Editor’s note: Cascade Pest Control still has it’s main office, but found that a few “tiny” offices can serve a number of technicians in certain areas. Kurtz Treftz, director of Cascade Pest Control, Snohomish, Wash., said it helps with supplies but also provides a landing zone for either technicians, field managers or others. Treftz shared his experience going through this transition in the following feature.
When pest control — or most any home-service company — starts out, it is often operated from the owner’s home. That was certainly the case for Cascade Pest Control in 1979. But over time if the company grows and adds personnel, there is a point where a proper commercial office is needed.
And so, it goes.
However, unique to service companies, few if any of a company’s customers ever go to the office location. The work — in our case, ridding homes of insect and rodent pests — is carried out by technicians using service vehicles.
As a service company grows, so does its fleet of vehicles.
The best service companies pay close attention to what most customers want. They pay attention to professional approaches to their work and develop excellent service products that give people value.
Striving for prompt responses to customer needs, ensuring good character in the service personnel and “making things right” when a mistake happens all contribute to the success of a service company.
If the company is successful providing valuable services, it will continue to grow. Included in this growth is the number of service technicians, service vehicles and the company’s service area grows. Over time, it becomes difficult to have each technician stop by the office every day. In fact, getting supplies to various technicians, servicing their equipment and rigs, and other issues can become rather painful.
Communications and Paperwork
When Cascade began, there were no cell phones. We started using pay phones and within a couple years we invested in a commercial radio system. Each truck had a radio installed with a special antenna and the office had a large antenna mounted on the roof.
In those days, cell phones were emerging, but they were huge and could do nothing more than make a phone call. Both the phones and the service per minute was very expensive. Having radios in our trucks — even if we shared “channels” with other companies — was a great gain.
Obviously, now we each have cell phones with voice calls, text and even video calls, making communication tremendously easier — and nearly constant.
Furthermore, the cell phones or tablets carried by our service technicians are basically mobile computers, with active access to account information, scheduling, mapping and so much more. The paperwork is disappearing. Collecting cash is at least discouraged, if not unacceptable. Written checks are okay — if you can upload the image of it and directly deposit it. Certainly, charge card accounts handle most the handling of money.
But add to that the use of digital client-company agreements and the paperwork is virtually virtual.
But then lingers the problem of supervision, resupplying and the servicing of their equipment. How do you do this with as little disruption in their service schedule, keeping them at your customers homes or businesses taking care of them?
After all, that’s the bread and butter of the company. As your service company and its service territory expands, you seem to run up against certain limitations and constraints.
Creative and Forced Solutions
COVID-19 restrictions forced video conferencing in one form or another — forced creativity. But the message was not lost around connecting several service technicians that were separated geographically. Phone is great but it breaks down with more than two or three participants. Web-based meetings for larger groups need to be managed.
This helped and still does; however, there remains a need for “face-to-face time ” — Actually, spending time in the presence of each other, and direct training or coaching.
Renting storage space to house supplies is a good first step. This “pre-distributes” all supplies to two or more locations, where the field crew can periodically stop in and grab what they need when they need it. … Close to their route. Both supplies and equipment can be made available.
Specialized equipment may be stored for those occasional, unique services, or it could be a matter of staging spare equipment that three different technicians rely on daily. This way, if one person’s equipment fails, they can reasonably fast exchange equipment and keep moving.
Multiple office spaces can help too. Though the costs are higher, and can be harder to justify, having two or more small office spaces where your field supervisors, field salespersons or your distribution coordinator can work from definitely has its advantages.
Small offices are perfect for technicians with nearby routes to stop in to make calls, especially when working on cold, wet winter days or sweltering summer days. There are some serious limitations for a manager working strictly out of a vehicle when they need to document accounts, interactions with technicians or reporting to their superiors.
Providing field managers a space to meet technicians, make calls or work without necessarily returning all the way to corporate headquarters of is important. Often, we at Cascade find that a small pilot office in another city may have a service manager using it in the first half of the day, and a sales person or the distribution coordinator working there the second half.
Cascade Pest Control has grown sometimes gallantly and at other times in fits and starts. Service business growth is not a constantly smooth upward ramp. In fact, what’s noticed most perhaps are the sudden vertical steps you reach that seem tough to manage.
If a pest management company chooses to grow, it will inevitably hit developmental phases that unless mastered will halt effectiveness in some way. Utilizing technology as well as service hubs or micro-offices are legitimate tools to call upon.
The challenges of growth in a company are numerous but continuing to put attention on possible ideas is critical. At Cascade, we may ponder some solutions for weeks or months and many ideas may end up not worth investing in. Thinking out of the box can present the occasional answer that’s called for.