PORT ANGELES, Wash.—Carpenter ants in the garage? Moss on the roof? Rats under the house? Noxious weeds in the yard? For a plethora of problems caused by both flora and fauna, plenty of people on the Olympic Peninsula now Call Luke for pest control assistance. Luke Groves and his wife, Rebecca Besherse, are longtime residents of the Olympic Peninsula, but first-time business owners. Luke had been a pest control technician in the region for 15 years when he lost his job due to a management change in late 2018.
At that point Luke thought he’d have to relocate to Thurston or Kitsap County to find work, a prospect neither he nor Rebecca liked. Then, while meeting with a business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) on another matter, the advisor asked him, “Have you ever thought about opening your own business? Turns out he had thought about it, but decided it was not practical or feasible. After talking with Kevin Hoult, the SBDC advisor in Port Angeles at that time, Luke and Rebecca decided to think again.
Having a local weed and pest control specialist is no little matter, says Hoult, a business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC) since 2003 and a resident of Port Angeles since 2014. Finding a service provider—someone to fix your car, clean your gutters, repair broken pipes, rewire a light switch or trim your trees, for instance—can be tough for residents in rural communities.
As a resident of Port Angeles, Hoult has a particular passion for supporting service sector businesses. Not only is small business ownership a potential pathway to financial security for residents of rural communities, locally-owned small businesses improve the quality of life for everyone.
The Washington SBDC is a network of more than 30 business advisors working in more than two dozen communities across the state to help entrepreneurs and small business owners who want to start, grow or buy/sell a business. Confidential, one-to-one, no-cost advising is made possible by a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and Washington State University. About half of SBDC funding comes from the SBA and the other half comes from state and local funding partners, including Washington State University, other institutions of higher education, economic development agencies and civic and business organizations.
While Hoult’s suggestion was exciting to think about, Luke still worried. He and Rebecca lived in a small apartment and they did not have significant assets to fund a business startup. Insurance alone might be a game stopper. If they got over that hurdle, how would they find customers? Their concerns were legitimate, Hoult said, but he shared an old bromide with them: “Even a fool can solve problems with money, but the smarter you are, the less money you need.”
Together they worked through L&I compliance issues and talked through insurance options, including bonds and how they worked. Rebecca’s father gave them a van. Other cost-saving strategies included not having a storefront and buying chemicals and supplies as needed so they didn’t have to store anything for more than a week.
That first winter, in an effort to raise startup capital, Hoult suggested they announce the launch of their business with a promotion, which they did. Rebecca created a simple flyer offering a year of pest control (or four treatments) for one price. They figured if they could get 2% of Clallam County homeowners as regular customers, they’d have a sustainable business. At first, people who knew Luke from past work started calling and then others began calling as well.
As an employee, Luke had to keep up a schedule set by someone else. Now he’s able to spend more time with customers and explain their options, including measures customers can take on their own to reduce costs. “They are so relieved,” Rebecca said. “People just want to know they have options. If they have options, that means they have power.” In fact, Rebecca said, “That’s what Kevin did for us. He told us what our options are and helped us navigate the startup process.”
Along with getting business advising assistance from the SBDC, Luke and Rebecca have also used the services of WSU Extension to learn more about sustainable pest control practices and newer, safer, more efficient chemicals. “The other services that WSU has have just been tremendous.” Rebecca said. “These are well-trained people.”
Call Luke! has been in business for just over a year and Luke and Rebecca are thrilled they took the leap into small business ownership.
While Luke does most of the service calls, Rebecca has earned certifications that enable her to help with service calls when she’s not handling office administration. “Not only have we maintained the same income, but now we have assets,” Rebecca said. More than that, Luke said, as independent small business owners, they can live by their own values and priorities. “Kevin was not just helpful, he was CRUCIAL,” Rebecca said. “We would not have been able to do nearly so well so soon without him.”
For more about Call Luke! go to https://callluke.business.site/
For more about the Washington SBDC, go to www.wsbdc.org
Note: Kevin Hoult began working on special projects in 2019 and Mike Rieckhoff is now the SBDC advisor meeting with clients in Port Angeles.