For Bill Cowley, running a pest control business is about more than fighting off unwanted bugs. In 1991, Cowley’s brother Drew started Cowleys Pest Services, a company focused on pest control and nuisance wildlife, in their basement. Five years later, Bill Cowley bought half of his brother’s company. More than 30 years later, Cowleys Pest Services has grown in both size and revenue, and for Cowley, the secret to this positive growth is offering the right add-on services.
KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS. When you have been in business for more than three decades, you get to know the needs of your customers. Cowley said just listening and staying in communication with his clients revealed numerous ways Cowleys Pest Services could expand their offerings.
“As we’ve grown, we’ve had customers ask us to do certain things, but we couldn’t help them because we weren’t providing those services,” Cowley said. “So we started looking into those services if we thought we could provide them.”
That is how Cowley discovered the need in his area for Cowleys Pest Services’ first add-on: Christmas decorations via Christmas Decor.
Cowley said that during the off-season months, particularly October through February, his pest control business struggled to maintain cash flow. The Cowley brothers tried to fill that gap by building up their commercial business, but it was never enough.
“We had to figure out a way, without laying everyone off, to get through those months,” Cowley said. “We kept seeing these advertisements for Christmas franchises and dealerships. We would see the ads, and we’d look at them and wonder how you could make any money hanging Christmas lights. Who wants to even do that?”
It took a few more winters without steady cash flow, listening to customers who needed help hanging Christmas decorations, and visits to people in the area who operated Christmas Decor businesses before Cowley made a decision.
“I said, OK, we could generate enough revenue to keep people on and not lay them off. So, we started it,” Cowley said. “It bridged the gap. It took us a few years to build it up and learn it. It’s not easy to get a Christmas Decor business up and running while you’re still operating your core business. There were a lot of wrinkles we had to iron out. But once we did, it became part of what we do.”
DOING THE RESEARCH. The Cowleys did not stop their add-on ventures simply because they found one that worked. A few years after Cowleys Pest Services mastered the holiday lighting business, another add-on opportunity arose.
Crawlspace encapsulation began to come up more frequently in conversations with some customers. He began forming ideas on how he could create a helpful crawlspace add-on service, but he looked for advice from experts before making a major decision.
“We thought that opening up crawlspaces and airing them out was the right way to go,” Cowley said. “Then we became a dealer for a company in Seymour, Conn., called Basement Systems, and they taught us that closed crawlspaces were the way to go.”
The guidance from Basement Systems and Cowley’s initial exploration into this add-on made it possible for Cowleys Pest Services to successfully offer crawlspace encapsulation services for the past 13 years.
IN ON INSULATION. Next for Cowleys Pest Services was offering cellulose insulation, which came about after years of maintaining a large and thriving nuisance wildlife business. Drew, who runs the wildlife side of the business, noticed that when they were trapping and relocating wildlife from customers’ attics, their insulation was often ruined and in need of replacement.
“The people didn’t know who to call or what to do. Sometimes we could pull it out for them, but we weren’t really in the business of replacing it,” Bill said.
So when Drew would attend trade shows for wildlife control operators, he started paying attention to the insulation vendors and learned as much as he could about replacing damaged insulation.
“Eventually, my brother said we should do this. So, we got into the business of pulling out insulation and replacing it with cellulose insulation,” Cowley said. “It took some training, but it became a very viable and profitable service. So we’ve been doing that for the last five years.”
Add-on services also can present themselves in the wake of major changes to the community. The last add-on Cowleys Pest Services chose to provide was a result of Hurricane Sandy. Being based in New Jersey, many of their customers saw some type of water damage to their homes. The need arose for experts in mold treatment.
“Sandy hit and our phone rang off the hook. Everybody had a water issue and a lot of mold,” Cowley said. “That was our baptism into the mold business. We’ve learned a lot, and it was like learning from a fire hose. It was coming at us fast and a lot of volume.”
MAINTAINING ADD-ONS. Keeping up with add-on services — creating new business plans and hiring more talent — can be daunting in addition to operating your core pest control business. According to Cowley, the most important part of getting the add-on process right is finding and training the right people.
“If you have a good HR process and a good recruiting process, well, that’s not enough,” he said. “Then you have to train them, continue training them, continue investing in them, and then most importantly, you have to be a growing, thriving enterprise.”
Add-on services should not be considered unless your main business is steadily growing, he said. Providing an add-on service means investing more time and resources, and potential talent will not want to join a company that does not present opportunities for continued growth.
“Your superstars know they can work anywhere, and if you don’t provide growth opportunities for them, if you’re not a good leader, and you’re not growing the business, you won’t keep many good people,” Cowley said. “You become a team builder and coach. They’re not going to hitch their wagon to a bad leader. You have to be able to offer them a lot.”
Once you discover the right add-ons, train people and perfect the service, add-ons can really diversify your business and make it stand out from the competition.
“They make our business more complex. And that can be a downside until you figure it out,” Bill Cowley said. “But if you’re willing to invest the time and resources and train people, and figure out how to make this work, then it’s very beneficial because you’re making money.”
However, Cowley also cautioned against continuing an add-on service that is not increasing in revenue. When this happens, it does more than simply hurt the company’s P&L.
“If you’re doing an add-on business, you better be making money. If you’re not making money, get out of there as fast as you can,” Cowley said. “All it’s doing is complicating things, and it’s killing morale. Your employees don’t want to do it, and your customers are angry because you don’t know what you’re doing.”
But if you do it right, Crowley said, then add-on services are a win-win for everybody.
“It’s a rewarding business because you’re helping people, you’re helping the community, you’re helping individuals,” he said. “The customer wins, the employee wins and ownership wins.”