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09 November 2021

Meet the member: Just the bee-ginning!

MEET THE MEMBER | PPC105 NOVEMBER 2021

With a business that’s gone from strength to strength, Peter Higgs talks to PPC magazine about getting started, the obstacles he has overcome and his ambitions for the future.

just the bee-ginning Beegone interview in PPC magazine

Let’s start from the beginning – how did you get into the pest control industry?

As a teenager I began working on a farm with a gamekeeper. I built up my agricultural experience and then part of that role is pest control.

I got into Sparsholt College in Hampshire and did a course there, a national award in gamekeeping.

Pest control was one of the modules, and when I look back at my certificate it was the only one in the whole course I got a distinction in, so I think I was always interested in it and good at this area of work.

At this point I continued with the gamekeeping work and had several jobs with farmers, then I started earning a bit more money on weekends doing pest control work.

Slowly I was building up the pest control work I was doing and it was making more money than my gamekeeping job, so I asked my employer for a raise.

Long story short, I stopped working for that employer and that’s when I went into pest control full-time.

Tell us about starting PGH Pest Control and Prevention.

It was 2008 when I had the idea to start my own business. The recession had just hit and nobody was taking anyone on.

I thought, “Well if they don’t want to hire me, I’ll go start my own business”.

I would have preferred to work for an established company for a few years first to get some more experience, but the recession sped up my plan and I decided I’d do it on my own.
I’d never run a business before, so I was new to business ownership and pest control.

Luckily I managed to get a place on the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Scheme where I learned skills to help build the business. I never thought it would be as successful as it’s been.

From there you started trading as Beegone – what made you decide to offer a live bee removal service?

When I did my pest control training, I was never told that there was an alternative to lethally treating bees and I didn’t know much about bees at all. They were basically considered the same kind of pest as a wasp, to most people.

And then I stumbled across all this stuff about them, how important they are to the ecosystem and food chain, and that’s how I came to start Beegone.

If you could go back to 2008-2009, you would be really hard-pressed to find anyone in the UK outside of beekeeping saying that they safely remove bees, particularly from buildings.

Live honey bee removal from properties was very big in America, but not here. That’s when I knew Beegone could be a really big thing.

In fact, it’s the reason we were able to get the name Beegone. I bought loads of domains in the beginning; beeremoval.co.uk and about 20 similar ones.

And the only reason I was able to do that is because of how few businesses in the UK offered that service.

What do you think has made Beegone such a success?

Fast forward from 2008, and because of social media people understand about bees and how important they are.

Attitudes have changed a lot and when you know better, you do better. So people are more likely to ask for bees to be saved now than to be lethally treated.

Other changes between then and now are things like legislation, codes of best practice, label conditions.

What I like is that there’s now a movement where more people want to save the bees than harm them.

We’ve moved away from ‘kill first, ask questions later’ approaches. As a result, there are more and more people who have started dabbling with live honey bee removal, which has it’s good and bad points.

What I like is that there’s now a movement where more people want to save the bees than harm them.

The issue comes when there are unscrupulous people out there who think that it might be quite lucrative, but do a poor job and don’t have the construction knowledge to do it safely.

There’s a lot that goes into what we do; we’ll provide the scaffolding, we take the building apart, we remove the bees and clean it up, we’ll put the building fabric back together properly. We aren’t just pest controllers here; we have roofers, scaffolders, stone masons.

Unfortunately there are still companies, or cowboys, who will spray bees with insecticides. They’ll then either leave that contaminated comb in there or dispose of it incorrectly, both of which then leave it available for other bees to rob.

You know, I’m actually really careful about what honey I eat and I would never take honey from a removal because of the chance of contamination – even if I haven’t used insecticides myself, that doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t tried.

pgh-beegone-meet-the-member2

And if all of that weren’t enough, you decided to launch a PGH Beegone franchise! How’s that going for you?

We’re a relatively new franchise, PGH Beegone launched in December 2020.

Our first franchisee David has done fantastically, I have a little leaflet in my office that says, “Be more David”. He’s brilliant, he’s a testament to the fact that it does work.

He’s followed our plan, taken the leads we’ve given him and his turnover is fantastic. He’s a great franchisee for us.

He’s very patient and willing to learn, accepts ownership, he has the right attitude to make it work.

You can always train people to do the practical side, but the attitude is something you can’t teach.

We’ve definitely learned as much from him as he’s learned from us, as we’re a new franchise model. When people look into being part of our franchise, they can be put off when they ask how many franchisees we have and they hear “one”.

You can always train people to do the practical side, but the attitude is something you can’t teach.

But what they don’t realise is, that’s the great thing about it – you get more one-on-one time with me, more time to work with you and make you a success.

You aren’t in a tiny little territory, you could have the whole west coast because there’s nobody else there!

This is the hayday, you won’t be restricted and you’ll be successful like David. You get to be a part of a growing franchise, you get to be a part of that growth.

Editor's note: since the interview was conducted PGH Beegone recruited its second franchisee, who will run his pest control and live bee removal business in the south Birmingham area.

We hear you’re not going to be stopping at a franchise – what’s next for you?

We’ve started looking into setting up an association, specifically the British Bee Removers Association (BBRA). Not a small task!

There was a gent who kept asking us questions at beekeeping events, and then he started the ‘UK Bee Removers’ group on Facebook.

And we thought that was a good idea, so we decided to launch the BBRA Facebook group. We’ve got 120 members on Facebook since launching about a month ago and we’re trying to create a movement there.

But we want to legally register as a proper association, so there’s a foundation that might be able to work in tandem with BPCA on things like lobbying for proper bee removal without insecticide.

We also want to be able to provide codes of practice, training, helping people carry out bee removal safely by training people to work with things like asbestos and ladders.

We’ve seen it on Facebook with people holding asbestos flues with honey dripping from them, and I think that’s so unprofessional. The bad practices you see online make me cringe.

We wanted to create a group where there’s a place to go for a safe bee removal service for the public and the right kind of advice for professionals carrying out the work.

We saw a post where someone had a picture of a ladder leaning against a chimney, which makes me shudder because you don’t always know what the condition of the underlying masonry is - to put it simply, sometimes it looks hard but behind it’s soft.

If you put a ladder on it, the whole thing will come over and you’ve got tonnes of chimney bricks falling on you.

So these kinds of posts we’ll pick up on, advise people of the correct way to go about it and share that knowledge.

We wanted to create a group where there’s a place to go for a safe bee removal service for the public and the right kind of advice for professionals carrying out the work.

We’ve talked to organisations like Bradshaw Bennett about insurance so that we have those benefits of being part of the Association as well.

And I think that as part of membership there should be some partnership with BPCA because, in essence, if you’re removing bees you’re removing a pest.

And you’ll be bound by the same codes of best practice with things like waste disposal.

And I think that’s the thing with pest control; you’re either small time with no interest in appearing more professional and you’ll always stay that way. Or you’ll take it more seriously, work hard with your CPD and knowledge, and be more successful as a result.

There’s a lot of legal red tape we have to abide by, so we’re working through that at the moment. I’m excited by it, it’ll be a great place to find professional people who are properly trained.

It’s funny, there used to be a time when businesses would be looking for a bee removal contractor and they’d say, “I need to get three quotes” but we’d get a call back a week later saying they couldn’t find anyone else.

And it’s not necessarily that they can’t find anyone to remove the bees, but that they can’t find anyone who can also do the construction work, has the correct insurance, gives a fixed quote and so on.

But that’s why we want to build up as an association. I’d rather people were competing against us but have all the right training to do a great job, so together we're able to cover even more of the UK.

Bees also have no protection, so that’s something we would want to campaign for. It’s a mess really, they’re under threat but have no protection under law. And we hear a lot of ‘as a last resort, spray the bees’ and we don’t agree with that at all.

I think there’s room for campaigning there and I think a lot of people would be behind that. It’s not just about bees that are in the building, it’s about the general health of the bee population.

In terms of a timeline, we’re looking to be up and running by spring next year, so it’s quite soon.

Finally, during lockdown you were awarded Entrepreneurs Circle’s ‘Most Inspiring Business Person of the Year’ award. How did you come to be nominated and how did it feel to win?

It was one of my employees who nominated me; truth be told, I didn’t know much about it and next thing I hear I’m a finalist for some award!

I think the reason I won was due to the history of how my company came about. I left school in year six so I don’t have any GCSEs.

Instead I worked for farmers and gamekeepers, doing practical basic jobs. To then go on to do something where you need to use your intellect and be creative and be a manager, it’s been a challenge I must admit.

I have dyslexia, and I’m not great with numbers. That’s not a powerful position to start from so I’ve had to learn a lot and find the right people to work with and learn from. It’s a massive mountain to overcome.

As long as you have a good idea, a good service, a good product and you work hard, you can make a success out of what you’re doing.

I wouldn’t say Richard Branson is an inspiration to me or anything, but he has dyslexia too and I see similarities to me in the way he communicates, so it’s nice to know that other people with things like dyslexia or learning difficulties can make a success of themselves and show that it can be done.

As long as you have a good idea, a good service, a good product and you work hard, you can make a success out of what you’re doing.

I also don’t have a management or business degree, you know, so the idea of starting a business when you have no business training is a huge obstacle.

I’ve spoken to people before who don’t employ anybody unless they have degrees and I started to judge myself a little bit, because I don’t have that level of education.

But then I thought back and realised that it’s important for me to surround myself with people who have the knowledge that I don’t, to fill those gaps.

From the very start there have been massive mountains to overcome but we’re still here, still going. I’m 33 now – where life will go, who knows? But I’d like to make as much of an impact as I can.

Interested in hearing more about PGH Beegone or the British Bee Removers Association?

Get in touch with Peter and the team on 01483 273478.

You can also join the British Bee Remover’s Association group on Facebook.

Source: PPC105

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