necessary to be a competent technician, but upon taking over the business in 1991, Fredrick said he quickly found that not everything about running a business came so easily.
“I had to learn what it meant to be a business man,” he said. The less-visible expenses of running a business — including taxes, workers’ compensation and more — became roadblocks, but Fredrick kept working. “The cost of running a business is pretty steep and it’s not getting any easier,” he said.
By 2000, Conquistador’s situation was looking grim — Fredrick was looking to sell the company and get out of the pest control business. At about this same time, Fredrick attended an industry seminar that opened his eyes to a new way of doing business and provided him with ideas for forging through these troubled times. Fredrick attended a class on leadership development, which Fredrick said led him to reinvent the company. “We had to start over again, create a new environment where we hold people accountable and have clear expectations.” During that transition period, Fredrick cut back the number of employees from seven to four and did away with some of the firm’s less-profitable service offerings.
“It was a lot of learning from mistakes,” Fredrick said of his first decade of running the company. “I just work my butt off and don’t give up. I learned in 1991 when I took over the business that I’m a very good pest control technician, but I wasn’t a very good business man. I had to learn the hard way, take some classes, learn how to operate and run a business.”
The learning process hasn’t stopped for Fredrick, with new things to consider at every corner. “Right now I’m trying to determine if I should hire a sales staff,” he said, having tried that in 1999. With the company in a much different place than it was then, it’s a new piece of the puzzle to consider.
Leading The Way. Fredrick’s committed involvement has earned him a reputation as a tireless advocate for the pest control industry. Gene Harrington, vice president of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, whom Fredrick considers a great friend, said, “Although Fredrick has [few] employees, he has always made time to be involved in his state’s pest control association.”
Fredrick found himself looking to the defunct Arizona Pest Management Association as a way to learn, hoping to find folks who had been through similar business-related hardships as he had. When that association dissolved, Fredrick and five other Arizona PMPs took it upon themselves to start a new state organization: The Arizona Pest Professional Organization, or AZPPO. “We did it because all of us, as small business owners, had been through the process,” Fredrick said. “We wanted to start an organization where we could offer opportunities to other business owners to learn how to be better.”
The new association’s first few years weren’t easy going. During those few years, the state’s Structural Pest Control Commission was ‘sunsetted’ by the state legislature, and Fredrick was asked by the state Department of Agriculture to serve on a task force. The task at hand was to merge the regulation of structural pest control in the state into the Department of Agriculture. The task was an eye-opening experience for Fredrick at the legislative level, and allowed him to influence how his profession is handled in his home state.
“That was a very, very educational experience,” Fredrick said. “When you take all the rules and regulations of an industry, and try to mesh it into another industry so everything is copacetic, you can’t please everybody.”
The task force was able to slim down the rule book for structural pest control in Arizona by a half, without endangering public safety, according to Fredrick. Importantly, Fredrick said it makes pest control an easier business to get into for those who want to do it. “I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” he said. “I think five years from now, this industry will be very happy with what we did.”
Through the formation of AZPPO and the ‘sunsetting’ of the Structural Pest Control Commission, Fredrick forged a close relationship with NPMA’s Gene Harrington, who made an effort in Arizona to help with the legislative needs throughout the process, Fredrick said. He also said that in the time that Bob Rosenberg has been brought into the role of executive vice president of NPMA, the relationship between the national organization and Arizona has improved. “[Rosenberg] has been to a lot of meetings, and that’s not something we ever had,” Fredrick said. “It’s nice to see him making an effort.”
Maintaining a solvent state organization is very important to Fredrick, which is one of the reasons he works so hard to keep it that way. Now that the legislative issues have largely been addressed by AZPPO, Fredrick said he’d like to start refocusing on the education of PMPs throughout the state. He said he’d like to see the organization develop a closer relationship with the University of Arizona, which has a well-regarded entomology department.
Fredrick said he’d also like to meet with the business colleges to float a program where pest management professionals could take business management courses through the Arizona Pest Professional Organization. This drive for education and expertise is reflected in Conquistador’s mission of being a leader in the industry. “We can’t [be a leader] unless my guys are top-trained. I pay that extra money — it works out, it helps the guys feel more confident when they’re out in the homes,” he said.
A Clear Vision. Fredrick credits his willingness to help others, and the personal fulfillment that he gets from doing such, as something that drives his work and contributions to the industry. “Somebody calls you, and they were stung by a scorpion in the middle of the night. I enjoy being able to go out there and find an answer.”
Though he says it’s against his business coach’s advice, Fredrick often works on the ground for Conquistador. While most technical work stays with the technicians, Fredrick often goes to accounts for proposals himself. It’s also part of his marketing strategy. “I need to be out there, increasing our visibility in the community,” he said. Fredrick described Tucson as unique: with a metro population that tops 1 million, it still has a local feel. Relationships are key to success. While online marketing, including social media and search engine optimization plays its role, networking is where Fredrick places much of his efforts.
A Life Of Selfless Service. Fredrick’s generous spirit extends beyond his career. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and is very active in his outreach efforts in helping the poor and needy. When he was younger, he served his mission in Buenos Aires, Argentina before coming home and beginning to work for Conquistador. When his sons were younger, Fredrick was also active in the Boy Scouts of America, an organization he said he still admires.
Conquistador truly is a family business. His 17-year-old son Ethan began working for the company last year, and he said that doing pest control work has taught him valuable life lessons. “It’s a learning experience,” Ethan Fredrick said. “Going out and having to problem-solve is something that I’ve been able to use in school, and it’s a skill I can use as I go through life.” Ken Fredrick’s eldest daughter Emily Holzhauer, Ethan’s twin brother Preston, and Ken’s wife Julia all work for the company in varying capacities as well.
Fredrick credits a clear vision as something that is necessary to achieving and maintaining success. “You have to be able to disseminate or share that vision to your staff — you need to have clear roles for each staff member. No matter how rough or good things get, you need to refer back to that plan and vision, holding yourself accountable.”