Originally founded in 1967, Universal Pest Control has always been a family-owned business. In 1994, Todd and Natalie Stebleton’s parents, bought the business from the second family owners. A year later, Todd and Natalie joined as partners. Nearly 25 years later, Universal Pest Control continues to provide pest and lawn control services with unmatched honesty and exceptional customer service. Todd shared the story behind the journey and explained what’s next for the family business.
“Before Natalie and I moved down to Florida, we were both working for the City of Muncie, IN,” Todd said. “I was Building Commissioner and she was Deputy Clerk of Court. We both had great jobs, but when dad moved to Florida to buy the business, we knew we’d end up joining him. When he called and said his partner was moving on from the business, we immediately made plans to move. We sold both of our houses, our cars, got married and moved to Florida in 16 days. It was a whirlwind!”
A year after Natalie and Todd joined as partners, Todd’s brother and his wife also moved down to become partners and help run the business. After Todd’s father suffered a severe injury in 2006, Todd’s brother and his wife moved on to another business and Todd and Natalie bought Universal Pest Control from the family. Todd’s parents retired.
According to Todd, the early days of running the business presented some unique challenges. “First of all, it was a complete lifestyle change,” he said. “We all came from positions of some prestige. My father, who was very well respected in the corporate world, was a top level executive with a Fortune 500 company and I held a cabinet level political position. Going from that to an industry where you’re looked at as just “the bug guy” was humbling. Public perception of the pest control industry wasn’t and still isn’t good. Nevertheless, we worked hard and in six years we completely turned around that reputation.”
As Todd shared, when it came to growth, there wasn’t one silver bullet. The business experienced slow and steady growth as a result of a combination of efforts. They always put customer’s best interests ahead of anything else and they gave honest answers.
“My dad, brother, our wives and I, pride ourselves on being honest,” Todd said. “There’s no song and dance here. We’re up-front with everything. I think that’s also what helps to set us apart from the competition. We provide a high quality product at a good price, but above all, we’re honest and reliable. Our company culture is built around these qualities.”
According to Todd, the future of Universal Pest Control looks extremely bright. The business has experienced tremendous growth in the last few years and Todd has made good use of the services provided by the Small Business Development Center. They’ve helped him to focus more on the business and to make it as efficient as possible. Much of that advice has also resulted in the acquisition of new accounts.
“A couple months ago, we acquired 400 accounts from another pest control company,” Todd said. “In this industry, there are four main operating licenses. The first is general household, the second is termites, the third is fumigation and the fourth is lawn and ornamental. We’ve always had the first three, but it wasn’t until we acquired these new accounts that we obtained the fourth license. We now have the ability to spray lawns and grow even more, but we’re taking baby steps.”
Todd continued, “Our plan for the next five years is to continue to grow, but in a very controlled fashion. Once we hit a certain point, we’d like to introduce two or three more additional services. At the ten year mark, I want the business to operate without me being here five days a week. By year 15, we’ll start considering some exit strategies. However, there’s a lot of work to do in the meantime. To sell a business, it has to be marketable. You also need to put in place documented processes and procedures for each activity.”
What advice does Todd have for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Do your homework first,” he said. “A lot of business that look great on paper, won’t be so great after doing your research. When I became a partner, I didn’t know what questions to ask or to whom they should be asked. Fortunately, when I came onboard, we had relationships, fleet maintenance, attorneys, bankers, etc., already in place. These relationships are crucial. No one runs a business on their own. You need a network of good people. Lastly, take advantage of resources such as the Small Business Development Center. I didn’t know about them in the early days, but I wish I did. I probably could have taken advantage of some situations better than I have.”