With almost four decades in the service industry, Dave Burns has taken Burns Pest Elimination from 43 customers to over 83,000. Not only is Dave the world-record holding President of Burns Pest Elimination, he’s also completed 7 Ironman triathlons…which he started doing at the age of 50.
Dave is creating a legacy through relationships and excellent service, and whether you’re in HVAC, plumbing, or any other trades, he holds the keys to what has made Burns Pest Elimination a success story to emulate.
Dave’s father has always been an entrepreneur, and ran a boat manufacturing business when Dave was a child. Dave learned how to paint and work on boats at an early age, and has been racing boats since he was 13. In fact, he holds a few world records from racing at the Lake of the Ozarks!
Growing up in business together, the Burns family is very tight-knit. In the 1970’s, the economy wasn’t great, and his father had to make some tough decisions about his boat business. He closed it down and went into real estate, leaving Dave with some tough decisions of his own. With a finance degree from ASU, Dave went into banking and ended up in the finance world working at a Fortune 500 company.
In 1983, Dave’s finance career was taking off. He was offered the opportunity to move up in the company, and would require relocating to either North Carolina or Chicago. Around the same time, his father called him up and wanted to go on vacation together to bounce some ideas off of him.
Dave’s father had been offered a trade of commission from a real estate sale for a small pest control company in Phoenix, AZ, with just 43 customers. He thought it was a great opportunity for Dave to help him grow something special together. Dave discussed with his wife the possibility of leaving his career in finance to help run this business, and ultimately, the prospect of starting a family and raising their children near their family in Phoenix made the idea all the more easy to latch onto. So, Dave and his wife moved to Phoenix to see what pest control was all about.
It didn’t take Dave long to realize that pest control wasn’t really about spraying for bugs. It’s about service, relationships, and making people happy by solving their problems and meeting their needs. That’s when it all came together, and Dave realized he could make the company a marketing machine. After all, everyone needs pest control at some point in their lives!
At the beginning, Dave was working all day in every role at the company, a situation any small business owner can certainly relate to. It was paper work early in the morning, then service, sales in the afternoon, and bookkeeping late into the nights using 3×5 business cards to keep details on his 43 customers. Fast-forward almost 40 years, and Burns Pest Elimination is nothing short of a household name in Phoenix, and their team of over 300 employees is an incredible feat of growth. Burns now offers both residential and commercial services, works with homeowners associations, and in 2019 served over 83,000 customers.
Running a business can be like running an Ironman, and Dave knows this better than anyone. To grow the business, Dave knew he needed to focus on a few things. Marketing was important, but the most crucial thing was to build a brand and offer an excellent service paired with excellent customer service. It’s about building a relationship with your customer, learning their needs, and then meeting those needs.
Dave doesn’t spend all of his time crunching numbers in the back, or chasing the money. After all, the numbers are simply a derivative of the quality of service you provide on the front end. The best thing you can do to grow your business is to figure out how to take your customer’s mindset off of pricing and onto results. By taking care of the customer and simply paying attention to expenses, the money follows suit.
Everyone makes mistakes, it’s inevitable. It’s how you get through it, and how you handle those mistakes moving forward that make the difference. Early on, the biggest mistake Dave made was not understanding the value of what he performed. He looked at the market, and figured if his competitors charged 25 dollars for a service, he should charge 20. Spending too much time on knowing what competitors are charging and trying to get under that was a huge mistake. You get what you pay for, and Dave is confident in Burns’ services being a great value for the price, even if there are budget competitors offering a similar service for less. You have to make it clear to your customer what value you’re bringing to the table, and never undersell or undervalue it. This goes for HVAC, plumbing, pest control, and beyond.
Burns has created a reputation for a great customer experience and paired with a recognizable, trusted brand, the price they charge for their service isn’t the key deciding factor for potential clients. Burns has been around for 37 years, and that brand, relationship, long-standing status, and service quality makes the price easily justifiable.
Money has never been the primary driver for Dave’s success. It’s all about legacy. With a son, niece, and nephew working at Burns Pest Elimination with Dave, he sees a future where Burns is a family legacy for his children, their children, and so on. When Dave says Burns Pest Elimination is a family business, he means it. Every member on the executive team has at least one other family member working at the company, and over 50 families are represented at Burns.
The key for Dave is to keep moving forwards, always anticipating the future and figuring out how to keep growing. He’s not chasing the money, but rather a legacy he can be proud of for his children and their children to take part in and benefit from. If legacy is your driver, your business and ultimately the money will follow.