by Joyce Carroll Special to the Delaware Business Times It was literally a chance encounter: A 20-something young man conflicted over his professional future collided with an entomology professor while pacing the halls of the ...
[caption id="attachment_17794" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Roy & Donna Richardson at their Royal Pest corporate office. // Photo by Ron Dubick[/caption]
by Joyce Carroll Special to the Delaware Business Times
It was literally a chance encounter: A 20-something young man conflicted over his professional future collided with an entomology professor while pacing the halls of the University of Delaware. What followed was a lifelong mentoring relationship between Roy Richardson and department chair Dr. Dale Bray.
Today, Roy and his wife Donna are among the top 40 integrated pest management experts in a national field of 18,000 specialists. Their expertise revolutionized the way the Port of Wilmington makes imported produce safe for families to eat. Founded in 1976 in New Castle, Royal Pest Solutions now services ports in close to a dozen states.
Roy remembers growing up in an age where neighborhood kids would bicycle through the fog that lingered as trucks sprayed DDT into the streets. His, like many neighborhoods, participated in the then-popular mosquito-control program. His adulthood would be shaped by a more environmentally responsible attitude: Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" would change the prevailing thinking about the ways in which pesticide use had negatively impacted humankind.
"We were green before green was green," Roy said. As exterminators doused homes and businesses with odorous oil-based insecticides, Roy was experimenting with his own formula. Upon evaporation, his mixture of a powdered chemical and water left behind no nasty smell, allowing Roy to eradicate pests in a more environmentally sound way. The technique was one of a handful of innovations the Richardsons would implement, several of which they'd go on to patent.
[caption id="attachment_17798" align="alignleft" width="500"] Dozens of display cases showing insets line the Royal Pest conference room.[/caption]
Having moved up the ranks at Happy Harry's to management level, Roy realized he didn't want to stock shelves forever. However, he had a young family and was making a decent living. As he learned about insects through Dr. Bray, he also knew he didn't want to go into research.
"I told my family I was leaving Happy Harry's to kill bugs for a living," he said. Donna, and his family, stood behind him.
Roy spent six months learning the ropes from Tony Durante, a local exterminator, and continued his tutelage under Dr. Bray. While residential clientele were a part of the Richardson's eventual business, commercial opportunities proved to be the couple's bread and butter. Happy Harry's was among their first. From there, the Richardsons acquired a contract for 157 7-Eleven stores in New Jersey and Delaware.
"This was the first bit of business that actually set me up as a legitimate business," he said. Large contracts, like Delmarva Power & Light and, soon Gore Industries furthered Royal's success. Hospitals and museums would follow. Roy said he developed a reputation as someone who took an analytical approach, investigating the cause of his clients' problems. But the real feather in their cap would come when Donna fielded a call from a produce giant that was among the companies utilizing the Port of Wilmington as an entry point for its fresh pineapples.
"I was excited, needless to say. They asked, "˜Do you fumigate fruit?' I said, yes!" she said, confident that even though Royal's experience to date had been structural fumigation, they'd figure it out. While extermination creates a preventative barrier and kills insects once they've infiltrated an area, fumigation, said Roy, doesn't involve spraying, but instead treats the environment that harbors the insects.
"I called everyone I knew," Roy continued, referring to the experts he consulted. Through clandestine observation, Roy realized that the fumigators were damaging fruit by trampling on the crates in order to do their jobs. He knew he could improve efficiency. He invented and patented an elevated tarp system, specialized tubing, and an automated weighting system to anchor the tarp - technologies that would reduce manpower and cost while resulting in less product damage. His innovations eventually secured Royal's position as king of the hill when it came to fumigation. Soon, Royal would be fumigating Chilean fruit along with securing other lucrative contracts.
"When a ship comes in, it costs $30,000 to $50,000 a day just to maintain the ship. Previously, it took three days to fumigate. I was doing it in 24 hours," he said.
Social mission is a strong part of Royal's business practice. Roy and Donna are known in the community for their charitable endeavors. Among them: free pest control to Ronald McDonald House of Delaware, a one percent of net revenue contribution back to their community through a National Pest Management Association program and numerous other sponsorships.
The couple recently retired and has turned the reins over to Roy's brother Roger, who has worked alongside Roy since the beginning. With Donna and Roy's son-in-law and Roger's son and daughter now involved in the family business, Royal Pest Solutions is enjoying second-generation longevity.
The pride Roy and Donna share with regard to the success of the business they have built is a reflection of the admiration and faith they have in each other. When asked what the most rewarding aspect of their business has been, Roy responded, "On a personal level, I've gotten to work with my best friend for the last 40 years."