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In 2007, Jon Montalbo launched Aloha Kauai Termite with four employees to provide residential fumigations on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. A dozen years later, his company numbers nearly 40 employees and provides full-service pest management for customers statewide.
“I didn’t plan for rapid growth,” Montalbo says. “We simply stress quality work, which for me boils down to two principles: Do to others as you would have them do to you and strive to be available. I hate it when you call a business and can’t talk to a live person on the phone. When I call, I want to talk to a human being. For a small business, that’s important.”
From Service Technician to Business Owner
Montalbo was born and raised on Oahu, Hawaii, and joined the U.S. Marines right out of high school. After returning to Hawaii in 1999, he took a job as a service technician doing general pest and termite control for Terminix International. Later, he joined Sandwich Isle Pest Solutions, where he acquired his fumigation license.
An uncle, who owned Aloha Termite & Pest Control, then hired Montalbo as a pest control technician and he worked his way up to becoming the company’s general manager. In 2002, they started the Aloha Termite Kauai branch. Five years later, Montalbo purchased that branch. Over the next nine years, services on the island expanded into general pest control, termite inspections and subterranean termite control for both residential and commercial customers.
“We began to do some work on other islands at the request of some of our Kauai commercial customers,” Montalbo says. “Most customers on the other islands now are residential. And we began doing fumigations on other islands in 2019 by flying crews over to those islands. But the best solution is to find the right workers to be based on the other islands and train them to do quality work. We are working on that.”
Good Help Wanted: Pest Management Experience Not Required
Finding help is a familiar challenge. On Kauai, it’s complicated because the total population on the island is around 70,000. And there is competition for good workers throughout Hawaii. The solution, Montalbo says, is to constantly be looking for people, especially people from outside the pest management industry.
“I advertise for help, and I talk to employees to see if they have any friends looking for a job. But when I’m out in the community, I keep my eyes open for people that seem like they could be a good fit. It could be someone working at Costco or at a restaurant. I look for a positive attitude and the ability to communicate. We can teach them pest management,” Montalbo says.
“For fumigation, a good fit is someone that likes to work outside, work at a variety of job sites and work as part of a team. Our fumigation crew is typically five people — like a basketball team. We know when someone is a good fit by how they interact with others, the comments they make on the job and feedback from the fumigation crew. A good fit is like-minded, enjoys the industry and wants to join the ride with our company,” Montalbo says.
To keep quality employees, Montalbo sticks to his guiding principles to create opportunities to grow. One of the joys of owning a business, Montalbo says, is being able to see someone right out of high school become a crew leader or service manager, make more money, and buy a house for his family. So, Montalbo likes to hire at the entry level and then promote from within. His service manager started out as a fumigation helper. His office manager started out as a service technician.
Being available in person can be a challenge with teams working on different islands.
“I try to interact with everyone at least once a week,” Montalbo says. “I’m also in the office early every morning and like to jump into things like our safety meetings. I call and text a lot and make visits to the outer islands whenever possible or when necessary. I go with how the business flows and deal with specific things when they come up.”
Focus on Quality Drives New Business and Higher Customer Retention
Employees who buy into providing quality service drive word-of-mouth referrals, which leads to new business and higher customer retention. The company is now 40% commercial and 60% residential, which all began with residential fumigation service on Kauai. To help ensure satisfaction for fumigation customers, the service includes a five-year warranty — with a no-cost fumigation if necessary for the first two years — or spot treatments for the following three years. The warranty is seldom needed, but Montalbo says customers appreciate the assurance of a five-year warranty.
Customer reviews are important to ensure service satisfaction. Montalbo says office staff used to call all customers. With growth, they have learned to simplify the system to ask just one question — rate the service on a scale of 1 to 10. If the review number is low, then a personal call will be made to find out why and take corrective action.
“We’re trying to find a way to use technology while keeping a personal touch,” Montalbo says. “You want to respond if someone is unhappy. At the same time, you can’t bug people too much. What doesn’t change is that if you treat your customers right, the growth and revenue will come later.”
Expanded service to other islands has required a name change.
Island Hopping: Service Expansion Leads to Name Change
“On Maui, the name Kauai no longer fit,” Montalbo says. “It’s not a name that gets you far on another island. Looking back, I would have made the name change from day one. I had Aloha Pest Solutions in mind, but at the time we were small, working on one island and was a pure fumigation company. Aloha Pest Solutions reflects who we are because we do more than termites. It helps with new customers and our existing customers did not blink an eye at the new name.”
Rebranding the company meant a change in vehicle signage and uniforms. To help stand out, the company logo was changed to a vibrant red and yellow. The company website is being updated and social media is being added primarily to help grow the residential business.
Looking ahead, Montalbo says he wants to retain his core values, grow organically and focus on training his team. But he also is open to those changes that make sense.
“We are using the Fumigation Assistant Program for our fumigation customers. Some of our old-school customers had to be convinced that this will help them. And my own people had to be convinced of the value before they would educate our customers. It’s a fantastic tool that customers appreciate because everyone is so busy today,” Montalbo says.
To help educate customers and save time, the company website also includes the FumigationFacts website and Home Preparation video.
“We’re doing things today that we would not have thought of five years ago. I miss some of the things I used to do, but the fun is in deciding where do we go from here. And that means being open to change,” Montalbo says.