Our member Chris Elder had this article published in the February 2014 edition of NETT Magazine in the Entrepreneur section. See below for the paraphrased content.
At just 37 years old, Chris Elder has transformed a once-humble family business into a powerhouse in the pest control industry, driving the company’s successes through a mix of business acumen and strong entrepreneurial skills.
What is the name of your company, and what does it do? Our company is called Elders Pest Control Pty Ltd, and we provide pest maintenance services to some of this country’s largest organizations. We primarily service facilities such as hospitals, universities, food, manufacturers, football stadiums, passenger and regular transport, hotels etc. Mainly medium to large size companies. In addition to standard maintenance and reporting services, we provide innovative services, which are quite left field. For example, we have patented heating systems, which regularly heat bed bug infested hotel rooms to chemically free eliminate the pest. We also protect Australian borders from foreign pest species using our K9 teams.
How did the idea for your business come about? The idea to take on the MD role, and subsequently the majority shareholder, occurred when I was working as an accountant and I could see an obvious lack of professionalism in the Australian pest control industry. There is no clear leader in the Australian market. After researching there was a lot of room for movement and improvement here in Australia for a company that could stand out, be innovative, professional, and provide some much needed customer service. So I took over Elders and immediately began to mold the business into the vision I had.
How long have you been in business? The company has been operating since 1976 and was established as most SME’s are, just a regular small business looking to make ends meet for the owners. I came on as managing director in 2003 and expanded the business from its humble beginnings.
What were you doing before you started this business? I was an accountant and IT Consultant working for a BRW Top 100 Accounting firm. But I always have had an entrepreneurial streak and wanted to do my on thing. It’s this entrepreneurial tendency that led me to join ‘EO’, the worldwide Entrepreneurs Organisation and progress to a Board position with the Brisbane Chapter.
What has been the most difficult challenge you’ve had to overcome? The tail end of the GFC was a bad time for many Australian businesses and we were no exception. Despite being a B2B, commercial focused business, we still have some work in the residential market – which we’re trying to get out of. Unfortunately the residential sector took a turn for us in 2011/2012 and we had to lay off staff and change our business model. We’ve come out of the other side bigger and stronger as a result and growth since that time has averaged 36% year-on-year. We now turnover a few million dollars annually.
What has been the most effective form of advertising for your business? It’s a cliché, but word of mouth and unsolicited referrals are what really drive our sales. It’s the relationships that we build with our customers that gets them talking about us to others. We are very big on IT, which seems usual for a company that just kills bugs, but being a former IT Consultant I have leverages IT wherever possible. Our customer’s portal gives all service information to clients when they need it – particularly if they are an audited food business. Additionally, technicians have access to our cloud – based systems via iPads. This has decentralised data and means techs have all information when communicating with clients. This provides great support to our clients that they can’t get anywhere else. IT is a clear differentiator for us and helps drive new sales.
How important is social media to your business? Social media is a growing area of our business that enables us to give the business a ‘human touch’. Most of our messaging is around culture and brand so it is appealing to customers and also prospective new staff. We have almost 3000 likes on facebook and we are currently developing a strategy to best use this growing audience; we need to turn this asset into sales leads and a candidate pipeline.
What do you think the Federal or State Government could do to help make it easier for small business? Get rid of payroll tax – it’s killing our growth. We’re a service-based business and people are our product. We just keep throwing money away which is hindering our employment ability. If we didn’t waste so much money on this tax we could reinvest in our business and our people.
What are your plans to expand the business? We are currently sourcing investment to take some of our innovative technology services to the Sydney market where we constantly have demand, particularly in the hotel and accommodation sector. We have innovative solutions for bed bug infestations, which have grown by over 5000% in Australia within the last five to ten years. They are a problem worldwide and we have solutions to quickly locate them using trained detection dogs and then state-of-the-art heat technology to eradicate them without the use of chemicals.
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