Cousins Keith Nelon and Bart Cole, lifelong friends, each had more than 10 years of experience in the pest control industry working for national companies when, in 2005, they started Nelon-Cole Termite & Pest Control, Shelby, N.C.
Nelon is the company’s president and oversees the firm’s moisture and water control business. Cole serves as vice president and general manager of the pest control business. Both have expertise in each area.
“We liked the structure of larger companies, but we didn’t like being a number,” Cole said. “We thought that we could provide better quality service, at a lower cost, and still use the best products on the market. We tell our customers that, ‘We’re large enough to handle all your needs, but small enough to care.’”
The cousins took out a small loan to start the business and purchased two used trucks and two skid sprayers. “We worked out of Keith’s basement for almost two years, until we bought a commercial lot and built a 3,200-square-foot office,” explained Cole.
“We knew how to create leads, not just cold calling. We worked with our existing customer base and had some contacts with builders,” he added. “When we didn’t have anything to do, we’d walk a neighborhood and knock on doors. We didn’t steal any routes. We started from scratch. After the first year we probably had about 600 customers. We weren’t disappointed, but we were far from satisfied.”
The water and moisture control business allows the company to provide various complementary services, as well as opportunities to cross-sell between businesses.
“Anytime you can fix conditions that cause structural issues and prevent insects, companies should provide those services,” Cole said. Nelon-Cole now offers more than 30 services.
The basement start-up grew to $8.7 million in revenue in 2019 and hopes to grow by double digits this year. “Once a company reaches a certain point it can be difficult to increase growth by millions,” he added.
About 75 percent of the pest control business is residential; the remaining 25 percent is commercial. By category, general pest control accounts for 50 percent of the firm’s business, followed by 35 percent termite control, 10 percent turf and ornamental, and 5 percent wildlife. Ninety-five percent of the company’s termite work is post-construction.
The company, with three offices in North Carolina, employs more than 80 people, including 23 general pest control technicians and another eight dedicated to termite control.
KEYS TO SUCCESS. “Our customers feel like we’re a stable company and we’re going to be able to provide the services they’re looking for. People don’t want to deal with a company they feel may be going out of business,” Cole said. What follows are what Cole says are the company’s keys to success:
Competitive Spirit. “I think someone with a competitive nature succeeds,” said Cole. “Growing up, sports fulfilled our competitiveness. We wanted to win and be the best at everything. The pest control industry brings out the competitive side of people,” because companies are competing for the same customers, he said.
Knowledge and Expertise. Success comes from dedication, “knowledge and industry expertise, as well as old-fashioned hard work,” said Cole. “Those who become a student of the industry tend to excel in the industry.” Technician education and training “are probably the biggest reasons for our growth,” said Cole. Nelon and Cole both conduct monthly technician training, as well as bring in non-company industry professionals to help educate their workforce.
Trust. “You can be a self-employed business owner who gets out there every day, because you don’t trust anyone. Or you can hire good people you trust and put them in the right place in your company. Our management team is crucial to our success,” Cole said. The team includes David Canipe, Justin Martin, Brandon Nelon, Danny Scott, Kevin Scruggs and Kevin West.
Professionalism. “Be as professional and polished as possible,” meaning clean cut, able to present yourself professionally and being knowledgeable. “It’s also about having nice, clean trucks and equipment,” he added. — Dan Austin