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Travis Pest Control keeps work all in the family

Small business in Cedar Springs celebrates 62 years of removing unwanted critters from West Michigan homes.

September 8, 2017
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For the past six decades, not even the smallest nuisance has escaped the Travis family’s notice.

Army veteran and boxer James Travis Sr. founded Travis Pest Control in 1955 after leaving the military in 1952 and moving to West Michigan from his post at Fort Riley in Junction City, Kansas.

James Travis Sr. attended Grand Rapids Junior College (now Grand Rapids Community College), then transferred to the University of Michigan, where he earned a degree in entomology — the study of insects.

While in college at U-M, he picked up a part-time job as a pest control technician, spraying homes for mosquitoes.

Jim Travis Jr., who now co-owns the business based in his dance-hall-turned-home on Pine Lake in Cedar Springs, said that college job was where it all started for his father.

“They did three sprays back in the day,” Jim Travis Jr. said. “By the second round of sprays, he saw the money in it, so he got a truck and a pump and went out on his own to start a business.

“He was always thinking of how to make a buck. He was always buying and selling things. It was sometimes disappointing for us kids because he’d buy a go-kart and sell it two days later at a profit.”

James Travis Sr. and his wife had seven boys, who helped him launch and grow the business over the years. Jim Travis Jr. — James Travis Sr.’s oldest son — and another son, Michael Travis, took over ownership when their father died in 1995.

The company now sprays homes for carpenter ants, carpenter bees, mosquitoes, ticks, spiders, box elder bugs, fleas, roaches, small ants, bees, wasps and earwigs. They also inspect and treat homes for termites and eradicate rats and mice.

Jim Travis Jr. said the company’s annual revenue is about $400,000 to $500,000 and comes entirely from residential customers, property management companies and apartment complexes. They also have had high-profile clients, such as the DeVoses.

“Back in the day, we used to do some commercial business,” he said. “We would do restaurants for $8 a month, and somebody else would come in and bid $7.50 and take the job. The profit margin is higher in residential.”

Travis Pest Control has 3,000 to 4,000 customers and serves clients in a six-county region, from Big Rapids to Wayland — including locations in Ada and Grand Rapids. Technicians do a lot of the work in neighborhood groups, meaning they come to a neighborhood and spray or treat several homes at once.

Prices are based on the square footage of each residence and vary based on the type of pest customers want to remove.

The company employs nine family members — including in-laws, children, nieces and nephews — and three family friends who work as technicians and technician assistants.

Terry Gafurovic is Jim Travis Jr.’s and Mike Travis’s niece and works in the office.

“When people call the office, they want to know how I’m related,” she said. “‘Are you Jim Sr.’s granddaughter?’ ‘Yes, I am.’ They expect it to be family. Some of them have been customers for years.”

Gafurovic, who has been working in the business for about a year, said the culture of treating everyone like family comes from within and spreads outward.

“The business is in the lake house,” she said. “Family is in and out, and it’s nothing for the grandkids to be in and out all day. They’re quiet if you’re on the phone, but you get to be with family when you’re working, and that’s kind of neat.”

Jim Travis Jr. and Gafurovic agreed that customer service is a top priority and one of the keys to securing repeat customers.

“We answer the phone on the first or second ring,” Gafurovic said. “You know you’ll get a person when you call. Everybody’s very personable here.”

Jim Travis Jr. said some customers have been coming to Travis Pest Control for decades.

“I sprayed Mary Middleton’s house back in ’68, almost 50 years ago. We’ve had mosquito groups in Adacroft Commons for 50 years, too. We used to do 80 or 90 houses there.

“If people have got a problem, we’ll do our best to take care of it,” he said.

Pest control season runs from April 1 to Dec. 1, Jim Travis Jr. said. In the winter, the company lays off its workers and hires them back in the spring.

During the offseason, Jim Travis Jr. can be found on a golf course in Florida or in an ice fishing shanty in Michigan with his brothers. Many of his employees have other jobs during the lull, like teaching or custodial work.

Jim Travis Jr. said his son, Eric, who recently started working as a mosquito technician, is showing promise to carry the company into the next generation.

“He’ll probably take over the business,” Jim Travis Jr. said. “And maybe his 7-year-old son, Ivan, will take over from him.”

Jim Travis Jr. said the company is distinct from other pest control specialists because of its deep knowledge that allows it to diagnose problems from afar.

“Most of the jobs we’ve got are sold over the phone,” he said. “We’re versed in knowing problems, knowing insects and setting the job up over the phone, where other companies have to send a salesman out to determine the pest.”

One thing won’t change when the business changes hands, he said.

“We treat people right,” Jim Travis Jr. said. “We treat them like we treat family. We don’t give people the brush-off.”

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