Happy Earth Day!
Today, Friday April 22 is Earth Day. This is a great time to consider all the environmentally-friendly attributes associated with the Sentricon System. As an Authorized Operator for the Sentricon® Termite Colony Elimination System, we are proud of our contribution to protect our planet using this “green” product to eliminate termite colonies that damage millions of structures.
Sentricon is one of the products we use to control termites at our clients’ homes and businesses. What do I like about Sentricon?
· 1) Sentricon is limited in the environment and removable
· 2)Recipient of the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award by US EPA
· 3) First EPA registered product under their Reduced Risk Initiative
· 4)Only grams of active ingredient are needed to control a termite colony
· 5) Recruit HD termite bait has no EPA designated signal word
· 6)65% post-consumer recycled materials are used in our packaging
· 7)Our green plastic stations are made of #2 recyclable plastic
· 8) Annual service interval for Sentricon Always Active reduces trips and lowers your carbon footprint
· 9) LEED builder points are given to green LEED certified structures treated with Sentricon
· 10) Sentricon has no PPE (personal protective equipment) gear or special clothing requirements
· 11) 2.5 billon pounds of dilute liquid termiticide have been displaced by 15 yrs of Sentricon use
· 12)Sentricon Always Active uses a durable, long-lasting bait matrix expected to exceed 4 yrs longevity
· 13)10 million gallons of water annually saved by Sentricon use which displaces traditional liquid treatments
Many of our clients are seeking out “greener” products to control the pests in their homes and businesses. This is one of the better ones. Not only is it very effective, but the cost to the consumer goes down all the time. How many products can you say that about?
I do want to add a caveat to this blog. The main liquid termite product being used in Kansas City and the entire United States, is named Termidor and we use a ton of it! It is a great product and kills the termites for years. There is also a new liquid termite product out called Altriset, manufactured by Dupont. It is considered a “green” product and is supposed to do a great job killing the termites and lasting a long time in the soil. You will probably be hearing more about this product in the near future. I just highlighted Sentricon for this Blog because it was the first Green product out on the market, so I thought it was a good product to highlight for Earth Day.
I sometimes get asked how dangerous brown recluse spider bites are. The truth is that most bites from brown recluse spiders do not cause harm – approximately 90%. Deaths do occur, but not very often. Maybe 1 every five or ten years. The risk is highest for older people and small children. Especially children with kidney risk or damage. The main symptom to watch out for is dark brown urine. Otherwise, for most people, they can get a cortisone shot and hope for a fast healing.
How do we treat for brown recluse spiders? It is a total structure treatment. We start in the attic and usually try to apply dust. We also apply a residual spray throughout the structure. We also take off the outer electrical wall outlet covers and treat inside the walls. Sometimes we fog with a pyrethrin product to give a quick kill. It is also important to place lots of insect monitors (sticky traps) throughout the structure, not only to reduce the populations, but to give an ongoing diagnosis of the population levels.04.11.11
Most people think of termites as only being underground, but this time of the year (usually in April and May), we get swarming termites. The variety of termites in the mid-west are called Eastern Subterranean termites.
Swarming termites are the reproductive termites. When the weather temperatures and conditions are just right, the termites fly out of the ground in large numbers. After flight, the reproductives mate. After they mate, they drop off their wings, so sometimes, you will just see the clear wings laying around. The mated queens lay eggs, and after they hatch, the worker termites hatch out and those are the little critters that eat the wood and feed the rest of the colony.
What do reproductive (Swarmer) termites look like? They look similar to ants and many people think they ARE ants. However, upon closer inspection, termites have a “bullet” shaped body. Ants have sections (like a wasp). Also, termites have straight antennae. Ants have elbowed antennae.
Termites prefer to live under concrete pads, like stoops, patios, garage floors. So, many times when the termites swarm in the Spring, you find hundreds or thousands of swarmers crawling around on top of the slabs. The large number + the long white wings usually make them easy to identify. If you see something similar to what I described, give us a call or email us. We’ll send one of our inspectors over to evaluate and give you an estimate to treat them.Termite Pic04.4.11
Ants are getting busy! As the weather changes from winter to spring, ants are foraging around setting up their colonies. One of the more prevalent varieties of ants in the Greater Kansas City area is the Pavement Ant. This pest gets it’s name because it is often found nesting around sidewalks and driveways. When you see little mounds of soil along paved areas, they are likely to be left over from the foraging habits of Pavement Ants. They prefer to live outside, but when the weather turns cold or if there is too much rain, they tend to migrate into homes. Another reason why ants migrate indoors is because of too little moisture. So if we get 3-4 weeks of dry weather, ants will come in looking for water – usually around kitchen sinks.
Pavement ants are small (about 1/10 – 1/8 inch) and if you look at them under magnification, they have little grooves on their head which parallel the length of their bodies. Another way to identify them, is they have two nodes on their back. Nodes are little notches or humps. The number of nodes is a main method of identification for the many varieties of ants out there.
How do we get rid of Pavement Ants? Although pesticide sprays will work, the best method is usually to bait for them. By putting bait placements directly in their trails, the worker ants will pick up the bait, take it back to the main colony and distribute it. Although this is the most effective way to eliminate Pavement Ants, it sometimes takes 2 or 3 weeks for the treatment to be fully effective because it takes that long to get the bait throughout the whole colony. Also, there are sometimes several different colonies working at the same time.
Sometimes, I get asked if Pavement Ants can sting. They have stingers, but rarely do they use them. Also, the stingers are so small that they usually can’t even penetrate human skin. They are not considered a health threat – just a nuisance.04.2.11
When a company is small, it is easy to provide great customer service. Usually, there aren’t as many clients, so the owner has more time to devote to the needs of each client. As a firm (like ours) grows over time, it becomes more challenging to provide that same level of customer service.
In order to keep customer service at a high level, it first needs to be defined. I would probably define Excellent Customer Service as the client’s perception that we are meeting or exceeding their expectation, in addition to solving the pest problem. I think we need to know what the client wants, understand their expectations, and design treatment techniques and services to meet the needs of the client.
What are some of the indicators of Excellent Customer Service? I think it starts 1) with our office staff taking the call. They must be friendly, efficient and knowledgeable about the needs of the client. 2) Our technician must be on time. Usually, we give a small time frame of when our tech will arrive. Our goal is to make it within the time frame 100% of the time. 3) The tech must be friendly, neat in appearance and knowledgeable. The client has to feel safe with our tech walking into their home, but also, the tech must be experienced in most pest matters. 4) When problems occur after the initial service, we must solve the problem to the satisfaction of the client – no matter what the problem is.
When I look for role models of good customer service, I think of Enterprise Leasing/Rental cars. As they have grown over the years, they have maintained a very high level of customer satisfaction. We lease our vehicles from Enterprise, and as a client of theirs, I am always amazed how they keep that level of Customer Satisfaction at a continually high level. It gives me inspiration that, as Gunter grows, we will also be able to keep that level constantly high.
What types of pests invade Kansas city?
Ants. We are already starting to get a lot of calls for ant control. When weather conditions change, it gets the ants moving. When it is too dry, the ants forage into homes looking for moisture. When it is too wet, it drives ants inside to get away from the overly-wet conditions. April and May are huge months for ant calls. Ants are our number one pest and number one nationally.
Spiders. Spiders are the second most prevalent pest in Kansas City. Spiders don’t contact the surfaces with their bodies, so a residual spray doesn’t control them (unless you spray right on them.) The best way to control spiders is to fog with a pyrethrin, usually at 1/2% concentrate. It is hard to get rid of spiders, but by doing periodic treatments for insects, the spider populations will stay down because their food source will be reduced or eliminated.
Silverfish. These are the 3rd most annoying pest in the Greater Kansas City area. When I go to the national convention for the National Pest Management Association, my colleagues are amazed that we treat so many homes for silverfish. It doesn’t even rank in the top 10 in most cities. Why? Because so many homes in Kansas City are built with wood roofs – particularly Leawood, Mission Hills and South Kansas City. As the wood deteriorates over time, it serves as a food source for silverfish who like to eat cellulose based products (cardboard, books, paper, etc.) How do we treat for silverfish? We spray a residual spray to control the ones in the homes and basements. We also treat the attic areas with dust or granules. When silverfish are really bad, we also fog the inside of the homes with pyrethrin.
From 2000 to 2010, we only had some minor changes within Gunter Pest Management. The main changes were the acquisitions of 3 small pest control firms. The first was Johnson & Johnson Pest Control. The owner, Jeff Johnson, died suddenly of a heart attack. As a result, his wife contracted us after his death to acquire his accounts. The second acquisition, was Bud Beaman Pest Control from Parkville, MO. Bud had been in the business for at least 40 years and was ready to retire. He had developed a great reputation in the North part of Kansas City and we were delighted that he selected us to take over his accounts. The third acquisition, was Allied Exterminators in 2010. Allied had been around since the 1950s and was originated and run by Ivan and Marion Herman. The business was passed down among family members until 2010. Allied was always considered a top notch company and we always considered them a good and honest competitor. The son of one of the founders approached us in 2010 to merge his accounts in with ours. Over time, no one in their family had a desire to stay in the pest business, so, he felt that it was in their best interest to join forces with another pest company who would take good care of his clients. Again, we were honored that the Hermans asked us to accept these accounts and merge them in with our own.
The termite portion of our business began changing in the mid 2000s. The combination of Sentricon and Termidor, another termite control product, proved to be too effective. In other words, the products were/are so effective that wide swaths of termites all over Kansas City, as well as most of the country, were starting to be eliminated. This caused sales of new termite jobs to slowly, but steadily decline. In some parts of the country, it caused a 40% decline in business. This, coupled with the housing problems due to the recession in the late 2000s, got us looking for a new source of revenue, to replace the soft termite control revenues. Since we were already trained, licensed and were familiar with pesticides, we entered the lawn care industry in 2008. We started slow with just a few clients to first become very good at the procedures and techniques. In 2011, we hired our first sales person to help grow that segment of our company. We had 40 clients in 2009, 80 clients in 2010 and so far, in 2011, we have 250 clients. Even though our numbers are still small, we are growing and should reach $100,000 in sales by the end of 2011. The web address is www.gunterlawn.com. Our goal is to have 5,000 lawn care clients by the year 2016.
Due to the seasonality of the pest and lawn industries, we also have continually sought out a business that would provide a revenue stream in all seasons – not just primarily during the warm months. This was solved in 2010 when we purchased Modern Fire Safety, LLC (formerly Modern Supply). The web address is www.modernfiresafety.com Modern Fire Safety’s business is to inspect, sell and service: fire extinguishers, fire suppression systems in commercial kitchens, and emergency exit lighting. We deal mostly with commercial clients, but we also provide fire safety services to residential accounts. I am amazed by the number of homeowners who have smoke alarms, but have no “working” fire extinguishers, in case a fire broke out. We hope to help fulfill that need in the Greater Kansas City area. Modern is the oldest fire safety company in Greater Kansas City. It was founded in 1947 by Buck Cramer and was located at 1001 Cleveland (down by the old Sears warehouse) since 1951. In 2011, we merged the entire operation into our facilities at 212 W 72 St in the Waldo/Brookside area of Kansas City.
That is the end of the history lesson for Gunter Pest Management. What are our goals for the future?
1) $5 million in sales for Pest and Termite services by 2030.
2) $3 million in sales for Lawn services by 2025
3) $3 million in sales for Modern Fire Safety by 2020
How will we get there? Read my future blogs.
In 1999, we felt that our corporate name, Gunter Exterminating Co was outdated and reflected a time when pests were merely killed from an overuse of pesticides, so we searched for a name that would better reflect the environmentally conscious period of the 21st century. We changed the name from Gunter Exterminating Company to Gunter Pest Management. This name change better reflects our use of integrated pest management to control and manage pest populations.
In 2000, we had another important event. We began merger talks with A&L Pest Control. A&L was a big player in the termite control market, specifically in doing real estate inspections for the sales of homes. The owners, Dale and David Austin, had built a loyal following among the better real estate agents to capture a large market share of termite inspections and treatments. We had always considered A&L to be our strongest competitor in the termite segment within the Kansas City market. Although the Austin brothers were considered to be in the top echelon of termite inspectors, their office staff proved to be a constant distraction, so in 2001, Dale Austin asked to join forces with us. About the same time, a new technology was brought to the market by Dow. It was called the Sentricon Termite Elimination System, and was a revolutionary termite control product, because we didn’t need to drill holes in concrete or inject hundreds of gallons of liquid pesticides around peoples’ homes or businesses anymore. This product was considered much more environmentally friendly than prior treatment methods and the demand was tremendous. Pairing this new technology with the expertise and salesmanship of the Austin brothers helped to double our sales from $1 million in 1998 to $2 million in 2003. The merger of A&l into Gunter also added 20,000 clients to the total client list. Most of those were termite accounts.
By 1990, we had 40,000 clients. We count a client as someone who has used one of our services in the past 5 years. Not everyone uses us on a regular basis. Although many of our commercial accounts are monthly and weekly, some residential accounts only call us for service every 3 or 4 years. So, our total client list is made up of residential general pest, residential termite renewal inspections, residential termite treatments, apartment and other multi-unit dwellings, commercial termite and pest accounts. Gunter perfoms thousands of real estate termite inspections each year. When a home is sold, the lender usually requires that a “wood destroying insect report”, more commonly known as a termite inspection, be performed on that home, before it can change hands to the buyer. There are hundreds of real estate agents who call us to do these inspections. Many times, after the inspection, the buyers of those homes want to continue the relationship with us. So, we add many clients for termite, pest, or even lawn services through these inspections.
Until 1990, we had always resisted taking jobs outside the Greater Kansas City area, due to the extra labor, gas and vehicle expenses associated with the travel to get to these jobs. However, as our commercial business grew, we added many corporate chains to our client list (like U.S. Banks, Hy-Vee grocery stores, Chipolte restaurants, Burger King, Enterprise Leasing, etc. As a result, we were continuously asked to perform service in Lawrence, Eudora, St. Joseph, Harrisonville, Oak Grove, and other suburbia towns. In 1990, we made the decision to start accepting jobs in those outlying areas. Our growth has been slow, but steady. As of 2010, out of approximately 70,000 total clients, we have 118 accounts in Lawrence, 31 in Paola, 83 in Louisburg, 58 in Edgerton and 85 in Bucyrus on the Kansas side. On the Missouri side, we have 94 in Smithville, 128 in Platte City, 27 in Lone Jack, 65 in Oak Grove, 22 in Harrisonville. Still, very small numbers, but those communities are growing and we plan to grow along with them.
In 1999, we felt that our corporate name, Gunter Exterminating Co was outdated and reflected a time when pests were merely killed from an overuse of pesticides, so we searched for a name that would better reflect the environmentally conscious period of the 21st century. We changed the name from Gunter Exterminating Company to Gunter Pest Management. This name change better reflects our use of integrated pest management to control and manage pest populations.03.25.11
In 1980, we outgrew our office on 75 st and began looking for some real estate to purchase. We had two basic parameters: 1) we wanted to be close in. Since we work in all directions of the city, we wanted to be right in the middle, but not too far from I-435. 2) we wanted room for future expansion. After a couple of months, we found the perfect property. It was originally two different properties. One building was a two story office building and the other building was the former shop of Land-Sharp Chevrolet/Pappas Chevrolet. It had 1 ½ acres, which gave us plenty of room for future growth. It also had a 20 stall garage which gave us a secure place to park all our vehicles inside. We moved into the facility as is, but within a couple years, did a complete renovation and addition to the office building to conform it more precisely to our business needs. The acquisition of the real estate helped us to control our own destiny. It gave us a beachhead and enough elbow room to last at least another 30 years.
When we moved into our new facility in 1980, our sales were $133,155. At that time, we had about 9 employees. My dad and I worked in the office, along with a general pest control account processor and a termite account processor. We also had two termite techs and 3 full time pest control techs. I split my time between working in the office with helping out on termite inspections.
From 1980 to 1998, we had tremendous growth. Our sales went from $133K to over $1 million. After 48 years of business, we finally hit the $1 million milestone, in 1998 – our 48th year. Most of our growth was organic. We did a little TV and radio advertising, but most of our growth came from the yellow pages and word of mouth. In 1999, we changed our marketing theme to incorporate VW Beetles. The “new beetle” came out in 1998 and we began driving them as service vehicles in 1999. We originally started with one VW Bug and we immediately started receiving calls from people telling us that they saw our beetles all over town, when in fact we only had one. We knew right away it was a success, so we converted all but our Termite treatment trucks into service vehicles that were VW Beetles. We also added the phone number, 444-BUGS to our phone bank and changed all the license plates to Bugs-1, Bugs-2, etc. The beauty of the marketing program is that it didn’t cost anything extra. We needed vehicles to drive anyway. Plus, these are very cost efficient vehicles. Driving trucks, like most of our competitors do, costs about 60 cents per mile to operate. VW bugs cost about 30 cents per mile to operate. Also, trucks basically all look the same. VW bugs tend to stand out. Our corporate color has always been green, but in the 60s thru 90s, it was hunter green. When the new cyber green VWs came out, it made our color lighter, but friendlier. As of this year (2011), we have 16 green VW bugs, which represents most of our fleet. We also have a couple trucks.03.23.11
The pest control industry is generally comprised of three components: 1) General pest control, which is the control of spiders, ants, cockroaches, silverfish and other insects 2) Termite treatments and inspections 3) Vertebrate control, like animals and birds. Up until this stage of our history (1979), Gunter Exterminating only did General pest control. We didn’t have the desire or the technical knowledge to be in the termite business. That changed in 1979. Since we didn’t do termite work, my grandfather developed a business relationship with another pest company, who, inversely did only termite work and no general pest. That way, we could refer business back and forth to each other, without giving those leads to our competitors. That company was named Cleartox Termite Control and had been in business since the early 50’s. The owner and principal technician was Ralph Champ and his wife, Margaret ran the office. Although Ralph was one of the best termite guys in Kansas City, he had very limited business skills. He and Margaret got by “by the skin of their teeth” until 1979 when they approached us (my dad, grandfather and me) to buy him out. This was only our second acquisition to date. In the mid 60’s my grandfather had bought out Charlie Fisher who was a part time fireman and part time exterminator. Charlie eventually was named chief of the fire department in Kansas City and had to give up his “side” pest control job. My grandfather bought out his accounts. That was a small acquisition. Cleartox was a much larger acquisition, comparatively. Our sales were $61,930 in 1979 before we bought Cleartox and $126,726 in 1982 after we had absorbed Cleartox completely. So basically, we doubled our size in 3 years. This also made us a full-service pest firm where we could treat for bugs, as well inspect and treat for termites for our clients. Besides treating for termites, one big part of Cleartox’s business was performing termite inspections for the sale of homes. This became a standard part of a real estate transaction in the early 1970s and Cleartox was in the forefront of companies that did these. Some of the early real estate companies that we worked with were Hardin-Stockton, Paul Hamilton, Cliff Brisbois and Eugene D Brown. The inspections were done, basically at cost, in return for getting occasion termite treatments and the general pest control work from the buyers of the homes. So the merger with Cleartox had a synergistic effect on the growth of Gunter, in terms of getting new clients through these termite real estate inspections.03.22.11
In 1973, I graduated from Southwest High School and made my way to MU in Columbia, where I obtained a degree in Business. I started out in the entomology department, but found that I already had a good knowledge of insects. It was business and marketing that I needed to learn about in order to help the family business grow. My Freshman classes were boring, but as I entered the business school, college became more interesting, as I got more into my business courses. I learned about advanced marketing, break-even analysis, macro and micro economics, accounting and other business courses that I knew would come in handy. When I graduated in 1977, I dove head first into the job I had always known to be my dream job. I have always felt lucky to have known what I wanted to do with my adult life at such an early age. When I was a child in the early 60s, I spent many a Saturday afternoon, riding along with my grandfather (L.R. Gunter) as he exterminated homes. We had a great routine. He would introduce himself, then introduce me, then proceed to say, “Jay, tell the nice lady what you want to do when you grow up.” I would say, “I’m gonna be a bugman, just like my grandpa.” The ladies loved it. But the truth is, that was the truth. I wanted to be a bugman like my grandpa…. and I did! Even without riding along with my Grandfather on Saturdays, I was very close to my grandparents. I grew up 3 blocks from them and spent a lot of time hanging out at their home on the weekends. My grandfather always liked the fact that my middle name was Gunter and I always felt that he treated me special, because of that.
When I got out of college in 1977, our gross sales were $58,000 and we had two technicians beside me. My dad was in the office. We had also hired our first secretary. Her name was Diane Shirk and she was Harold’s (our main technician at the time) daughter-in-law. My grandmother was tired of answering the steady stream of phone calls and doing all the general office work and account processing. So, we hired Diane to help out. In 1980, our operation had out-grown my grandparent’s home on 70 Ter, so we looked around for a shop we could rent. We moved about 6 blocks South to 216 W 75 St, which was a storefront in Waldo that we rented from Dr. Turley, an optometrist. This was a big step, moving to our first leased space. It was about 1,200 square feet. We devoted the front half to offices and the back half to storing our chemicals and supplies. We parked out back. This seemed like a big step at time, because we were now working in an official office -not out of a house. It was also nice that we were able to advertise our company by putting a sign on the building. This was read by many people because it was on a busy street (75 st).
About this time, there were also a couple things that we incorporated into our marketing strategy. One, was to use green as our corporate color. It happened by accident, really, because a couple of our service vehicles happened to be green, so we decided to make it “our” color. This proved significant, years later, when society took a pronounced liking to green or green products. As our industry shifted over time to products with less impact on the environment, we were established in the marketplace as the “green” company. The other thing we did, was to start using a particular vehicle as our fleet car. We began buying LTD’s, which later evolved into Crown Victorias. They were big enough to carry all our equipment and materials and they were durable. That is why Police departments have used them – because they have a great safety and track record. 20 years later, we switched to VW Beetles, when the new Beetles came out, but from the late 70s to the late 90s, we drove green Crown Victorias as our service vehicles.03.21.11
The oldest recorded sales data we have is from 1959. My grandfather was still working alone and he grossed $9,240. That may not sound like much, but the average income in the 1950s was $2,992. 1959 was long before federal regulations. Also petroleum based products were cheap. Out of the $9,240 that my grandfather grossed, he probably netted about $7,000, which was on par with what doctors and lawyers were making in the 1950s. By 1962, Reggie paid off his house, bought a Lincoln Continental and began traveling on a regular basis. He was living the American Dream. Sales increased steadily and by 1969, my grandfather was grossing $54,000. Harold and Dan were doing most of the work, while my older brother, Kimbrough and I helped out in the summers. My grandparents were still answering the phones and doing all the office work.
In 1971, my grandparents began losing ground, health-wise. Even though my lifetime dream was to join my grandparents in the pest control business, I was only a Junior in high school and was too young to help join in the “day to day” operations. A family decision was made for my father, Norman to step in and take the reins. My father is a lawyer, and worked as a corporate lawyer for several public utility companies, as well as a couple downtown law firms. It was a good move in terms of the company’s historical progression to have a corporate lawyer running the show. By this time, government regulations were starting to expand in the pest industry, not only due to the nature of insecticides, but also the general expansion of all the governmental regulations in the 1970s. One of his first actions, was to incorporate the company. In 1971, the name of our company changed from LR Gunter “The Bugman” to Gunter Exterminating Company, Inc. Since, my grandfather had not worked out in the field for several years, it didn’t make sense to keep calling ourselves L.R. Gunter The Bugman. The term, Extermination, is now outdated, but was a term used for pest services in the 50’s, 60s and 70s, so we used it to reflect our company that had grown from just my Grandfather to a couple technicians and gross revenues of over $50,000. As of this post (3/21/11), my dad is 82 and still comes into the office every day to work. He has been very involved in the pest control industry and has served as President of: Kansas Pest Control Assn, Missouri Pest Control Assn, Kansas City Pest Control Assn, Vice President of the National Pest Control Assn, as well as President of many other organizations around Kansas city like Navy League, Native Sons & Daughters of Kansas City and Waldo Business Assn. Below is a pic of my dad and I at work.03.18.11
When Roy Gunter treated homes in the 40s and early 50s, he treated homes using pre-mixed pesticides from a chemical supply company that was located downtown. The product was called Bug-Off, so he just loosely called his company Bug-Off. One smart marketing concept he used was to put a sticker up in the client’s basement or garage. The sticker had a treatment date on it, as well as his phone number. There are still many of these old stickers in Kansas City homes today. In fact, in the early 1980s, I lived at a home at 1202 W 41 St in Westport. On the way down to the basement, there was a sticker in my grandfather’s writing (he had horribly recognizable handwriting). He had treated the home in 1961 for whoever lived there at that time. I always thought that was an interesting coincidence that I bought a home with one of my Grandfather’s old stickers in it. This marketing technique was a pioneering concept, copied by many competitors and other service companies over time. Many clients put the stickers up in their kitchen cabinets or garage walls. It gave them a handy reference as to when their service was due next. It also served as a subliminal advertising link. I remember doing a service call in the early 1980s at a home around 96th & State Line Rd. The owner, opened her pantry door in her kitchen and she showed my a continuum of stickers every year from 1958 to that year. It was amazing to me that she had kept them all those years. A very loyal customer!
When Reggie Gunter took over from Roy Gunter in the 50s, he began calling the company “L.R. Gunter, the Bugman.” He also started a filing system where he would keep track of when the client’s one year treatment was due and send them out a postcard to remind them to call for service. We still use this system today. This marketing technique led to a steady stream of business. Reggie also started using the marketing line, “Ask Your Neighbor”. As his business grew in the 60s and 70s, this marketing catch phrase was seen on our vehicles, postcards and anything marketing related. Since most of his business came from friends and neighbors, it was a natural fit. It was also appropriate because between 1950 and 1980, out customer base had gone from 50 clients to 3,000 clients (we have over 70,000 now), so most residents of Greater Kansas City DID have friend or neighbor that was our client.
Reggie did all the service work until around 1962. Reggie was 60 years old and could not keep up with growing demand for his service. It was at that time that he hired his first employee. His name was Harold Slaughter. I’m not sure where my Grandfather met Harold, but I know that Harold was very good with customers. He was a chauffeur most of his life, so he was good at small talk. Growing up, I used to ride with Harold in the summers and watched Harold as he “worked the ladies.” I don’t mean that in a crude way. Harold was a true gentleman. But, Harold had a great routine of picking the newspaper up in the front yard, handing it to the client (usually a lady) on the way in, patting the dog’s head, and asking the client all about the updates in her life since he was there last year. He also offered to change light bulbs for older clients and do any other chores that were difficult for ladies or older clients. Over the years, Harold became an iconic representative of our company. He was with us so long (until the 1980s) that many people assumed that he WAS Mr Gunter. Sometimes, Harold would correct them and sometimes he wouldn’t bother. It didn’t matter to me. All I knew was that Harold had that special personality that clients were looking for. Harold was like a second grandfather to me. He always treated me with respect like he did the clients. He taught me not only the technical aspects of the pest business, but he also taught me the finer points of customer relations.
The only other “long-term” employee I remember from the 60s was named Dan Huitt. He worked primarily in the summers when business peaked out. He also became our termite treatment technician later on. Dan was a great worker, but had a wild streak at night. More than once, my grandfather received a call at home asking to bail Dan out of jail or to loan him some money. When I was a teenager, his stories were always interesting in the sense that they were much wilder than anything I had ever experienced. One thing about Dan, though, was that he always showed up to work and he always collected the amount due at the end of the service. He was also an excellent technician, in terms of “killing the bugs.”03.17.11
Reggie Gunter was a very gregarious person. He loved to talk to and be around other people. As a child, I used to spend many weekends with Reggie. He was always fun to be around. He would take me to the River Market, where he would know many of the vendors in the fish and vegetable markets. He would introduce me to all of them, as well as place a few bets with bookies he knew down there. He also loved to eat out. We dined out at House of Toy on the Plaza. The owner, Harry Toy went to high school with Reggie at Central High School. We also would eat at Brettons, Stephenson’s Apple Orchard and Friedson’s Pharmacy at Gregory & Oak at the soda fountain counter. When we entered these restaurants, Reggie would know no one. When we left, he would know almost everyone. He would know their names, where they lived, what they did for a living and if they ever had bugs in their homes. This characteristic stayed with my grandfather throughout his life. Reggie and Betty loved to travel, but when they got older, they found it difficult to drive to their travel destinations. Yet, they wanted a car with them to get around, locally. The solution arose when I turned 16. I used to drive them to their vacation spot, they would fly me home, then, after a month or so, fly me back to pick them up and drive them back to Kansas City. Their favorite destinations were Hot Springs, Ark, Miami, Palm Springs and Padre Island. Reggie loved to play poker and never knew a stranger, so within a couple hours of arriving at his vacation spot, he would sit in the lobby and round up 6 or 7 other poker players to gamble with that evening. I talked my grandfather into letting me play with his friends one evening. At the ripe old age of 16, I thought I could win lots of money from these old 70+ gentlemen. My grandfather spotted me some money ($50 if I remember right) and within 30 minutes, I was done for the evening. Besides being gregarious, my grandfather loved to gamble and I think he was a very good gambler.
Being gregarious is a great trait if you are starting a business. It leads to new business all the time. Before long, the people at his church were using his services, the neighbors were using him, the people he met at the city market and the restaurants were using him and by 1960, he had the makings of a real business. Killing bugs was the easy part. In those days, we had products like chlordane, DDT and Diazinon to treat with. There was no EPA, no FIFRA, or any other regulatory agencies regulating pesticides. He just mixed up a gallon of Chlordane and water, treated the basement, outside and attic. Then mixed up a gallon of Diazinon 4s with light oil and sprayed the inside of the home. Presto. No bugs – for a long time. He used to give a full 1 year warranty with no callback charge anytime within the year. He had very few callbacks. The average job in the early 60s was around $17.50. The hard part about being in the “exterminating” business was the business itself – like advertising, accounting, budgeting and client records. This is where his education at Baker University and his experience owning Gunter Candy company came in handy.03.16.11
After most of Reggie’s sales jobs and his candy company faltered, he became an inspector for Kansas City’s welfare dept. This was in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The job entailed inspecting bars and night clubs at night, seeking out under-age patrons. He never looked at this job as his career, but it kept him going until something better came along. The thing he liked best about the job was that he was allowed to carry a gun and a badge, which he placed in the front windshield of his car whenever we would need to park downtown, like in front of Municipal Auditorium where all the big events were held at that time. About the same time, Reggie’s first cousin, Roy Gunter, started treating homes at Lake Lotawana for bugs. Roy lived in Overland Park, just West of 75th & Metcalf at the time. I only met Roy a few times and was only a child at the time, but I remember that Roy was a big fat guy with a large personality to match. Roy was extremely out of shape and had a hard time keeping up with the rigors of doing pest control, like going up and down stairs, as well as climbing into attics and crawl spaces. As Roy Gunter’s health declined, he enlisted Reggie Gunter to ride with him and help him on the jobs. Reggie saw it as an opportunity to own his own company and to work for himself. Within a few years, Roy gave all his clients to Reggie and retired. There were probably only 50 clients, but it was a start. The only problem, was that Reggie was still working for the Welfare Department and “moonlighting” with his Pest Control job. The city found out about his “side” job and wrote him a termination letter. Reggie always looked at this termination letter as being the lemons for making lemonade. He framed the letter and always proudly posted this letter on the bulletin board over his desk to remind him of the life-changing impact it had. Whether he was ready or not, Reggie realized that he was now a full time “Bugman.”03.15.11
Pest control was not my grandfather’s first career. Reggie was born in Hartford, Kansas on Valentine’s Day, 1902, but grew up most of his life in Kansas City. His father (Luther “Pop” Gunter) was the cafeteria manager at Central High School most of his career and was semi-famous in the Kansas City area for his amazing food. After all, who knows the head cook at any high school these days? But in the 20s, 30s and 40s, anyone who attended Central High School knew Pop Gunter. These were days of the great depression and he had a reputation for feeding the kids great food, whether they had any money or not. Reggie attended Central in the 20s and was a gifted runner, having competed in many high school and regional events, mostly in the 880 and 440 events. One of his many-repeated stories was about Halloween. He said that on Halloween, he and his brother, Wayne, used to throw eggs at cars. When the police showed up, his brother was always out running ahead of him, even though he was the track star. After attending college for a couple of years at Baker University, where he was a Kappa Sig, he moved back to Kansas City and became a salesman. He sold lots of things, including, fish at the fish market in the river market, cars, and window blinds. He also started a candy company – Gunter Candy Company. It was located at 43rd and Main street where the Levee Bar has been for years. Due to the depression, the candy company never made it, but it lent to some business skills which were utilized a few years later with his pest control company.03.14.11
This is my first blog. I feel a blog is essential to stay relevant in today’s world, and think it is appropriate to start off with a little history. Most of it is from my perspective growing up in the family business.
I think back to all the changes in our business over the years, and it is mind boggling. Actually, a better description would probably be a prototypical All American success story. Back in the 50s, my grandfather, L.R. Gunter (known by has friends as Reggie) started Gunter Pest Management out of his home. The home was located at 205 W 70 Ter in Kansas City’s Brookside/Armour Hills area. The office was a converted 3rd bedroom in the second floor of their home. My grandmother, Elizabeth (known by her friends as Betty), answered the phone and my grandfather went out and “sprayed” the homes for bugs. My grandfather’s work shop was the 2nd stall of his detached garage. He had a contractor bump out the side wall of the garage in order to custom fit the area to mix and store his materials. I can still remember the pungent odor of concentrate pesticides when we lifted the garage door. Products like DDT, Chlordane, Heptachlor, Sevin, Malathion were the products of the day. This was 20 years before there were any regulations, such as FIFRA (Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act). The consumer desired strong, smelly “bug juice” that killed pests quickly and efficiently, and the exterminating industry gave it to them.03.8.11
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