Editor’s Note: The PMP staff is saddened to report that Al passed away Aug. 10, 2015. Learn more here.
The sum total of Al “Bugs” Burger’s training in pest management consisted of his brother giving him a five-minute demonstration on how to work a B&G sprayer with the directive to “spray where you see ants.”
Of course, that’s not the whole story. From there, Al became passionate about his work and learned as much as he could about the business as he dreamed big. His wife, Sandee, as the financial brains of the operation, was the realist who kept him grounded.
Together, they expanded “Bugs” Burger Bug Killers into 44 states and became the largest independently owned pest management firm in the country at the time of their retirement in 1986.
For their revolutionary business model and success in the pest management industry, Pest Management Professional is proud to induct Al and Sandee Burger into the Hall of Fame, Class of 2009.
Fresh out of the Army, Al took a job selling vacuum cleaners for Filter Queen in Albany, N.Y. Just a couple of weeks on the job, the man who was training him fell ill and sold him the business.
“I called the corporate office for Filter Queen,” Al recalls. “I told them I had a major problem because I didn’t know what I was doing.”
The corporate office sent him to Brooklyn for training, before it sent him off to repossess vacuum cleaners to clean them up and re-sell them. It didn’t take long before his basement was filled with vacuum cleaners.
Then, Al received a call from his brother, Sanford, in Miami. Their mother had fallen ill and didn’t have much time left. Al immediately packed up and drove — 27 straight hours — to Florida.
“When I pulled up, my brother met me at the car and told me not to get out. He had a spray gun in his hand,” Al says. “He told me he was going to give me the address of a house that had ants and I was to go and treat it.”
Al didn’t even know his way around town, let alone the first thing about pest management. His brother didn’t seem to mind. Instead, he told him how to get to the house, how to pump up the sprayer and instructed him to go around the house and spray wherever he saw ants.
“So, I went there and I sprayed the ants,” Al says. “That was my training.”
Coincidently, that very night in Miami, he became acquainted with the other piece of the “Bugs” Burger Bug Killers puzzle.
“I met this young chick,” Al says. “I said, ‘Who are you?’ and she said her name was Sandee.”
Staying in Miami
Having just met Sandee and receiving from his brother what he calls, “a fabulous job offer,” Al had no reason to leave Miami any time soon.
“My brother had 39 customers, and he offered to pay me $15 a week to go out and service his customers and get more business,” Al says. “Plus, I’d be near my mother.”
He went to work with his “super training” and over the course of a few years built up 17 service routes. He then left his brother’s company and went to work for Ever-Ready Exterminating in Miami as a salesperson/technical advisor.
Ever-Ready needed him to do service though, so Al told them he’d stick it out for three months. From there, he went to Truly Nolen as a sales manager and technical advisor.
Finally, in 1960, Al and Sandee started off on their own. With a 1-year-old baby, the Burgers moved in with Sandee’s parents and operated the business out of their bedroom.
“I’m doing all the bookkeeping and answering all the phone calls out of the bedroom-office while taking care of a baby,” Sandee says. “My parents had a utility room with the washing machine, and that became our warehouse where we stored the chemicals.”
Though still a small, growing business, “Bugs” Burger Bugs Killers was on the rise. One day, a friend invited Al and Sandee to dinner at a fancy, Miami Beach restaurant.
“The walls were covered with these gorgeous drapes,” Al recalls. “I’m sitting there and I poke my nose behind the drapes and I couldn’t believe it. There were cockroaches crawling all over the place. Thousands of them.”
Al demanded to see the manager right then and there. He was blunt and told the manager his place was infested with cockroaches and his current exterminator wasn’t doing his job. He introduced himself and was told to be back at the restaurant Monday morning.
That Monday, Al discovered thousands of cockroaches, rats and mice. It was right then and there that “Bugs” Burger came up with his company motto. He turned to the manager and said, “I guarantee I will eliminate every roach, rat and mouse from the premises.”
Not believing him, the manager wanted it in writing.
“So, I took one of his napkins and I wrote, ‘I guarantee I’ll eliminate every roach, rat and mouse on the premises or the service is free,’” Al says.
It was the Burger’s first commercial account. They expanded from there. The next thing you know, “Bugs” Burger Bug Killers’ is doing jobs for every major restaurant on Miami Beach.
“I couldn’t believe how fast we were growing,” Sandee says. “It was hard enough just covering Miami and south Florida. But Al had bigger things on his mind.”
Perhaps the biggest break for “Bugs” Burger Bug Killers came when Al met with Joe Lee and Bill Darden, from the Darden Restaurant Group. At the time, Darden Restaurant Group only had a small chain known as Red Lobster.
“I went in for a meeting with them,” Al recalls. “They told me they were too new and didn’t really have a problem. But, they also told me to come back in a year.”
Almost a year to the day, Al didn’t have to go back because the phone rang. Lee told him they had something for him to get started on but he’d have to go to Tampa.
“I priced it out and started there,” Al says. “I brought in five or six service people and we eliminated their problem. They were totally amazed.”
Within a week, they called him back and told him they wanted “Bugs” Burger Bug Killers to take care of all of their restaurants in the state of Florida.
After a few weeks, they called again and told him they wanted him to take care of all the restaurants in the whole chain, consisting of restaurants in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
“Then, state by state, as Red Lobster expanded so did ‘Bugs’ Burger,” Sandee says.
“Bugs” Burger Bug Killers were licensed in 44 states by the time Al and Sandee sold the company in 1986.
A True Team
Al and Sandee Burger were more than just a husband and wife who ran a business. They were a team. They worked well together — Al as the sales and marketing genius, Sandee as the financial and nuts & bolts guru.
Al and Sandee credit much of the success of “Bugs” Burger Bug Killers on the strength of its employees.
“Employees are your company,” Al says. “They’re your family,” Sandee adds.
They treated their employees with respect, and armed them with the tools to succeed.
“We placed a lot of value in training,” Sandee says. “When we hired a service technician, we brought them to Miami for three weeks of training.”
That’s a far cry from Al’s five-minute sprayer demonstration training. But then, “Bugs” Burger Bug Killers came a long way too.