Rapid Solutions recently sat down to a conversation with the owner of Rebel Pest Professionals, Leah Kime. Why? Because we know she’s done some amazing things for her business in a relatively short amount of time. In just a few years Leah has grown her business from “getting by” to being seriously successful.
We spoke to her on what inspires her about working in the pest control industry, what led her to this path and how she supports her staff in helping them do their best.
Inspired by a love of small business management and development
Leah never planned to go into pest control. She studied accounting but never wanted to work for an accounting firm. Instead, her real passion is small business management.
Through this, she says, “I found that I enjoyed teaching people and uplifting people, and I enjoyed all areas of small business. So I started working for myself, realizing that’s where my passion and my heart lie. I found myself well suited to helping businesses that don’t have that skill set, which are perhaps great in their trade but don’t know how to manage administration, payroll, HR, accounting, and such.”
Turning one business into 50
For years, Leah worked with a range of different customers to help grow their business practices and success. But after nearly a decade she chose to scale down and only work with one of her customers who ran a building company.
She says, “He was the one that I decided I wanted to commit to working with because he was a mover and a shaker. Our core values and belief systems were totally aligned. Very yin and yang, so together we are quite complete and quite whole as he’s the entrepreneur through and through and I’m the one that makes it actually happen. Working with him has been brilliant.”
The scaling down she mentions was nearly two decades ago and since then together they have grown one business into nearly 50 businesses.
Leah says, “We’d find these issues in the building industry and ask ourselves ‘what can we do to be competitive, or how can we come into the market and provide better service or better product?’. We started with a building company and added and developed companies offering related services.”
“One of the first trading businesses we started from scratch was a temporary fencing company. That business alone now has 500 portable toilets, 60,000 kilometres of temporary fencing, and services the building industry in Newcastle.“
On buying into Rebel Pest Professionals
Leah says, “Rebel Pest Professionals was the first company that we actually bought into. We bought out one of the partners and immediately began developing the business’s management practices.“
A few years later Leah and her business partner’s group of companies was placed under immense financial strain when a partner in one of the companies failed to produce the required funds for a development within the agreed time. The group had to find those funds instead, so a decision was made to sell ownership in some of the other companies and that’s when Leah bought Rebel Pest Professionals completely.
At the time Leah already held 30% of the business and her son Shaun worked there as a pest technician. Therefore, taking over the company was both a natural choice as a businesswoman and a mum.
Leah says, “My son Shaun was really loving and enjoying it. This was his second trade. He did his first trade as a pastry chef and realized, no, that’s not what he wants to do beyond that because the hours are not great and the enjoyment of baking was lost. He is very good with his hands and he’s a trouble shooter.”
“Shaun’s very mechanically minded and loves learning – but not out of books. It has to be hands on. He’s been with the company for 12 years and he’s our head technician now as well, which is great and secures the future for Rebel Pest beyond me”
Going from a 120 hour working week to a 50 hour week
Despite being the sole owner of Rebel Pest Professionals Leah remained working with the group of companies that she’d helped develop. Then one day she broke her foot in multiple places. The doctors didn’t recognize all the broken bones initially so recovery took four surgeries and seven months of not walking.
Up until this point, Leah had been working almost seven days and roughly 100 hours a week, spreading herself across Rebel Pest Professionals as well as the wider group of companies.
She recalls, “Being at home because of the injury allowed me time and made me really think about what I’m doing with myself. For example, how I wanted to see this next 10 to 15 years. What do they look like for me? What is it I want? I had this business that, to be frank, I wasn’t really putting much effort into. It was just doing its thing because I was leaving my own interests to the end.”
After having this time to think she decided to stop working in the group of companies and devote herself fully to running Rebel Pest Professionals.
Training technicians at Rebel Pest Professionals
Once Leah decided to commit fully to only managing Rebel Pest Professionals, the business immediately started to grow.
She says, “Four years ago we had five technicians. Today we have nine but it’s been a tough process. It’s been difficult finding technicians who were already qualified that fitted in with our expectations and our quality of service and care. We’ve found training our own technicians is definitely the best approach for our business because they are getting taught the best methods from our perspective, the best level of communication expectations and quality of service.“
New employees at Rebel Pest Professionals are given a wealth of training via different accredited courses and mentorship. They also gain a Cert III in Urban Pest Management. The head technician pairs new trainees with the company’s existing technicians to gain insights and learn on the job. Once new employees meet the company’s level of service and standard they start taking on tasks independently. Then they gradually move on to bigger and more complex jobs.
Trainees never do a termite inspection on their own in the first year but may sometimes monitor termite inground baiting systems. If there’s any live activity then obviously termite treatments are needed so one of the company’s fully qualified technicians returns to bait the activity with the Trainee.
Leah explains, “The qualified technician will then teach them how to identify the termite species, train them on what products we use, why we use it, how we mix and apply the products, etc.
“After a technician joins the team they continue to get the benefit of ongoing accredited training and learn through speakers from the industry coming to give talks.”
From experts in the field – like those who specialise in the products Rebel Pest Professionals use on the job – to sales reps, the company employees attend talks by these people to gain industry insights. This helps team members get re-accredited to use the products that the company predominantly chooses (because it has great success with these).
Ongoing training makes better and happier staff
Leah says ongoing training helps employees re-train or get re-qualified with any industry changes. Hearing from other experts in the field about the value and importance of termite inspections and activity around treatments and reporting reinforces the value of the work itself. Finding out what other experts experience and see and don’t see puts a greater emphasis on best practices. Leah says it’s more meaningful this way than you as the business manager or owner simply saying the same thing every six months.
“I love the pest industry because every day is different. I love a challenge and it fulfils my need for that along with variety every single day. Every technician’s response to a circumstance or a situation is different. There’s the challenging customer, there’s good customers. There’s the opportunity to meet new customers and potential customers.”
“Meeting and building connections with other business owners in the industry is also something I really appreciate and enjoy learning from as well – particularly being the sole owner and a woman in a strongly male based industry.”
This ongoing training offers a great platform for refreshing the team’s perspective on products, problem solving, techniques, the use of different chemicals and treatments and more. Rebel Pest Professionals holds training sessions like these roughly every two months.
Leah says, “I pull the team off the road for a day for us to cover different important industry topics. This is part of our plan with training for staff retention because you’re investing in them and you are managing/growing their level of expertise and that benefits everyone. This also helps develop the level of trust and commitment they have with you.”
Business tip: If you run a pest control company, why not enrol yourself or your staff in one of our Rapid Training accredited courses? Besides empowering your people, you’ll be empowering your business for growth and success.
Top tips for safeguarding your pest control business
Leah and her Rebel Pest Professionals team love the work they do because the pest control industry is one of the fastest changing and growing industries. It’s constantly evolving into new directions so it can be a really interesting and innovative industry for people who love hands on work and a new challenge each day.
One of the most important things to remember when you’re entering the industry? As Leah says, professional indemnity and general liability insurance have a high value because you can’t run a successful pest control business without these safeguards.