Growing up, Mark Govan never felt a calling to pest control. In the early 1980s, Govan worked at Ford Motor Company in Detroit, at the Rouge Stamping Plant. Unfortunately, the automobile industry had been declining since the 1950s, and after five years of employment, Govan was laid off. With no other Michigan jobs in sight, Govan made plans to move to Florida, where his parents and sister lived.
Working in the office of ACE Professional Pest Control, Clearwater, Fla., Govan’s sister knew her brother needed a job and told Govan that ACE had a few openings for route technicians. One phone call to the owner of the company and Govan was offered the job of lawn technician. He accepted the offer, sold his mobile home and moved to Florida to start what would become a long and successful career in the pest control industry.
PAVING HIS OWN WAY. As a lawn technician, Govan sprayed lawns for pests and occasionally performed ornamental tree and shrub services. He not only learned about pest control but also discovered a passion for ornamental work. “About a year and a half into my service at ACE Professional Pest Control, the company brought in a trainer (Gil Whitton) and started a program to aid in the development of employees to help us identify the names of the weeds, grasses and the plants we were treating,” said Govan.
During this time, the position of general manager opened up, and Govan was ready to advance at ACE. He needed to pass the state examination and finish three years of employment with ACE before he could become eligible for the position. Unfortunately, a fellow co-worker taking the state exam at the same time as Govan had already completed his three years of employment and was offered the job.
From there, Govan took matters into his own hands. “I never wanted to start my own business,” Govan said. He wanted to advance in the pest control industry, however, so in 1985 Govan founded ABC Pest Control based in Tampa, Fla.
“Starting ABC Pest Control is just like starting any other business. I had to figure out what I wanted my new company to be and what my new company would look like,” said Govan. This meant considering everything from type of legal entity, to securing customers, to the naming of his company. “My wife and I came up with ABC Professional Pest Control, Inc., but decided to trim that down to ABC Pest Control, Inc.,” said Govan. His wife and her sister then came up with the company’s first logo using wooden alphabet blocks. That same concept/logo is used today but it has been modernized a bit. While this may seem simple enough, the naming of his company was strategic. “I knew I was going to be in the telephone book, and I wanted to be in front of the company I was working for when I started in the industry — ACE. This allowed me to be one of the first listings in the phone book when people looked for a service company,” said Govan.
ABC PRESIDENT. While he no longer runs the day-to-day operations of the company, Govan constantly works to ensure the future success of ABC Pest Control. “As president, I am here to guide and train my managers to be better professionals,” Govan said. “I still have an active hand in training and long-term planning.”
As president, Govan has faced numerous challenges, including the usual decisions that any mid-sized pest control company would face — insurance requirements, regulations, hiring new employees and deciding what type of services ABC should offer. “We also have had many challenges in keeping up with technology and instituting this technology throughout the company,” Govan added. “Not all challenges have been resolved; we are still working on trying to lower health insurance costs for our employees, and we are looking forward to the industry banding together to garner better purchasing opportunities through large group rates.”
Despite challenges, the company has grown. “Hosting the ‘Florida Gardening’ program has really helped ABC grow by association to me,” said Govan. “Because so many people associate the program with my company — I have been hosting this program for 24 years — the radio program has been a lightning rod for new customers.”
Govan said the key to his success in the pest control industry is persistence and commitment to the customer. “Establishing a service company takes years,” said Govan. “I believe the combination of training my employees and putting my customers first has contributed greatly to the success I have had in the pest management business.”
Govan added that along with continual support and motivation from his wife, his visibility in the community and on the radio helped his company to succeed.
PESTS AND PLANTS. While building his business, Govan never forgot his discovered passion for gardening. In fact, ornamental work remains a staple of ABC Pest Control’s offerings. In 1987, Govan hired Whitton, his former trainer at ACE and an expert in nematology and ornamental plant and turf identification. Whitton has received numerous awards from the Florida Pest Management Association and hosted his own radio and television talk show centered around plant identification and gardening. Govan wanted to share Whitton’s expertise with his technicians. “He trained our staff for two hours a week, every week,” Govan said. From Whitton, ABC technicians learned taxonomy, plant identification, how to propagate plants and weeds, and even took field trips. “Many of our advanced technicians could recite the Latin species and genus name of up to 25 common landscape plants,” Govan said. “Some of us, including myself, excelled at this.”
The focus on ornamental led to the construction of mist beds for propagation on the ABC Pest Control business property. In July 1994, this morphed into the opening of ABC Tropical Plant Nursery. The nursery was used to sell off plants that ABC Pest Control had propagated and gave Govan access to the nursery industry. Soon after, ABC Pest Control outgrew its location and moved just up the street to two-and-a-half acres of much-needed land. Govan wanted a new area that could accommodate both the growing pest control and nursery operations and include a 30-by-80-foot greenhouse.
ON THE AIR. As Govan’s love of gardening grew and expanded into his business, opportunities arose for Govan to share his passion and knowledge through broadcasting. In 1995, he was invited to join Whitton on his TV program called “Gil’s Garden.” The show, a call-in gardening program, took place in a live studio for one hour every week.
“Eventually, I was asked to co-host this program, and I helped the program by bringing in live samples of pests feeding on plants and turf problems we would discuss on-air,” Govan said. “I co-hosted the program for three years until the station was bought out by a regional cable company.” When this happened, Whitton asked Govan to join him on his radio program, “Florida Gardening,” which aired every Sunday morning from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Whitton and Govan co-hosted “Florida Gardening” until Whitton retired from the program in 2003 and later passed away in October 2005. Govan then became sole host of “Florida Gardening.”
“My radio show is caller-driven, and even though I may want to lead the program with my opening monologue, the caller is the one that decides what they want me to talk about,” Govan said.
He added that Florida residents frequently discuss ornamental matters, such as palm trees, fertilization, turf care, vegetable gardening, propagation of plants and trees, and caring for fruit trees. However, Govan also sees his radio show as an opportunity for listeners to learn from local and national pest control and ornamental experts.
Because discussions can be so broad, Govan likes to stay updated on current pest control and ornamental topics. “The diversity of questions asked on-air and those asked by my customers over the years have become a motivation for me to learn as much as I can to help train my employees and better assist my radio listeners,” Govan said. “In fact, I believe my customers demand this of me. This motivation has helped to keep me focused on not only the pest control industry, but also the landscape management, nursery growers, and vegetable gardening industry.” Govan also brings in local members of plant societies and garden clubs as guests.
He added that “Florida Gardening” is sponsored by companies like Bayer, Hydretain, Summit products and various nurseries. ABC Pest Control also can pay for and run its own ads on the show. However, Govan said that because he is a paid employee of the station, he does not recommend his company’s services unless a caller specifically asks about the business. “I do not believe the impact of the program would be as great if I just turned the program into an ABC infomercial,” he said.
During this time, Govan obtained certifications as a Florida Certified Horticultural Professional and an arborist. ABC Pest Control also expanded its portfolio by joining the Florida Turfgrass Association, the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Maintenance Association, and the International Society of Arborists, as well as the Florida Pest Management Association (FPMA) and the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). “All of these associations helped me learn more about the industry I was in and pushed me to learn even more about the plants and pests we service every day and love to talk about,” Govan said.
ORNAMENTAL BENEFITS. With more than 33 years in the pest control industry, Govan has seen other pest control companies reluctant to add turf or ornamental care because of the costs associated with these services. “Why would someone want to spend $70,000 on a lawn and ornamental truck when they can outfit a pest control pick-up for $20,000?” Govan asked. “Plus, so much can go wrong when you are taking care of turf and ornamentals that you do not have control of.”
The answer to this, Govan said, is that you must love what you do and be passionate about the businesses you oversee. “You will never find anything more stress relieving than being able to walk out of your pest control business and go work in the nursery for a few hours and smell the wonderfully fragrant plumerias,” Govan said. “Even my pest control managers have found that having the nursery is fun and great for the employees to see. This last month we have been supplying our service crew with all the zucchini squash and crookneck squash along with tomatoes and peppers right from our own garden on the property.”
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