NAWRB Conference Interview with Susan Fries


Burgandy Basulto is a Content Writer at NAWRB. She has a bachelor’s degree in both English and Philosophy, and a master’s degree in Philosophy. When she’s not reading or writing, she loves running, kickboxing, watching films, trying new restaurants she finds via Yelp, and experiencing other cultures during her travels.

Susan Fries: My name is Susan Fries, and I am the President and Owner of Ecola Termite and Pest Management Services. We are the alternative treatment methods that can take care of a situation and do it in a healthier way. So, what we mean by that is we use Mother Nature to take care of the problem. We’ve been doing it a long, long time. We were green before it was nothing more than a color. The reason I do that is because I had a chronic asthmatic (still do)—36-year-old now— son, who had almost died a couple of times.

When I got in the business 38 years ago, I was looking for another way to get rid of the problem. Pests and termites are going to be around forever, especially in California. I was in the industry, I was working with my husband and we were doing traditional methods—fumigation, chemical application— and I had this son. He almost died a couple of times, and I’m thinking “Gosh, if I can come up with a way to take care of this problem and do it healthier, naturally, environmentally more friendly, then I’ve got to search that out.” And so, I did. I found a company that was doing some of it and I decided it was a good thing for me to look into it more, and it ended up that I bought that company. It’s kind of like the Gillette razor commercial where: “I like the Gillette razor, so I bought the company.” It was kind of like that.

And so, I took it over in 2000 and we’ve been growing ever since.

NAWRB: How difficult was it to make that transition from traditional to alternative methods?

I knew who my customer was because I was answering the phones every day. And I knew I was talking the homeowner a lot of the time, but it was usually the woman that was responsible for the nest and taking care of her children and the pets. The husband was usually going out and making the money and they would have this heavy discussion on the cost and how we’re going to do it. But when it came time to implementing these services and getting them done, and what they wanted to have in their home: “A happy wife, a happy life.” So, it was the woman that would make the final decision. The husband was the one saying “Okay, we can afford this, that.” That’s how it worked.

When I purchased the company, I was doing mostly pest control, so I had to learn how to do termite. And termite is where we can take the biggest advantage of using the alternative treatments. Since then, though, I am coming up with new products, other ways of doing things, which are still environmentally friendly. I feel really good about that. Because of our indoor quality and our life, we can’t buy our health. It’s really important that we take care of it.

In a transaction of real estate, usually it’s the seller that pays for fumigations and they’re not thinking about who did the termite work and what they did or what went in my home. So, for us, now, we know that we have an alternative to what was before. It’s much healthier and we have a service warranty so every year we come back and do an alternative treatment method to take care of the problems and keep them small. If you take care of things when they are small, it’s much better.

NAWRB: Where do you go for your research when you are looking for new methods?

I go to different conventions where I see things, and I try to see if that could work for us. And maybe we need to change something or switch something up. We have other companies out there who are using tree oils and plant oils that can take care of the problem, even like clove oil and things like that. So, we are using all of those. It doesn’t mean we aren’t using traditional because we don’t want disease to stay there. We are dealing with pests that have disease-carrying attributes. We want to make sure we get a knockdown and we get those things gone. I would say I’m a licensed killer, I am, but I want to make sure that we don’t have to do more than we need to. We’re just going to do minimal but get rid of the problem.

NAWRB: You started this with your husband. What is the best part of being a family-owned business?

Well, we’re not together anymore. My son works with me so we are still family-owned and operated. My ex-husband is my ex-competitor and that’s a whole other book for another day.

NAWRB: That’s a great story.

A direct competitor who is in the same market, so it’s very interesting. I would say when working with your husband, if I could give any advice to anyone, healthy boundaries are key. Everyone has gifts and they have their strengths. So, we want to work with our strengths. My husband at the time was very good in certain areas but I was better in other areas. If somebody supersedes you, it doesn’t make for a good environment. We want to make sure we have a healthy environment for our employees.

NAWRB: Is it difficult to separate home and work life when you own a family business?

Good question. We have a very open relationship and he has asked for me to not tell new employees that he’s my son. His name is Tyson, and even though I’m so proud of him, he would rather not. He would rather earn the respect on his own accord and so I am respecting him in that and letting him, you know, make his own road.

NAWRB: How does the boundary between using a family-owned business as a marketing tool and setting those boundaries on your personal life work?

I utilize in all my advertising, radio, TV, and I utilize my son a lot because of his asthma and how it is a part of the passion I have for what I do. It’s not just killing termites; it’s not just killing bugs. In our radio, we do say “My son.” Even in one commercial he’s saying you know “Ecola cares about our customers like my mom cared about me.” You know, that was one of the lines in the commercial and it’s true and it’s him delivering the line, and near the end he goes “Love you Mom!” It brings tears to my eyes every time. What mom doesn’t want to hear that?  And I think that people relate to that and I think that that’s a positive thing. As long as it’s real, it’s a good thing to market. Also, the word is sustainability: being around a long time and having the background history of generations. I have three generations so far in my business.

NAWRB: You’re awarded.

Yes, and that’s awesome. I didn’t even know what “Renaissance Woman” meant, but my sister explained to me “Sue, you are making a difference in this world, and you need to be recognized for that.” And I appreciate that because I really feel that—I’m a believer and so, for me, God is good. God has been really good to me and I’ve been through a lot of things. I’m not supposed to be walking and I’m walking. I’m dancing. I’m doing a lot of things. I have metal plates and pins in my leg and I wasn’t expected to walk. So, for me, there’s miracles that have happened in my life. And so, for me in my business, I feel like I’ve been overly blessed and I just really want to be able to give back now. And I feel that I have an opportunity to do that.

I have a radio show that I’ve had for eight and a half years and a television show that I’ve had for two years. I talk about the connection between passion, purpose and connection. It’s called the “Sue Fries Show.” People don’t realize that I talk about life lessons. I talk about just what’s going on in my life. Like this last week I talked about the short leash. I have two dogs and one gets a short leash, and I thought “why”? Because that one I need to watch more closely than the one I can give the longer leash to. And that’s so true in business, it’s true in our children’s lives, just anyone we’re with. There’s people you have to hold really close because you have to and people you can let go and know they’re not going to do any harm. So, I just thought that was kind of an interesting lesson with the short leash.

The radio show has been really good. It’s been helpful, it’s connecting with people and it’s helping people understand who they are and why they are here. When people have that connection it helps them endure the things that come in their lives.

NAWRB: You’ve been through a lot in your life. How do you work through those times and continue running the business and doing what you do?

That’s a really good question. I think everybody out there would like to know the answer. I think that we need to take time for ourselves and rest and sometimes I have difficulty doing that, but when I do it I’m a better person when I come back to the grind. For me, the victory has been won and I need to be faithful and know that I’m doing the right thing, and stay on my course and don’t get knocked off because there’s so many things that could be distracting us from the real goal. So staying focused on our goals, understanding, and having a vision in our mind and staying true to that vision is so key for me. It’s what’s kept me alive and going. I know there’s a lot of people watching how I respond and how I act, and they find strength in my strength. And I feel like I need to be that strength, and sometimes it’s tiring but other times it’s rewarding.

NAWRB: Are there times when you are just, “I need to take a mental health break today?” 

Absolutely. Sometimes I need to take a weekend and I need not deal with anything or anyone. I just need to back off. It doesn’t happen a lot, and I just need to pull away and just have some time. I think about the airlines where the mask comes down and they say you have to take care of you first before you take care of the baby. And that’s so true. We have to take care of ourselves, because you know, once your health starts failing then you really aren’t there for anyone anyway. When I had my leg and I was in a wheelchair and I couldn’t walk, I had to be still and I had to realize that other people had to take care of me. That was not easy for me. At that time it was an eye opener that sometimes it’s a gift to let people give.








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