Mike Sapp, owner of Emerald Coast Pest Control in Florida, mentions the Andy Griffith TV sitcom of the 1960s as his inspiration in creating his company 24 years ago.
“That show’s special, small-town spirit of friendliness made me decide that we should emulate it to be exceptionally good neighbors to our customers,” he said. “So we constantly strive to hire the right people to exhibit that unique brand of friendliness as we provide high-quality pest control services, and to give back to the community that is good to us.”
Sapp says he wants his employees to be the “nicest group of service people of any kind” that his customers ever use. “If people perceive us that way, that equals customer retention and business success over the long term. We want to be very nice to our customers, but very bad to the bugs,” he said.
It’s Sapp’s phrase “Bad to the Bugs” that’s actually Emerald Coast Pest Control’s advertising theme. The company, which specializes in general pest management, termite control, lawn and ornamental service, and K9 bedbug detection, is “bad to the bugs” found in the small towns located along the 75-mile stretch of beach of Florida’s panhandle.
Known as the Emerald Coast, the area between Panama City and Pensacola includes the popular resort town of Destin, where his company is headquartered, as well as Santa Rosa Beach, Freeport, Niceville, Crestview, Mary Esther, Ft. Walton Beach and Navarre. Emerald Coast Pest Control, he says, services thousands of customers and their homes, condos, businesses and institutions.
His strong customer and community service philosophies, combined with his professionalism, accounts for the continuing success of his organization, he says. “Last year, in spite of an economy in crisis, was the best year we ever had,” he said.
Hiring right. Hiring the right people and training them properly on technical subjects are important aspects of Sapp’s business model, he says.
“It starts with our help-wanted advertising technique. A number of years ago, each time I ran an ad that listed the employee benefits available here, I’d get about 90-100 applicants. There was no way I could fairly interview that amount of people. It was a problem that I mulled over and prayed about. Then the answer hit me. In our ads I began listing the character traits I was looking for: honesty, trustworthiness, a hard-working ethic and a good attitude. It was sort of a self-screening device. And the number of applicants dropped to a manageable three to six good people each time the ad ran.”
Sapp uses that self-screening approach to this day because he feels he can train technicians to perform work properly but needs them to exhibit those basic character traits and be strongly customer oriented. He has a large poster listing those important personality traits behind his desk and alludes to them often in his job interviews.
According to Sapp, his company’s classroom training sessions take place regularly at their staff meetings, as well as on-the-job training. “My general manager Chris Clyatt and my field manager Jim Cole are extremely instrumental in our training success.” He also mentions Jeremy Hunter, who directs the firm’s K9 bedbug detection service, and office manager Robin White, for their contributions to the company’s success. “Robin is the happy and pleasant telephone voice of our company; and Jeremy brings 15 years of military and law enforcement K9 handling experience to his job,” he says.
“We’re very much aware that good training helps create customer confidence in who and what we are. And, of course, it improves our customer service. As part of our training, we utilize informational articles that appear each month in PCT and elsewhere. And periodically we’ll staple a PCT training article to their paychecks,” he said.
To illustrate the success of his hiring and training approaches, Sapp calls attention to the fact that Emerald Coast Pest Control has many long-term employees; some have been with his company for more than 20 years.
Community service. To back up his commitment to the Emerald Coast community, Sapp wanted to financially support the many institutions — such as orphanages and churches — that clothe and feed needy children. “I did some homework to determine which ones we wanted to help and over the years have helped them achieve their good works,” he said.
Those decisions initially were Sapp’s to make, but he wanted his employees to take ownership of this important community relations philosophy. He now provides his staff with photos and information about potential recipients of his company’s monetary contributions and listens to their recommendations.
“We’re extremely grateful and thankful for the business we have and for what we’ve helped accomplish for people in need,” says Sapp. “I think we can truly call ourselves good neighbors, like Andy Taylor and his fellow Mayberry residents.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee, Wis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.