[2003 Leadership Awards Profile] Billy Tesh

Features - PCT News

October 17, 2003

Billy Tesh is a busy man. Not only is he president of Pest Management Systems Inc. (PMi), a Greensboro, N.C.-based full service pest control company that he founded in 1984, but he’s also president of GroundWorks, the construction arm of PMi, and PestOne Inc.

He’s also on the Legislative and School IPM committees for the North Carolina Pest Control Association. He’s a board member for the North Carolina Structural Pest Control Committee. He’s a Professional Pest Management Alliance board member and serves on the product development committee for NPMA. His phone rings day and night.

Oh, and, he and his wife Laurie have two teenage daughters — Julie, 17, and Kelly, 14.

It’s tiring just thinking about all that Billy Tesh actually does. Yet he loves this business as much as any pest management professional. "I can’t imagine doing anything else," he said.

GROWING UP. Born on March 2, 1959, Billy Tesh was raised in Greensboro, N.C. His father, John, owned a printing equipment supply company. His mother, Gloria, was a hairdresser. Tesh was the middle of three boys.

Like many in the pest control industry, Tesh started in the industry at a young age. When he was 14, he began working for his uncle’s company, Tesh Pest Control, crawling under houses and washing trucks.

When it came time for college, Tesh worked his way through North Carolina State University by holding down several different jobs. First, he drove back and forth to Greensboro to work weekends at Tesh Pest Control. "I also was a food science lab technician and kitchen steward at a fraternity house…I did that because I got free meals, which helped pay my way," he said.

Tesh also interned at a prison and mental hospital when he was in college. "It made me realize that I never want to go there. That’s the grounding we get every day," he said. "Don’t show disrespect to a person because you don’t know why or how they got into that situation."

Tesh graduated with honors from North Carolina State University in 1979 with a degree in applied agriculture with an emphasis in pest control. After graduation, he went back to work for his uncle’s company. "My aunt and uncle didn’t have any children that were going to buy Tesh Pest Control so I managed the company from 1979-84," he said.

Billy married his long-time girlfriend Laurie in 1981 and two years later, after some time at Tesh Pest Control, Tesh decided he wanted to start his own company. After his uncle passed away, he was able to buy Tesh Pest Control.

"I started with what I had in savings and we had the support of lots of family and friends," he said. "I didn’t make a lot of money even though I worked all day and night."

Tesh performed a lot of pest control services at night, even though that’s not what all young men with a young wife like to do. "You do what you have to do to pay the bills," he said. "We had a house payment and a baby."

MOVING UP THE LADDER. As Tesh’s family grew, so did his responsibilities at the office. In addition, he became heavily involved with the North Carolina Pest Control Association (NCPCA). But when he was elected as a regional vice president for NCPCA, he hit a snag. "To serve at that level you had to be in business for two years, which I hadn’t," he said, "so the association had to change its bylaws."

Tesh has served on virtually every committee and in every capacity, culminating with his presidency in 1987.

"Billy and I have known each other for 25 years, we have worked together closely on state association issues and we’ve served on many committees together," said Charles Efird, president of Modern Exterminating, Jacksonville, N.C. "And he absolutely has as much energy as anybody in our industry that I know."

In working with the state association for so long, Tesh has had an opportunity to meet and become friends with many of those who work at the companies his firm competes with daily. "I treat all of my competitors with respect and I try to help them," he said. "But I don’t worry about other companies. I do what I think is right. I think it’s a good thing to have a competitor refer me to a potential customer (if they don’t want or can’t handle a particular job)."

A GROWING BUSINESS. Today, Tesh’s company is working hard to promote its services in the area of public health — especially in regards to mosquitoes and dust mites. Although West Nile virus has not yet hit the Greensboro, N.C., area, there have been several instances of dead birds associated with the disease. "We’ve also added mosquito control but many people don’t see it as a need," he said. "But we need to market it that way.

"We’ve done very little advertising but we have lots of mosquito control contracts," he added. "It’s great to sell mosquito control services to an existing customer."

The company is also seeing an increase in termite pretreatments.

"In the past we haven’t been big in the pretreat market but we are getting into it more," he said. "I tell customers they can either pay me now to treat or pay me later for repairs."

And, just like in virtually any other area of the country, ants are a big problem in North Carolina, including ghost, pharaoh, pavement, odorous house and carpenter ants.

To get all of the mosquito, termite and ant control work done for PMi, Tesh relies on a group of technicians who have strong relationships with customers. "Most industries don’t have a personal connection that we do," Tesh said. "Everyone will be affected by pests and at that moment, the technician is the most important person in his or her life."

Tesh said his technicians are trained on the technical aspects of pest control, as well as how relationships affect the business and how to be respectful. Sales training follows everything else.

"It’s all about serving the customers," he said, "and our guys really work hard."

The entire PMi team works hard to please its customers. "The weakest link breaks down the chain. Each one has to support the rest of the chain," Tesh said. "The way we’ve been successful has been working as a team."

Cecil Pickler, PMi’s sales manager, says that Tesh is an integral part of the team. "He hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to crawl houses because he still does," he said. "I have never worked for someone that I respect more than Billy."

Tesh said when he’s out selling a job, he imagines how the technician will service the account. "When I’m selling a job I really think of them, like ‘This guy’s too tall, etc.,’" he said. "A happy person does a better job, keeps my stress down and makes the customers happy.

"I don’t get excited about profit and loss statements," he said. "A call or letter that says a technician is great — that’s what excites me."

PARTNER FOR LIFE. Tesh and his wife, Laurie, who he’s known since high school, have been married for more than 22 years. Not only is Laurie his partner in life, she’s an invaluable part of the office team at Pest Management Systems.

"We have a good relationship but I can’t demand she do things," he said. "You have to leave any work issues at the office. I can leave things for her to do at the office and I know she’ll take care of them."

Family is important to the Tesh family and Billy enjoys spending time with his wife and daughters at their beach home, which they purchased in 1994. In addition, Tesh loves to go deep-sea fishing.

Tesh’s mother still lives in Greensboro and is able to visit with the family regularly. But, Tesh’s father passed away several years ago. "He was my best friend," Tesh said. "It’s tough when someone is dying and you know you can’t do anything about it."

In addition to his work at Pest Management Systems, Tesh is also a board member at the Natural Science Center of Greensboro, on the board of trustees and member of the Hunter Hills Friends Church, chairman of the Brittain Building renovation project for the Town Hall of Summerfield, N.C., and on the Habitat for Humanity Logistic Committee for the Greensboro Home Builders Association.

THE FUTURE. So what does the future hold for Billy Tesh and Pest Management Systems? On the pest control front, he said ants and bed bugs continue to cause problems for his customers and technicians. "We’re not gaining control over certain species of ants as much as we’d like," he said. "And we’re dealing with bed bug situations we haven’t seen for years."

The biggest challenge Tesh said he sees for the industry is dealing with public perception. "What PPMA is doing is giving us a chance to change our image," he said. "I wish more companies saw the value in that. If everybody gave a little bit we’d be so much better off.

"In the 1970s and ’80s we sprayed pesticides — we were pesticide applicators," Tesh said. Today, the industry is able to offer specific treatments for specific situations, he said. "Restaurants fight off roaches. Rats carry diseases. We ought to be extremely proud of what we do. We use our profession to make people’s lives better," Tesh said. "There is not a better business to be in."

What Is PestOne?

PestOne Inc. is a network of independent pest management companies located throughout the southeast U.S. with expansion possibilities throughout the entire United States. PestOne is a company that focuses on the development and success of each of the individual businesses.

“PestOne’s goal is to give small- to medium-size independent pest management companies the ability and knowledge to compete and co-exist with larger pest management companies,” Billy Tesh said.

The group is not a franchise — it provides other companies with tools and benefits aimed at helping companies grow.

“We have roundtables, share profit and loss statements, and help each other so that we don’t experience the same mistakes others in the group have,” Tesh said. “The group is a good sounding board.”

PestOne helps companies with contract development and support, advertising support, logo development, media planning and placement, public relations, human resources support, regulatory issues and compliance standards, trademark usage and support, chemical and equipment research, and more.
Tesh said he thinks some pest control companies don’t do an efficient job of promoting and valuing their company’s name. “We’re undermarketing ourselves,” he said. “Our local names have value.”

The alliance of PestOne allows customers of one pest control company to feel confident about choosing another member of PestOne if the situation arises (i.e., if they move, buy a second home, etc.).

“I can trust all the members of PestOne,” Tesh said.
PestOne was founded in 1999 by Billy Tesh and Jack Roberts, A-1 Termite and Pest Control, Lenior, N.C. “We worked for about a year to get our logos, regulations, bylaws, etc., in line,” Roberts said. “Now we’re growing pretty good.

“I’ve known Billy for a quite a few years through the North Carolina Pest Control Association,” Roberts said. “All the time I’ve known him he’s been an outstanding person in his willingness to work and serve. He’s truly one of the leaders of our industry.”

PestOne also acts as a purchasing group. “Together we buy pallets of material and have been able to negotiate discounts with manufacturers and distributors,” Tesh said.

But more important than discounts on products, the group is able to share stories, successes and failures, which is beneficial to all.
“As an independent we didn’t always know what and when to do,” Tesh said. “I gain so much from PestOne.”

PestOne covers territories in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico and Missouri. The company is working on developing PestOne members in Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia. There are about 20 companies involved with the group.

Wrong Number: Ad Makes PMi See Red

So when is advertising in the Yellow Pages a bad thing? Some will say that the price makes the directory cost prohibitive. But what about when the Yellow Pages publishes the wrong phone number for your company? It happened to Billy Tesh and Pest Management Systems (PMi).

"Prior to 1999 we had a small ad but then we went for a big one but they published the wrong number," Tesh said. The recipient of PMi’s phone calls was a long-time resident of Greensboro, N.C. The elderly man did not want to change his phone number so Tesh worked out an arrangement with the phone company so that the man’s phone would answer with a message that instructed callers to press one for PMi or press two for the man’s home.

"I felt so bad that he was getting so many calls that I sent him gifts throughout the year," Tesh said. "But, we didn’t lose any business that year because of the mix-up, which says something."

So what are some other ways that Tesh gets the word out about his business? He spends about 1 percent of the company’s annual revenues on advertising, excluding Yellow Pages. (Yes, he still places a small ad there annually).

"Local, smaller newspapers seem to work well," he said. "We put business cards in break rooms of the commercial customers we service — we get a lot of customers that way."

The company also distributes small promotional items, such as refrigerator magnets, fly swatters, etc., throughout the year.

GroundWorks Helps PMi Grow

Billy Tesh is also the president of GroundWorks, the construction arm of PMi, which Tesh founded in 1999. The construction company has really helped his pest control business grow.

“We found a little niche and GroundWorks broke it out for us,” he said.
The company solves drainage problems for customers, creates retention ponds, puts in sidewalks, bridges, trails, and signs for neighborhoods and communities.

“We try to do anything to keep customers happy,” he said.
In some ways, Tesh says construction is easier to perform than pest control. For example, builders and/or inspectors write specifications and Tesh’s staff has to follow them. In addition, builders like that they can receive one contract from one company for both construction and pest control work.

There are some big differences between running a pest control company and a construction company. “We have a lot of money tied up in equipment and it’s harder to manage construction because you can’t write a protocol for all possible situations.”

Both businesses feed off one another “but you have to have the right people on the construction side too,” Tesh added. “Construction is a whole lot harder to manage.”

GroundWorks generates as much revenue as PMi although Tesh never intended it to be that way. “We do zero advertising but we get into neighborhoods through GroundWorks and then do the pretreats and hopefully become their pest management professional.”