In every small town, there’s that one guy who just seems to know everyone. If you count Florida as a small town, then that guy would be Mel Edelstein.
Some pest management professionals (PMPs) may know Edelstein, 58, from his many years of industry experience by owning two pest management companies. Others may know him through his early involvement with the Florida Pest Control Association (FPCA). Ask most Floridian PMPs, though, and they’ll tell you they know him as the man behind the Certified Pest Control Operators Association of Florida (CPCO).
After being nominated twice before, Edelstein has become a 2001 inductee into Pest Control magazine’s Pest Control Hall of Fame. With all that he has been involved in for his nearly 33 years in the industry, it’s not hard to see why.
Edelstein opened his first pest management business, Perma-nex, on Staten Island in 1969. He stayed for 11 years before he tired of New York’s cold winters, and decided to move to Florida in 1980. After a year working with Ed’s Pest Control in Hollywood, Fla., though, he became licensed and began his own business, Aim Pest Control, with his wife, Carole, in 1981.
It was during this time period that Edelstein began his work with the FPCA. During his 14 years of membership, he served as a committee chairman, assistant director and director of the organization before beginning his biggest project-the creation of the CPCO.
During a long meal at a Denny’s restaurant, Edelstein and nine other PMPs hatched the idea of another Florida state association. With a desire to focus on the small operator and enforce pest management laws, the CPCO was born in 1994. Edelstein started on a volunteer basis, and eventually became the organization’s first official employee. He left his own pest management business for his wife to run.
After gaining 178 members at its first meeting in 1994, the CPCO has grown into the largest state association in the United States-but don’t try to give Edelstein the credit.
“This was not a one-man operation,” he insists. “There was a talented board of directors and without them, the CPCO and its successes would not have been possible.”
In addition to serving as a lobbyist for the pest management industry in Tallahassee, Edelstein, now executive director of CPCO, was a driving force in the recent alliance among the CPCO, FPCA, Certified Operators of Southwest Florida (COSWSL) and the Florida Turfgrass Association (FTGA).
“I consider myself a representative of every PMP in Florida,” Edelstein says. “Whether they are a CPCO member or not, I speak for them. I never went to college and I’m not meant to be an administrator. I speak simply as a PMP, and I let my feelings guide me.”
The Obstacle Course
Despite all of his accomplishments, Edelstein feels that his biggest one came from within. He says he would have never made it this far in the industry without first overcoming a personal problem of his own that had stood in his way most of his life.
“I am a stutterer,” Edelstein asserts. “I was always hindered by it. I refused to speak on the phone or in public because of it.”
Edelstein says he used to volunteer for behind-the-scenes duties at the FPCA so that he would not have to speak in public. Everything changed one night at an FPCA meeting, however.
FPCA Director Lynn Hoffer was ill and asked Edelstein, then the assistant director, to stand in and speak for her to the group of about 75 people at the meeting. His friend and mentor, Hank Petri, owner of Petri’s Positive Pest Control in Pompano Beach, took him aside and encouraged him to have the confidence in himself to speak in public.
“I was scared, I didn’t want to do it,” Edelstein explains. “But I got up and I spoke for the first time, and I haven’t sat down since.
“I had an awful lot to say for so long, and now I could say it,” he adds. “Without the encouragement and continued support of the industry, I wouldn’t have been able to develop the confidence to do it. ”
Edelstein tells Pest Control that it is because of the people who helped him that he is so inspired to help others. The CPCO does a monthly “good deed” for area non-profit groups, such as spraying at scout camps or treating a cancer hospice.
Norman Cooper, a friend of Edelstein and a 1999 Hall of Fame inductee, told Pest Control about these charitable works.
“Mel has been a catalyst in providing free pest management service through the organization to needy entities,” Cooper notes. “Besides that, he has helped to bring honor and respect to our industry. He also helped organize emergency relief to more than 100 PMPs’ families following Hurricane Andrew in 1992.”
Milestones for Mel
In addition to the progress of the CPCO, Edelstein has had a year full of successes. He was inducted into industry fraternity Pi Chi Omega in January as an associate member. He was recognized by Pest Control Technology magazine as one of the 25 most influential people in the industry. Now, he can add Pest Control’s Pest Control Hall of Fame to his long list of accomplishments.
“I have had a helluva year, and I have so many people to thank for it,” Edelstein says.
He gives first credit to Carole, for supporting his decision to leave the family business and pursue the CPCO in the first place.
“She took on the burden of running our family and our family business,” he says. “She does a better job of it than I ever did. My wife is the best part of me.”
Although he and Carole still live in Sunrise, Fla., their daughters, Lara and Lindsay, have left the nest to become lawyers. Lara now lives in Boca Raton, Fla., and Lindsay practices law in Chicago, Ill.
Edelstein credits friend and industry consultant Lloyd Smigel with constantly being available for advice.
“I probably speak to him on a daily basis,” Edelstein says. “Not only does he speak well, but he listens well, too.”
Another person he looks to for advice is his older brother, Leonard, who still lives in New York. Playing the big brother in the absence of their parents, Mel calls to “check in” every Friday.
Ever humble, Edelstein does not believe he has repaid the industry enough.
“The industry has given me more than I can ever give back,” he explains. “The industry gave me the opportunity to put both of my kids through college and law school. I have gained so many lifelong friendships here. It has allowed me to do things that, for the greatest part of my life, I never thought I could do. It gave me confidence.”