When you meet Levi and Talis Brody, brothers and owners of Brody Brothers Pest Control, it’s easy to see why they are beloved by their customers and employees. The greater community is rooting for them, too, evidenced by scores of positive reviews online and this year’s best workplace award in Baltimore Magazine.
Brody Brothers was an early adopter of the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach which proactively gets to the root of a pest problem instead of simply treating the symptoms. The brothers are passionate about their work, their families, their faith, and their communities. And they are anything but conventional, even down to their morning drinks for this coffee catch-up. Talis starts his day with an organic Americana while Levi sticks with juice–3 apples, ½ of a raw beet and a 1-inch slide of fresh ginger blended in a Vitamix to be exact.
Levi and Talis are second-generation family business owners balancing running a business while raising their own families. Levi has 8 children under 13 years old while Talis has 4 under 12. We caught up with them to talk the changing industry of pest control, managing a successful family business while being active parents to young families, and what its like to run a family-owned business.
Coffee with Levi and Talis Brody, Owners of Brody Brothers Pest Control
You run a second generation, family-owned business business together (Brody Brothers Pest Control opened in 1984, but Levi and Talis took over in 2007) for over a decade. Tell us what that’s like.
Levi: I started working for the company when I was 14 and learned so much from all of my customers that gave me a very broad perspective on life. In the early days, I could see 8-12 customers a day every 3 months and that creates genuine care and real relationships–I know them and they know me. Now, I’m not on the road as much. Talis and I are really focused on developing our employees–building skill sets and seeing them grow. My new thing is hassling my employees to save for their retirement and put money away! We’ve grown a lot since 2007 with a team of 27 in this office and the Rockville branch, too.
What’s it like working with your brother?
Levi: We are very complimentary. He loves bookkeeping and I would probably rot at a desk looking at it! I’ll do marketing for 5 weeks and then forms for truck inspections and then insurance and then on to the next project.
Talis: And then I’ll deal with the software engineers….
When I was growing up, my dad had this collection of insects in bottles and it always intrigued me. So I started doing the same thing. I bought myself a microscope set. I was always very curious and mechanically-inclined and there was just something about figuring out the technique to get things to work. When I talk to the software engineers, I’m often one-step ahead because I research the issues and figure out what’s going on. Most of the time it works out.
Levi: We respect each other.
Your Mission Statement gives a great idea of your values. One of your goals is to “Offer great, not just good, customer service.” How do you encourage your team to take on this philosophy?
Talis: There’s a book on leadership, Turn This Ship Around, about a submarine captain who turned the worst submarine around. He said “What do you intend to do” instead of saying “I’m the boss.” Instead of top-down leadership, it’s bottom-up leadership. If you empower your employees, it gives them the freedom to make good decisions.
Levi: If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers. Money is a byproduct of a good business. Many larger companies aren’t looking for long-term employees and will lay off people in the winter. If we don’t have a full 40 hours for our employees, they’re training and taking courses to develop skills. You don’t see other pest control companies empowering and developing their employees this way.
As your kids are getting older, do you foresee them getting summer jobs with you?
Talis: Of course they want to, but no.
Levi: I don’t know if it’s healthy for a second generation to work straight for the family business. I think it’s good that they develop their own skills and talents, otherwise it could be really stagnating. I’m Chabad-Lubavitch, so the boys go away when they 13 to another state for learning and development. Letting the kids have that independence, you start seeing a different level of maturity in these kids from traveling and learning. It helps develop leaders, healthy individuals who are not babied. My oldest twins are super-responsible and independent. I always tell them “Freedom comes with responsibility” and vice versa. Most parents don’t let their children grow up.
How about work-life balance?
Levi: We work very hard and we feel guilty not working, so we’re a little bit of workaholics.
Talis: Which isn’t good I hear…
Levi: But as we’re maturing, our office staff makes sure we get out and see our family.
How do you like to spend your family time when you do get out of the office?
Talis: We’re an adventurous family and like to get out in the woods. Next up is backwoods camping with no campsite just out in the wilderness.I think our family is built this way because sometimes you’re in the office all day, so we make use of our weekends and we’re very active. If it’s the Sabbath, we’re home and we have our game plan. It’s all about family time.
Levi: I’m the more well thought-out, conservative planner and I married a spitfire. I remember a moment in my life when I was more serious (need to get work done, get the kids to sleep…I was like Mr. Military) and one day we were hiking and my wife said, “Just get in the dirt with them.” And that always changed my picture of kids and raising kids and being involved in their lives instead of just making sure they get fed and get to bed.
I enjoy the small things. Every year I garden. You can’t go walking with me without identifying all of the trees (that’s this kind of rock, this kind of herb) anything in nature. I’m super happy digging dirt up in the backyard and then sitting there with my son and checking out frogs. But it doesn’t stop there! Then I have to figure out what kind of frogs they are, how many types of frogs live in Maryland, and so on.
I’ve always been super inquisitive! That’s what I love about my job–always talking to customers. I learn something from everybody I work with.
Let’s talk about some misconceptions about pest control.
Talis: Spraying! And the worry that we are going use toxic waste all over the house. The industry has changed so much, that’s a non-issue. If you’re a professional and you’re in this industry, you’re really taking care of a house and looking at how to use the least amount of pesticides to control the problem. We’re sealing more holes and caulking more entryways than we are using pesticides. It’s a scientific approach and the hardest part is getting the mindset changed over that it’s not just “Nuke them! Destroy them!”
Levi: It was scary to do Integrated Pest Management before everyone else was doing it and we had a lot of explaining to do. We’re using less pesticide, but spending more money on labor. If people want a small hardware store, they need to shop at a small hardware store. Consumers have to realize that you shouldn’t hire the cheapest guy.
What advice do you have for potential customers when it comes to hiring pest control or any other home improvement providers?
Levi: I always tell customers when you’re looking for a service person, you’re always going to find that one guy who is passionate about what he does. Not only is he going to tell you how to trim the trees, but he’s going to talk about your gutters and he’s going to be helpful. That’s what we strive for, to be that helpful asset. Always look for those kinds of service workers–the ones who want to talk, who are honest, who are a breath of fresh air. And then keep that worker!
I think most customers don’t know what to ask. I tell this to my technicians–you are there to help customers whether they hire you or not, so give them as much information as you can and try to help them as much as you can while you’re there.
Where do you see the Brody Brothers in the next 10 years?
Levi: I tell all of my employees that I don’t know where we’re going to end up, but we’re going to do smart things in a smart, healthy way. And wherever it takes us, it takes us. We don’t have the option to stay this size, it’s our responsibility to provide growth opportunities for our guys. We’re developing our team from within and giving everyone that space and we’ll see what happens.
Talis: I think Levi and I both agree that in 10 years we’ll probably still be in the mix of things. I can’t let go. Every once in a while, I still need to get out of the office, stretch my legs and dig in.
Let’s have coffee! Know of a Baltimore area parent doing really (cool) things? Or — hey — are you that parent? We want to have coffee! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know. Photos by Laura Black.