United Pest Solutions investigates, establishes and monitors best pest control practices
In just over 10 years, United Pest Solutions’ owner and President, Sean Bergmann, took the family business in Kenmore, Washington, from annual revenues of $300,000 to more than $2 million largely by adding new services—including the introduction of maintenance schedules to keep customers pest-free.
He says the firm offers both commercial and residential pest control, making up about 35 percent and 65 percent of the firm’s business, respectively. The company is one of the oldest pest control operations in the region, opening in 1960 under Sean’s father, Marvin. Sean and a college classmate/business partner, Dan Huie, bought the company from the elder Bergmann and his business partner, John Bona, in 2000. In 2001, the duo incorporated and changed the name from United Exterminating to United Pest Solutions and started growing the business. In March 2018, Sean bought out his business partner for sole control of the company.
The company purchase wasn’t an overnight decision; it was years in the making. “I worked with my dad over the summers, but I didn’t think I’d be in pest control,” Sean recalls. “While I was in college at the University of Washington, I ended my football career and made the shift toward embracing the pest control business, and I’ve been doing it since 1988.”
Sean worked with his dad for a number of years, learning the business as well as developing a strong work ethic. “My dad really demonstrated how important it is to build relationships with customers. As well, the industry is constantly evolving and we have incorporated more technology into the business, but it was really good on a personal level to get to have that extra time to spend with him,” Sean says.
Evolving the Business Direction
“In my dad’s day, people didn’t want their neighbors to know they had a pest control company at their house, so the company didn’t use marked service vehicles,” Sean says. “What we learned over the years is that our customers want consistent service, peace of mind, and they like maintenance on a regular basis to protect their investment.”
So, Sean did away with the unmarked trucks and added the company logo to his fleet. Then he started promoting monthly and quarterly maintenance services for commercial clients, and every other month for residential clients, in the greater Seattle, Tacoma and Everett areas as a proactive approach to potential pest problems.
“This allows us to make sure we maintain a pest-free environment while we build relationships with our clients,” Sean says. “We also change our treatment methods periodically to be more effective, as well, to not over-apply pesticides in our environment.”
During the company’s 58-year history, there has been a wide variety of clients ranging from hospitals and high-rise buildings to restaurants, community centers and residences. “Over the years, we’ve done it all. The focus, always, is pest control. But, we do commercial and residential bird control as well as crawl space mitigation, and cleanouts for rodents. We treat pests that live or invade structures,” Sean says.
United Pest Solutions also specializes in Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as well as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings. Helping a building earn LEED certification isn’t a service most pest control companies offer, according to Sean.
For pest control, there are many requirements including the use of nonchemical pest preventive measures as part of pest management activities, he says. The goal is to use pesticides with the least risk in regard to toxicity and exposure potential to humans and the environment. Additionally, all pest control procedures must be well documented and communicated to the customer.
“As an IPM company, we don’t just come in and spray. We are really focused on investigation for the right treatment,” Sean says. “It’s about the process to meet certain thresholds. While we play a very small part in the overall LEED certification process, it can be significant for attaining the highest levels of certification.”
Sean says IPM consists of five proven steps in pest control: 1) inspection, 2) findings and recommendations, 3) client communication, 4) implementation of control measures, and 5) documentation and follow-up.
“We provide a wide range of training in-house for our office employees and technicians out in the field because the reality is that every building—whether it is a commercial operation or a home—is different. There can be multiple problems even from the same pest. Ants may come in various locations or have various desires for what they want to eat or drink,” Sean says.
Dealing with multiple scenarios requires an inspection and identification to find out what the likes and dislikes are for that situation. “We don’t do the same thing for every house, and treatment can even change over the course of time for a particular building because that pest’s patterns have changed,” he says.
With the inspection step, it is important to understand the existing conditions and how pests are impacting a home or business. The technicians are trained to listen to the client’s concerns, survey the facility, identify the type(s) of pests and signs of pest damage, assess the extent of the infestation and pinpoint conditions that encourage pests in and around the facility.
The second step is to establish and implement a customized pest control treatment program that takes into account the type of building and the scope of the pest issues faced. Pest treatment options are discussed, as well as recommended structural modifications and other measures for discouraging pests in an environmentally sensitive manner. Finally, the treatment’s progress is monitored and reported back to the client along with any program adjustments, as needed. The report can also be used as documentation for compliance with cleanliness and pest control standards for businesses that require third-party audits, Sean explains.
United Pest Solutions office manager, Myra Mehrhoff, says the two-way communication with customers is crucial to help educate them on what to expect as the treatment progresses.
“We can have the technical understanding of the treatment, but if we don’t relate it to our clients in their homes or businesses, then their expectations may be different from the reality of the situation,” she says. “Plus, this is another way we build relationships with them.”
Learning doesn’t stop with educating customers. Sean explains that he and his staff pursue many certifications and join important professional organizations. “Getting more involved with state and national associations was a great tool for helping our business grow,” he says.
“Our industry is really quite open. I help put on an annual conference where we share ideas even amongst the firms that are within our competition areas,” he continues. “My particular philosophy is that the cream rises to the top. You can talk about best business practices, but you have to execute them if you want to rise to the top. Our industry, in general, will share information.”
Sean has served on the boards of various state and national associations over the years. His firm is a member of the National Pest Management Association, the Washington State Pest Management Association and local chambers of commerce. The company has also received the Angie’s List Super Service Award and holds certifications/accreditations with bedbugFree, QualityPro and GreenPro.
Sean has also traveled to about a dozen or so pest control companies across the country to learn about their best business practices. He credits these experiences with being truly instrumental in the company’s progress. Myra says she’s benefited as well. When she joined the company, she had no pest control background, so she visited a member firm in North Carolina, which allowed her to shadow their operations team and learn the business from them.
Sean says he’s put IPM into practice with a couple of high-profile projects, including the Museum of Flight—which is historically tied to Boeing Co.—in Seattle. Known for its commercial bird mitigation expertise, United Pest Solutions was called in to keep the birds from defecating on the aircraft displayed in the museum’s hangar. To keep the birds out of the hangar—which is 90 feet tall, 400 feet long and 250 feet wide—United Pest Solutions had to install netting under the girders.
For the past 10 years, United Pest Solutions has had another out-of-the-ordinary project handling pest control at the highly acclaimed Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. The zoo has been recognized by multiple organizations for taking sustainable actions through saving energy and water, reducing waste and pollution, choosing safer products and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Woodland Park Zoo has a pollution prevention plan that includes comprehensive chemical management and minimizing its impact on groundwater, air and sound quality at the zoo and in surrounding areas. Sean explains his team has had multiple challenges with providing services to the zoo.
“Beyond the pollution prevention efforts, there are the challenges of not endangering the animals on exhibit while eliminating pests,” he says. “We’re very regulated by the products we can use for the safety of the animals, so we have done lots of research to make sure we won’t impact the animals on display. Additionally, we have to adapt and think outside of the box routinely as new situations arise. Occasionally, an animal from another area may bring in pests—like exotic species of cockroaches or ants—from other regions of the country and world.”
For instance, there have been incidents where a rodent has gained access into an aviary, so technicians have to make sure that efforts to trap the pest avoid getting a bird from the exhibit trapped as well. So, out-of-the-box strategies are critical, he says.
He adds, “When it comes to eliminating cockroaches, they can go anywhere, so our technicians have to be cognizant of what chemicals they are using because other animals can get those insects, too; we don’t want to put other animals at risk.”
Building relationships within the company, as well as with clients and the community, is important to Sean. “Our goal is to be community builders,” he emphasizes.
To that end, the company as a whole contributes to a number of charitable organizations. And they provide pest control for Operation Nightwatch, an organization that works to reduce the impact of poverty and homelessness in Seattle.
“We have a huge homeless problem and Operation Nightwatch provides immediate services like food and shelter, especially for seniors who are more exposed in their stage of life. Having a ministry to help people where they are, whether it is helping treat addictions or whatever it is, [enables us to] support the operations end of it to take that burden off them,” Sean says.
The company also provides reduced-cost pest control services for Hopelink, a nonprofit organization working to end poverty in the community. Each year, Hopelink helps more than 64,000 people through programs that provide stability and the skills and knowledge needed to exit poverty, Myra says.
“Giving back to the community is something dear to my heart,” Sean says. “I’ve coached everything from Little League to high school. I love to coach and I feel a calling to help kids. My hope is that if a family unit is not what it used to be, I can help by having a positive influence on that family. I’ve also been involved in youth ministry for more than 20 years with junior high students at Northshore Christian Church in Everett.”
“We’ve built a culture focused on a set of core values that we call PESTLO,” Myra adds. “It’s easiest to understand when you see it written out.”
These principles are:
Passion for what we do
Service that is always quality
Truth and integrity
Leadership wherever we go
There is a company-wide meeting each week that touches on the PESTLO values.
“We talk about how we have lived out at least one aspect of [these values in] our daily life at work or personally,” she says. “It’s one of the things I love about working here. Those qualities are important to me on a personal level and we should all be transparent. I live these values and it is important to work with people like this. It gives us a feeling of pride in our work community.”
Employees are encouraged to offer feedback about the workplace, too. A recent new hire sent an email to the leadership team noting how “pleasantly surprised” she was by how easygoing, friendly and safe the learning environment is with the company. Positive reinforcement helps staffers work as a team, Myra says.
Sean adds that this is the kind of environment the leadership team strives for. “We learn from our own employees; we want them to share and feel comfortable because they add a lot of value.”
In addition to building a great team, Sean says his goals for United Pest Solutions are to expand the company’s footprint and serve more people and companies in the community. “One way to do that is to reach out to the neighbors of existing customers and build both our client community and the community as a whole by protecting all of our neighbors,” he explains. One service line he hopes to grow is rodent control. It is a complex job and something the firm wants to promote more in the future as rodent pressures continue to increase in the surrounding neighborhoods.
It’s another opportunity for the company’s team to get out in the community to help protect people and their property while also sharing goodwill and building relationships—one client (and maybe a few neighbors) at a time.