Fourth-generation Atomic Pest Control celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, thanks in part to its giant mouse.
People always call about the mouse. Not the one in their house, but the one on top of Atomic Pest Control’s Memphis, Tenn., headquarters.
The story of Atomic is one of instant brand recognition, and the six-person company that serves Tennessee and northern Mississippi uses the mouse and its Atomic Man as a way to bring in business.
“A lot of the calls we get, our customers will say, ‘You’re the place over on (U.S.) 51 that has the mouse on the roof,” said Carese Rice, president and owner. “Everybody knows that he’s there. I think it’s an eye catcher, and we have lots of traffic up and down Elvis Presley (Boulevard). I definitely think it brings us business.”
ALL IN THE FAMILY. This year marks Atomic’s 50th year in business, and it remains one operated by family: Rice is a second-generation owner; she has worked for the company since she was 9 years old, coming in after school and working in the office. She spent some time in the restaurant industry, but came back to the business in 1985 as a secretary, as well as running routes and selling services. She was promoted to vice president, and now is president and owner of the company.
Now, her daughter, Melanie Cardell, works as secretary and treasurer, and her daughters, Paige Cardell, 14, and Alyssa Cardell, 12, work in the office.
“I used to work for my dad after school…so I let them come up there every chance they get to learn some business ethics,” Rice said. “I make them work.”
MOUSE IN THE HOUSE. Rice’s father, Stanley L. Tubbs, founded Atomic in 1958. He bought the mouse after a local theater showed a screening of “Willard,” the 1971 horror film about a social outcast who breeds an army of evil rats. (Atomic’s mouse is a bit less malevolent, but so tall, it’s still a bit scary.)
“He was the one that fell in love with the mouse,” Rice said. “He saw it (and he) had to have it.”
The mouse had a speaker inside that theater promoters had used to hype their films. Tubbs used the speaker to promote his company’s services all across Memphis.
“He became quite an icon for the city of Memphis,” Rice said.
But with fame came problems: Fraternities kept stealing the mouse, and Tubbs would have to go to the trouble of hunting him down. So, eventually, he moved the mouse to the roof, and it’s been there ever since.
“I feel like he belongs to the city of Memphis, not us, because he draws so many people,” Rice said.
The company has twice tried to have its customers and Memphis residents name the giant mouse, but Rice said they haven’t come up with one that fit. A lot of the entries involve Memphis’ more famous resident — a certain Mr. Elvis Presley, who lived at Graceland, just down the road. Many younger entrants want to name Atomic’s giant mouse after another (and much more famous) mouse who makes his home in Florida.
“Obviously, you can’t call the mouse Mickey,” Rice said.
BUSINESS EDUCATION. Rice’s father was active in the pest control industry, helping to start both the Tennessee Pest Control Association and the West Tennessee Pest Control Association (now the Greater Memphis Pest Control Association).
Rice credits her father, who died in 2002 at age 84, with teaching her what she knows about running the business.
“My father gave me life and taught me how to get along in the world,” Rice said. “He taught me his business and took me along to learn — I was a part of most of his ventures. I miss him greatly.”
The author is assistant editor of PCT magazine.
About Stanley L. Tubbs
Carese Rice’s father, Stanley Tubbs, founded Atomic Pest Control in 1958 and bought its trademark giant mouse. He helped start both the Tennessee Pest Control Association and the West Tennessee Pest Control Association (now the Greater Memphis Pest Control Association).
Tubbs also was an active entrepreneur. He started the first Elvis souvenir shop in Memphis in 1978, and owned a rental store, RV park and shopping center in Memphis. He also owned a theater and two gift shops in Branson, Mo.
What’s in a Name?
Here’s a selection of some of the names Atomic Pest Control has received in its three-year search for a name for the giant mouse on its roof:
- Adam D. Atom
- Atomic River Rat
- Atomo the Mighty Mouse
- Boss House Mouse
- Bug Fighting Bill
- Easy Cheesy
- Lester the Pope
- Mighty Mississippi Mouse
- Montgomery Mouse
- Pest Fighting Paul
- Squeaky Cheese
- Terminator Tom