Interview With Josh Alpert
We sat down recently with Josh Alpert, founder of Green Earth Pest Control’s (GEPC) to find out why he founded Green Earth and what it’s like running one of the most progressive pest management companies in the industry.
GEPC: Tell us how you got started in the pest management industry?
Josh Alpert (JA): I got into the pest management industry in March 1999, so it’s been about 17 years now. I was involved in corporate retail management, where I enjoyed it very much. But I lost my job. I was young and, needless to say, confused. I took a bunch of dead-end jobs just to make ends meet while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with myself.
While I was in between jobs, a friend of mine had just finished up his degrees at St. John’s University and was waiting on some calls for a city job. While he was waiting, he ended up working for one of the major pest control companies, one that is known internationally. He recommended to me that I should apply, and they eventually hired me as a termite helper.
I knew immediately it was an industry I wanted to work in because I was working outdoors, I was working at different locations, I was solving problems for people — and best of all I was getting paid for it. From there, my pest control career was all uphill, and here we are today.
GEPC: When did you decide to found Green Earth Pest Control, and what was your motivation for doing so?
JA: In 1999, I had started out working for one of the major pest control firms. The idea for Green Earth Pest Control came to me in February 2008, and it was fully up and running by March 2008. I opened Green Earth because I was tired and exhausted of using the same old traditional pest control procedures and the way companies were run at the time.
Basically, I wanted to be one of the pioneers of being a more responsible pest control company, using cutting-edge products and procedures. I also wanted to put out an excellent customer experience in the pest control industry, which in 2008 — at least in my region of the country — was lacking.
That was my motivation for starting Green Earth Pest Control, and it’s been very successful. People have really taken to it and enjoy their service experiences. They like the fact we listen to them — we don’t just come in and spray all over their homes. We care. We’re concerned. We use the greenest, least-toxic products possible whenever possible. We give them options, which goes a long way to creating a great customer experience. Our customers really appreciate it.
GEPC: What made you successful in the hyper-competitive New York market, which is where Green Earth started?
JA: In my opinion, the key to our success in New York was tapping into the world of today. We were providing excellent pest-control experiences to every single customer, which as I mentioned before was lacking. In addition, we were always on time. Our communication before, during and after each service was impeccable. We have a professional appearance. Our technicians go through comprehensive classroom and vigorous field training. At the end of the day, these are the things that customers expect out of the better companies. We look the part, we were the part — and it really took off.
The customers appreciated our approach, as is evidenced by the fact we have almost 500 reviews online from Google, Yelp, Angie’s LIst and a host of other online forums. And although many pest control companies get ruined on the Internet, we do well because of our positive image on the Internet. I love the Internet because it was certainly a major reason for our success.
GEPC: What is your business’ overall mix, Josh, and what business strategies do you employ?
JA: We’re about 70% commercial, and when I say commercial, I’m talking about apartment buildings, offices, stores, medical facilities and handful of restaurants. The other 30% is residential, which is a mix of apartments and private homes where we’re working directly for the customer — there’s no tenant situation involved.
Like most pest control companies, Green Earth provides services for all insects and rodents, and we do it in many different ways. As I said earlier, we provide options. When a customer calls and wants to know what we do, well, we do it all. We provide traditional service, green service, organic service and we even have some pesticide-free services.
But most importantly, what makes us different from everyone else is that we’re not your parents’ spray everywhere type of exterminator. I’m almost 40 years old now, and my generation grew up where an exterminator would come into your parents’ or grandparents’ house. They would typically spray inside the cabinets, and then they’d leave. There were no other options; you applied pesticides and hope for the best.
At Green Earth, we truly care about safety and concerns of our clients. Whenever any new client contacts our office, we hear them out. We go through a series of questions. We want to better understand their concerns. We want to offer them service recommendations as well as realistic expectations as far as what we’re recommending and how it will work so they can choose what they’re most comfortable with.
We’re not shoving a service down their throats; we’re advising them. We really want them to be comfortable, so the client gets to pick and choose whatever service they’re most comfortable with and, in my opinion, that is literally the only way it should ever be.
Some clients don’t believe that a green or a pesticide-free service can work, so they just want traditional service. As long as it’s safe and legal, and they understand what to expect, we’ll provide the service that the customer is most comfortable with.
I’m happy, and it’s apparent our customers are happy because they seem to love our customer-service experience because we get calls from new clients every day — those who are referred to us by other happy customers.
In any service industry, no matter what industry you’re in, the best kinds of customers you can have are happy-customer referrals. And let me tell you, it’s surely an amazing feeling.
GEPC: You’re on the West Coast now in addition to being in New York. Aside from escaping the brutal winters on the East Coast, when and why did you decide to open a second office in Los Angeles, and how has your experience been so far?
JA: I’ve personally been on the West Coast since the summer of 2015. I had visited Los Angeles for the first time in 2005. I was out here for about a week, and I didn’t get to enjoy it the way I wanted to enjoy it. I came back with my wife and a few of the kids in 2014. We went to Disney, we visited Santa Monica — and it just felt like a different life.
A lot of people go on vacation and they start dreaming, “Hey, man, I want to live here.” Now I’m a realist. I would love to live in many different places, but I have a business to run. I need to have everything I need at my disposal. And while New York and Los Angeles have significantly different weather, they’re similar.
So towards the end of the trip, I spoke to my wife and said, “Hey, what would you think about living out here?” Now I was expecting it to be like it usually is when I bring up something like a happy little puppy; I was expecting her to say, “No way. There’s no way I’m moving to California.” But I was shocked to hear her say, “I’d love it.”
Before she could have a chance to reconsider, I contacted some people to find out how I would set my business up in California. I took my course, and a month or two later I had my personal license. Nine months later I had my business license, and a few months later we were open and here we are today.
We’re serving the entire L.A. region and the outskirts of the surrounding five regions. It’s a little different here, but we’re learning and growing. But most importantly, the New York operation hasn’t suffered one bit. We have a great team — some of them came out to California to help us get up and running. The rest stayed in New York and accepted more responsibility. It’s been an amazing, amazing experience.
GEPC: What is the thorniest problem you’ve seen on the West Coast, and does it differ from what you see in the East Coast?
JA: I would say the thorniest problem we’re facing right now — and it doesn’t matter what coast you’re on, is bed bugs. Bed bugs, as an pest control professional knows, are the most difficult bug to control. Not only are they difficult to control — and you need a lot of technical and informational training — bed bugs are an emotional bug.
Everybody dealing with them, from everyone in the office, everyone in the field, down to the customers, is emotionally consumed because a lot of people seem to be embarrassed by the fact they have them.
Now personally, I don’t see any reason to be embarrassed by them. Most people who get them get them through no fault of their own. They should feel completely comfortable contacting a pest-control company because pest-control companies are professionals who deal with this every day. There is nothing to be embarrassed about.
So no matter what coast you’re on, bed bugs are the biggest problems. On the West Coast, you see a lot of ant and spider problems, while on the East Coast you’re dealing with a lot of cockroaches and mice.
Is it more difficult to control in one place than the other? So far, I think pest control is pest control no matter where you are. There might be some variables such as climate and the products you can use in one place and not in another, but ultimately I think it’s all the same.
GEPC: If someone wanted to contact Green Earth Pest Control, what is the best way to do it?
JA: We’re set up for everything. You can to our website, where there’s a lot of information and a contact link, and we’ll reach out to you, discuss the problem and give you options and start out that way. You can always call our New York number at 212-444-1034, and you’ll get a friendly voice and a willingness to talk through issues. And you can reach us at the email address if you need to discuss something in more detail. The email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and that goes to all of us here in the office. As soon as it comes in, someone will grab it and get right back to you.