When Seattle city planners and the Washington State Department of Transportation decided that Highway 99 (also known as the Alaskan Viaduct), a 1950s era two-level highway traversing Seattle’s bustling waterfront that carries 110,000 cars each day, needed to be replaced, the concerns of one particular group of area residents were not taken into account.
It wasn’t the local business owners or Port of Seattle officials who weren’t included in a community focus group; it was the thousands of Norway rats, mice and other pests that have called the area home for decades. As construction continues on the $1.2 billion project to replace Highway 99 with a modern bi-level tunnel, rodent and pest activity levels are on the rise, much to the chagrin of local business owners.
While the massive construction project is not the sole cause for the rising rodent activity, it certainly isn’t slowing them down.
Scheduled for completion in late 2015, the 2-mile tunnel and accompanying infrastructure will dramatically alter, and hopefully improve, commuter flow and safety along the waterfront. Replacement options were first discussed following a magnitude-6.8 earthquake in 2001 that damaged the current Highway 99 structure. While many options were proposed and hotly debated, in the end advances in tunnel engineering technology swung the pendulum to going underground.
The actual digging of the tunnel began in June. Prior to that, workers excavated an 80-foot pit for the 57½ foot in diameter boring machine that carved its way underneath Seattle. Work on the pit and on surrounding infrastructure projects coincided with increased rodent sightings and pest activity.
“Rodent sightings were on the rise, as was feeding activity,” says A.J. Treleven of Sprague Pest Solutions’ Seattle service center. “The waterfront area of Seattle is the city’s oldest and has a well-established, robust rodent population.”
Treleven says the company also received a call from a commercial customer in a downtown high-rise building a half dozen blocks away from the construction zone with complaints of American cockroaches appearing in locations — such as the 20th floor of an office building — that they do not typically frequent. A possible theory for the cockroaches’ mysterious migration is that the noise and vibrations from preliminary construction efforts were driving pests away from the construction sites in order to seek less noisy accommodations.
Lots of Litter. Another contributing factor to the rising rodent activity along Seattle’s waterfront district is a solid waste recycling program offered by a private contractor to replace trash containers in alleys behind commercial buildings with daily garbage bag pick-up service.
While daily garbage pickup is an attractive option for local business owners, it doesn’t do much to deter hungry colonies of rodents from helping themselves to torn open or poorly secured bags of discarded food and waste.
Noted rodent expert Dr. Bobby Corrigan, who works extensively with the city of New York helping to curb the well entrenched and populous rodent population in the city’s subway tunnels, says increased rodent activity cannot always be blamed solely on construction projects and that Mother Nature plays a big role in the process.
“Rodents are very adaptable to the urban environment,” says Corrigan. “I’ve seen rats in the middle of subway tracks stay put as a train goes overhead and continue on their way when it passes.”
He says rats in urban areas have peaks and valleys in reproduction cycles that usually result in new litters emerging in late spring and late summer (early June and late August/early September). This coincides with the start time of many construction projects and gives the impression that every time you put a shovel in the ground rats pop out.
Corrigan went on to say that major construction projects, like the one in Seattle, can impact and alter the behavior of rodent and pest populations.
“If rodents have a nest below the sidewalk or next to the foundation of a building, and it physically vibrates or collapses, they will evacuate and seek out new harborages,” says Corrigan. “We call that a ‘direct hit’ on the burrow.”
Where exactly the dislodged rodents will go is anyone’s guess, says Corrigan, but rodents typically head up to ground level in search of a new home. This often leads these pests to probe the defenses of nearby buildings and find a way inside.
Corrigan says the key element in the rodent and construction saga is sewers, a favorite harborage location for generations of urban-dwelling rodents, primarily Norway rats. If the sewer is 75 years or older (as is the case in many major U.S cities) it is likely constructed of bricks, and as they fall out over time, rodents move in and burrow in the exposed dirt where the brick once held fast.
“Most major construction projects that involve tunneling or deep digging intersect sewer lines at some point,” says Corrigan. “When this happens rats will run down the sewers in search of a safer, quieter place to live. They will do anything to survive and this is when they pose the biggest threat.”
Be Prepared. It is this migration of desperate rodents that Treleven and his colleagues at Sprague Pest Solutions, a Tacoma-based pest management service provider now entering its fourth generation, are trying to prevent for business owners in the path of the tunnel project.
Sprague sent letters to business owners and property managers in the “rodent impact zone” alerting them to the potential rodent problem. Treleven says the letter’s message caught most recipients by surprise and that they were not aware of the potential for increased rodent activity as a result of the tunnel project.
“Customers in the area have dealt with rodents before but they did not anticipate the Highway 99 project potentially increasing the odds of rodents entering their buildings,” says Treleven.
Sprague’s message to business owners and property managers was to take proactive steps to physically exclude rodents before the tunnel digging gets underway.
“We explained it is easier to take preventative steps now rather than have to deal with rodents once they get inside the building,” says Treleven.
The company added capacity to its Seattle service center, armed its technicians with an expanded arsenal of exclusion materials, and provided additional training on new techniques on how best to exclude rodents from structures.
Sprague also added a page to its website (www.spraguepest.com/seattletunnel) dedicated solely to the Highway 99 project offering rodent prevention tips and encouraging customers to follow the latest adventures of Sven The Norway Rat on Twitter @ratpocalypse.
Proactive Control. Rodent expert Corrigan says that a proactive approach is the way to go.
“Regardless of what stirred up the rodents, it is best to error on the side of prevention,” says Corrigan. “Focusing on physical exclusion, baiting and trapping inside and out, and starting service before construction season gets into full swing are the keys to reducing rodent infestations.”
And while not every city has a tunnel project burrowing underneath its streets and sidewalks, Corrigan says it is important for pest management professionals to be preemptive in offering solutions.
“I want my pest management professional to tell me, ‘My surveillance is heightened and I will be vigilant in protecting your business,’” says Corrigan.
As a company with a history dating back to 1945, Modern Pest Services has reinvented itself many times. The most recent and significant change at the Brunswick, Maine-based company is a multi-staged rebranding campaign currently being rolled out.
While such campaigns require a major investment of time, resources and money — and any company that undergoes such a campaign is effectively forcing change — Modern Pest Services Partner and COO Scott Stevenson recognized the company needed a new strategy to continue growing in the competitive and dynamic New England market.
“We continue to be focused on business growth, particularly in Massachusetts, and we needed a marketing partner to help us increase our residential market share,” Stevenson said. “With help from [advertising agency] KHJ Brand Activation, we now have a better understanding of our target audience and how to reach them. There’s more work to do, but we’ve laid the foundation with a new logo, new messaging and some new media strategies.”
Full Steam Ahead. To better understand why Modern decided to undergo a rebranding campaign, it’s important to look at the company’s past, present and future. Modern Pest Services was founded in 1945 by Howard Stevenson, who led the company for nearly 30 years, retiring in 1973, and handing over the reins to son Richard Stevenson. Richard, Sr., also had a 30-plus year run as CEO, before gradually transitioning the company to sons Scott, Douglas and Richard, Jr.
The current Modern leadership has aggressively grown the company, with yearly revenues in excess of $14.9 million. Several factors have contributed to the company’s growth. In recent years Modern has added bed bug services — which includes both electric and propane heat and canine inspection; picked up Copesan business following the Waltham Services acquisition by Rollins (in 2007); expanded its full-time commercial sales staff and senior management team; consolidated its inbound sales team under one room from the company’s individual service centers; and crafted a new Mission Statement: To be the most highly recommended pest management professionals in the nation.
While Modern continues to evolve it is very much a company that sticks to its guiding principles:
- To attract and retain the best team members
- To champion a culture of fairness, trust and accountability
- To treat everyone with dignity and respect
- To communicate openly and effectively
- To inspire a passion for excellence
- To innovate and continuously improve
Unlocking a Market’s Potential. With the aforementioned recent successes, Modern believes it is well-positioned to achieve its Vision, which is “to be the largest pest management firm in New England, in the Northeast, and eventually in the nation.” Fulfilling the first part of this Vision (becoming No. 1 in New England) is Modern’s current focus and is the driver behind the company’s new rebranding campaign.
Modern currently has service centers in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. In evaluating these markets, Modern believed its greatest growth opportunity was eastern Massachusetts (Boston area), where the company has a strong commercial presence but its residential presence needed to become more defined. For that reason, the company recently opened a new service center in Newton, Mass.
About Modern Pest Services
Headquarters: Brunswick, Maine
Yearly revenues: $14.9 million
Year founded: 1945
Key members: Scott Stevenson, president/COO; Richard Stevenson, Jr., partner/CTO; Douglas Stevenson, partner/CFO; Tim Hagelin, operations manager; Keith Hinds, HR manager; Mike Peaslee, technical manager; Magda Darling, QA manager; Katie Gagnon, administrative manager; Andrew Medlen, contact center manager; Rich Gouette, IT manager; and Jack Wholey, sales manager.
History: Modern Pest Services was founded in 1945 by Howard Stevenson who led the company until 1973. He then handed the reins over to son Richard, who has transitioned the business over to his three sons, who serve as executive officers. The company is a leading residential and commercial pest control services provider in New England, with six service centers located throughout Maine, Massachusetts and New Hamphire.
Modern’s executive and senior management team, including Marketing Manager Elaine Gammon, decided it was time for a rebranding campaign to be directed by an advertising agency. “Though partnering with an outside agency comes with a cost, we view our partnership with KHJ as a wise marketing investment and hope to reap the benefits of our new branding and advertising initiatives for years to come,” Gammon said.
After researching and interviewing several agencies Modern chose KHJ because “they not only provide a high level of strategy and branding capabilities, but they also offer expertise in customer profiling, messaging, creative development, media placement and financial analysis,” Gammon said. “Also, we wanted to work with an agency that was located in the area we wanted to target and grow. The team at KHJ is located in Boston and has a good pulse on the opportunities in that area and surrounding neighborhoods.”
What was Learned. An important KHJ involvement was the use of external focus groups. One of the focus groups’ main objectives was to “dig deeper” into the Massachusetts market. Why were customers in Massachusetts different from customers in Maine and New Hampshire? KHJ conducted qualitative research to gain a better understanding of this audience and also learn about their perceptions of Modern Pest Services. Some of their findings included
Customer profile — KHJ’s research found that many Massachusetts homeowners are longtime residents who live in “neighborly” neighborhoods and take pride in their homes (many of which are older and have been refurbished).
Service provider expectations — The customer is looking for a trusted professional that has credibility and can take care of a problem immediately. This credibility can come in the form of a referral from a friend, Angies’ list, another professional (e.g.., a contractor), or any local network.
How they find service providers — In most cases, customers decided to start looking for a service professional once they had a problem, but the emotions expressed behind the immediate need included feeling dirty or that they can’t keep their house clean. Oftentimes, the next step was to ask a few trusted friends for a recommendation, but people didn’t want to openly advertise their problems.
The Modern experience — KHJ also drafted up a report on what it called the “Modern Experience” — how existing Modern customers felt about their experience. A common theme emerged: knowledge leads to trust. The service professionals’ knowledge of pest management and their commitment to effectively communicate what, how and why to customers led to a trusting relationship, one that transcends both general distrust of the profession as well as an unwillingness on the part of these customers to feel “duped.”
Customers were impressed that Modern service professionals were knowledgeable about pests and how to control them. Actual focus group comments included:
“She was all business, and she would tell me about all of the bugs. You could tell she was knowledgeable.”
“The service man was very knowledgeable and courteous.”
Customers also appreciated the time their service professional took to show and explain what was going on; what he/she was going to do to take care of the situation; and what could be done to prevent it from happening again. Comments included:
“He explained everything that they were doing.”
“He explained why he put certain traps where.”
A Plan Emerges. Using this market research and feedback, KHJ and Modern determined that its rebranding effort would focus on highlighting one of Modern’s greatest assets, its service professionals, and launched the “Heroes” campaign.
Out with the old….in with the new
As part of Modern’s rebranding campaign the company completely did away with its old logo (left). The old logo, while recognizable, had become outdated. In fact one of the comments from the KHJ focus group members was, “It looks like clip art.” The new logo (bottom) is a clean, professional and sophisticated design with a new color scheme. It is definitely a “modernized” version.
“The idea is a fresh, new approach to represent our service pros as heroes — highlighting their passion and commitment to getting the job done right and taking care of our client’s pest management needs,” said Gammon.
The vision brought to life was a series of ads featuring photos of Modern service professionals next to messages such as “We Don’t Kill Bugs We Escort Them to an Undisclosed Location.” and “If There’s Anything Worse Than a Termite, it’s a Termite That Feels Entitled.” The ads are appearing digitally (as landing pages and digital banners) and in print (as posters, print ads and marketing materials). Modern also has created a series of “Hero” radio spots.
Also included on the ads is the company’s newly designed logo. As Gammon noted, from a visual standpoint, the foundation of a successful brand starts with a strong identity, an icon that is recognizable, memorable and distinctive. KHJ’s creative director developed a new logo with input from some of the Modern team (see related story, above). The end result is a clean, professional logo that represents a bug with wings on each side. It also incorporates a slightly updated color scheme.
As explained by the creative director, the new logo is modern and sophisticated to capture Modern’s higher level of service. The beauty of the design is that it works on a number of different levels. The white space between the blue “wings” and red “body” forms the letter “M,” emphasizing the M in the company name. The blue wings also look like a cape, reflecting the new “heroes” positioning and the blue elements can also be seen as water droplets — a nice link to the company’s green approach. The logo is slowly being added to Modern’s vehicle fleet.
The new Modern branding campaign was rolled out this past spring, beginning with a “hyper local” launch in Newton, Mass., and surrounding areas, but Gammon says the company is gradually integrating it company-wide and will expand its reach next spring.
Gammon said Modern is consistently busy throughout the spring/summer, so this fall should provide the company with a better opportunity to gauge results of the new campaign. Gammon is optimistic the hard work on this collaborative effort will pay off, adding “With sophistication and a bit of fun, this campaign is designed to support the growth of our residential market in Massachusetts and help set us apart from the competition.”
The author is Internet editor and managing editor of PCT magazine and can be contacted via email at email@example.com.
A guy sits down for a technician job opening at your firm and you can’t take your eyes off of his neck and hands. He’s got ink — tattoos in places that can’t be covered by your company’s long-sleeved uniform. Your first thought: What will the old people think?! (You know, the sweet woman who has been buying your services for the last 30 years...) Not to mention commercial clients — will this go over at their headquarters? You’re also wondering: Will I get in trouble if I ask my technician to cover that tat?
Mike Masterson, president at ISOTECH Pest Management in Covina, Calif., has been on the employer side of this scenario. He has interviewed candidates with extensive body art that extends from a “sleeve” of tattoos onto the hand. Usually, he doesn’t have to say a word. “They might say, ‘If I can save up enough money, I can get rid of these,’” he says. Or, they offer to hide the tattoos “this far.” “I’ll wear gloves,” they offer.
Masterson has no problem with that. His formal dress code policy includes a section on body art (and piercings). His commercial client base expects utmost professionalism. “I can’t stop employees from getting tattoos — it’s their choice, but [the body art] can’t be exposed,” he says.
There’s a “face” to your business — an image. And if ink isn’t part of that, then an employer has a right to require that tattoos remain covered. The key is to draft a fair policy (no discrimination based on gender, religion, etc.), and to apply the policy properly.
“Tattoos are a topic that are heavily debated, and it is still customary in the pest control industry for companies to prohibit employees from having visible body art,” says Jean Seawright of Seawright & Associates, a human resources practice in Winter Park, Fla.
In fact, tattoos are really quite common. A Pew Research Study indicates that 36 percent of 18- to 25-year olds and 40 percent of 26- to 40-year-olds have at least one tattoo. And as Baby Boomers continue retiring, Seawright says that 50 percent of the workforce will be comprised of Generation Y — the Millenials with birthdates from the 1980s to 2000s. “When the majority of the workers are younger, (tattoos become) more acceptable,” Seawright says. “So, I anticipate we’ll see a shift in that direction and more employers will relax their ‘no visible tattoos’ policies.”
Going Under Cover. “Personally, I think of bumper stickers and tattoos the same way,” says Terry Clark, president of Clark Pest Control based in Lodi, Calif. His company emphasizes a neat appearance in all respects, from the truck to an employee’s haircut and shaven face. Ponytails are allowed; bumper stickers are not, football bumper stickers especially — an “outward sign of preference” that could certainly offend.
“We try to maintain a clean appearance of both vehicles and employees without outward signs of any preference so as not to offend,” Clark says. Is it tougher for a salesperson to close a deal if he or she is bearing visible tattoos? That’s debatable. “Some employees might find it harder to make sales to some people if tattoos are showing, but we don’t stop them from having them,” Clark says.
Clark, personally, doesn’t have a problem with tattoos, adding that one of the company’s most beloved technicians who retired last year has military tattoos covering both arms that he got while serving in Vietnam. “But with his sleeves buttoned up, you would not know,” Clark says.
There isn’t a formal tattoo policy at Clark Pest Control. “Our branch managers hire the people they feel would be best for the job,” Clark says. And since the company requires that technicians wear long-sleeved shirts, the tattoo “issue” is only a real problem if the ink is front and center — “facial tattoos, I guess,” Clark says. But he has never run into that in his business. “Obviously, gang or prison tattoos would be a problem, but the background check weeds out those folks early in the process, generally.”
General hygiene policies and dress codes can serve the purpose of sending that neat-and-clean message to employees and prospective workers without spelling out “no tattoos” in ink. On the other hand, if a company takes a strong stand against visible body art, a clause in the employee handbook better state this clearly.
“A high standard of personal hygiene should be followed because technicians have personal contact with customers several times a day,” says Critter Control’s Kevin Clark, referencing cleanliness (including showering before work). Critter Control’s hygiene policy addresses hair (short, clean and combed, off the collar), facial hair (clean shaven preferred or neatly trimmed facial hair). “The Critter Control franchises set specific office guidelines on hair and shaving criteria,” Kevin Clark says. Tattoo policies are up to individual offices, as well. And to Kevin Clark’s knowledge, none of the franchises have run into any problems with body art that have warranted drafting a specific policy.
An informal “cover the ink” rule also applies at Palmetto Exterminators in Charleston, S.C., where Bert Snyder is vice president. “Most of our 100-plus employees do not have any or have tattoos in locations that are discreet and easily covered by our standard uniform,” Snyder says, adding that a few employees voluntarily wear long sleeves to cover their body art. “They understand that we have no control over how a customer may react to a visible tattoo, so they take it upon themselves to do what is best for the company’s image without my asking.”
Snyder says he won’t put a formal tattoo policy in place unless he runs into a big problem — and he personally feels that what people want on their bodies is up to them. “I believe most of my customers feel the same way about the issue.”
Accepting Self-Expression. But what does the business world think of tattoos, really? Are we loosening up as the workforce grows younger and more employees are likely to have ink? Maybe not, according to a Salary.com survey of 2,675 people. Seventy-six percent of respondents felt tattoos and piercings hurt an applicant’s chances of being hired during a job interview. And more than one-third — 39 percent of those surveyed — say they believe employees with tattoos and piercings reflect poorly on their employers.
Masterson says he has had employees with tattoos on their necks and hands who assure him they are saving money to remove the tattoos. They’ll wear gloves in the interim or do their best to cover the tattoos. (He does not require they remove the tattoos — the workers offer.)
But Masterson says he sees tattoos in professional environments all the time these days, especially in California where his business is based. “I was at a medical facility and the gentleman who is the maintenance manager had so many tattoos you couldn’t see his arms,” Masterson says. “Here is a gentleman who is running a huge medical facility and the company evidently doesn’t mind that he has all of these tattoos. But you have to remember, this is accepted as a norm in California.”
How does the pest control industry rank in terms of acceptance of tattoos? “When I think of the industry meetings I attend, I would say that it is a very strong minority of people who have visible tattoos,” says Andy Architect, executive director, National Pest Management Association’s QualityPro program.
And, many companies’ dress code policies set a precedent for appearance and professionalism — tattoos are sort of a gray area, Architect says. More companies have a no-smoking policy as opposed to a formal tattoo policy, he says.
But the fact is, technicians are entering homes and businesses, and customers’ impressions matter. Customers come in all ages and with varying opinions of self expression like tattoos.
Seawright says she has dealt with business owners who have fielded customer complaints about tattoos and want to know how to handle those situations. Or, the company does not allow visible tattoos and an employee refuses to cover his or her body art. “Tattoos are the most common dress-code related issue,” she says.
In one case, an employee threatened to sue his employer after he refused to conceal a visible tattoo (there was a company policy requiring that body art be covered). “The company applied the policy evenly among all the different groups of employees, there was no law prohibiting them from requiring that tattoos be covered, and the employee who was threatening the lawsuit did not have any religious ground or basis for wearing the tattoo,” Seawright says. “So, for that employer, there was not any risk and nothing ever did come of it (the threatened lawsuit).”
Get it in Ink. If you’re going to require employees to cover their body art, be smart about the way you craft your policy. First, understand Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which is the federal law that prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on religions and other protected classes. “Under this law, an employer has to accommodate the religious needs of employees unless it creates an undue hardship,” Seawright says.
For example, Seawright shares a case from 2005 where the employee was of Egyptian faith and had a tattoo around his wrist that contained a verse from Egyptian scripture. It symbolized dedication to his belief and, according to his religious beliefs, it was a sin to conceal it. The employer wanted the tattoo to be covered and was sued. The case settled for $150,000.
Another important point when enacting a tattoo policy: Be sure you apply it fairly across all groups of employees. You can prohibit employees from having visible body art. And it is customary in the pest control industry to require employees to keep body art covered, Seawright says. And if you prohibit visible tattoos across the board, be careful with exceptions. “For example, you should not require a male technician with a big tattoo on his arm to cover his body art, but not a female technician with a visible tattoo,” she says. “This could result in inadvertent discrimination.”
And, if you decide to implement a policy and there are employees on board who have visible tattoos, you must decide whether you will “grandfather in” these employees and allow their tattoos, or require that they abide by the new policy.
What language might you include in an employee manual? Here’s a primer from Seawright: Visible and offensive tattoos, clothing and piercings are not permitted. “People can wear T-shirts that are just as offensive as a tattoo,” she points out.
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How does a pest control business not only survive, but continue to thrive, for 75 years in an industry where change is the only constant?
The answer for Truly Nolen, which turned 75 this year, is that the company has always made people — including its employees and its customers — priority No. 1.
“Having a third generation own a company is uncommon, but a lot depends on how each generation looks at it: Is it a burden or an opportunity?” said Scott Nolen, president of Truly Nolen. “We’ve looked at it as an opportunity to serve. Yes, we serve our customers but we also serve our employees. To have a company of our size still have what I believe is a family feel, it is quite an accomplishment.”
In 2012, Truly Nolen of America grossed more than $100 million in revenues. Additionally, the company’s international franchise business, Truly Nolen International, has 170 franchises in 58 countries.
A Look Back. Truly Nolen is known as one of the industry’s most colorful companies, but its history started in the bleakest of times — the Great Depression. In 1938, Truly Wheatfield Nolen, a cotton picker from Mississippi with a sixth-grade education and a tireless work ethic, founded the company as part of a home improvement store in Miami, Fla.
Truly Wheatfield Nolen was 60 at the time and had lost everything during the Great Depression. One thing he did have was a reputation for solving the pest problems of customers who came into his store. So, with only $500, but an entrepreneurial spirit, he took a leap of faith. The early years were challenging, but the business soon developed a reputation for quality service. Post WWII saw the company grow as Truly Nolen handled some large fumigation jobs and the company was one of the first to use sulfuryl fluoride.
One of Truly Wheatfield Nolen’s sons to enter the business was Truly David Nolen; however, working for his father proved trying. In a 1999 interview with PCT, Truly David Nolen recalled, “Like most entrepreneurs my father was a workaholic. As a result, he was hard on everybody, particularly his sons. None of us lasted long.”
Truly David Nolen worked on and off for his dad growing up and into early adulthood, but he followed his own path, which took him to Western Industries in New Jersey. Truly David Nolen soon caught the entrepreneurial bug after reading an article in National Geographic about subterranean termites. In 1955, with little more than $5,000 and a dream, Truly David Nolen loaded up his wife and two children and moved West, to Tucson, Ariz.
Within a year, Truly David Nolen opened his first office and began turning a profit thanks, in part, to a housing boom in Tucson. During the next 11 years, he expanded the business into California, Texas and New Mexico.
An important milestone for the company occurred in 1966 when Truly David Nolen bought the elder Nolen’s business, which was based in Miami. (The company then began operating as Truly Nolen of America.) That market was rife with opportunity as the 1960s was a time when many Northerners began flocking to the “Sunshine State.”
Family Matters. As the company grew during Truly David Nolen’s tenure, he brought on board sons Scott and Truly William (“Bill”), and later daughter Michelle (Nolen) Senner. Today, Scott serves as president of Truly Nolen and Michelle is director of marketing and advertising.
Scott Nolen says shared values among family members have helped the company integrate newer generations into the business. “An example is my youngest sister Scarlett (age 26) who has a degree and background in psychology. I said, ‘You know the company is a great venue for you to express yourself and serve — to develop others — and when she saw this ability to serve inside the company it gave her great interest and passion to fulfill the next generation of this company.”
Another example is Scott’s son, Scott Truly Nolen (age 28), who was pursuing an engineering degree before joining the company. He now runs a route.
“We never make anyone join the business — it's all voluntary. The way my father explained it to me is, ‘You get a salary whether you work or not. When you come to work, you have to do so because you want to be here.’ And I thought that was pretty wise.”
Scott Nolen said that Truly Nolen — like all family-run businesses — has its ups and downs, but the key to making it work is thinking long-term. “Anytime a decision is made with a family member it is hard to undo,” he said. “You have to set the expectation that nothing is permanent — things are going to change. And we like to move people around to keep things fresh and fluid.”
Michelle Senner added that in her experience the challenges and rewards of working in a family business often are two sides of the same coin. “Knowing and differentiating the personal from the business can be difficult,” Senner said. “I work hard so our people always feel comfortable working with me and giving me real quality feedback; I worry they may not approach me because I am part of the family.”
Truly Nolen Marketing: Fun, Creative and Successful
Michelle Senner: I came to Truly Nolen to replace our computer system. It was only supposed to be a three-year gig; I had a background in consulting and it seemed like a great opportunity to help out the family. After the successful implementation of our new system I stayed on board because I saw the value I could bring, loved working with the people here and learned we’re not in the “bug business” – we’re in the people business.
MS: Truly Nolen really had a knack for recognizing the power of creative marketing and he developed a great base for it and encouraged everyone to keep feeding that out-of-the box thinking. Our philosophy is to really own, build and evolve our brand and to do smart marketing and advertising. Being true to ourselves has to be at that core.
MS: “Nite Nite Termite” is a sentimental favorite. I grew up with it and love seeing it on our trucks and termite brochure. I keep a lot of “oldies” and incorporate them into what we still do, but everything evolves. The “Good Citizens. Ruthless Exterminators” campaign yielded a great response from our people. We expanded our Good Citizen program and have all our branches participate in a company-wide “Good Citizen Week” every quarter in addition to all our community events we already do. We launched “Get TRULY Protected” this year and it continues to grow and expand and we anticipate it to have a long shelf life.
MS: Absolutely! We track just about everything we do and measure what works where – there is no “one size fits all” so we have to be very smart about our marketing plans and be willing and able to change them when something isn’t working. We now develop different programs for different markets and have to consider our franchisees so that we can best support them. We also have to recognize how consumers select their pest control company keeps changing so being changeable is vital.
MS: Our creative was always strong and fun; we work to stay true to that while expanding our advertising. The marketing mix changes with all the options out there – both in traditional and new media. We track everything we do and build flexible programs so we make adjustments based on the feedback we get from the numbers and the field. Technology continues to facilitate that with both the tracking component as well as the developments in online and mobile advertising options.
MS: We are most excited about how closely we’re working with the operations team on strategic marketing decisions and developing our advertising packages with each individual market in mind. I am thrilled to announce that we’ll be adding a mouse bus in addition to our growing fleet of mouse car limos!
Growth Engines. In addition to family matters, what is Truly Nolen’s secret to success? Scott Nolen said what drives the company is something tangible (innovation) and something intangible (company culture).
Truly Nolen has a track record of doing things its own way, including the development and implementation of innovative services. For example, in the 1990s the company introduced Tru-Guard, a tentless fumigation treatment for drywood termites.
Another example of innovation is that the company was an early adopter to the “green movement” and was one of the first companies in the pest control industry to offer an “environmentally friendly” program for its customers.
“We’ve developed some really creative services — ways of applying products and solving problems that are really innovative and our people take a lot of pride in doing what others can’t,” said Scott Nolen.
Truly Nolen also was one of the first companies in the pest control industry to franchise internationally (see related story, page 36) and the company has been successful franchising domestically.
“It gives us the largest footprint of any pest control company in the world,” said Nolen. “Other pest control companies have [expanded globally] but those are mostly company-owned stores. I think they are at a bit of a disadvantage because of cultural differences and local politics. We’ve found that franchising is a good way to go about [expanding globally]. Of the 170 franchises Jose has opened only five have failed.”
“We knew that the world is a very big market and it costs a lot of money to advertise. Franchising is a great way to help get your name out there and expand and make your advertising dollar go farther,” said Scott Nolen.
Innovative marketing is definitely a Truly Nolen trademark (see related Q&A, table above) and perhaps the firm’s best example is its trademark Mousecars — the yellow Volkswagen bugs that have been redesigned/retrofitted as Mousecars. The germ of the idea for the cars came to Truly David Nolen during the company’s westward expansion in the 1960s. The Mousecars were originally red, so the company made them look like an ant. From there, the company added big ears and a thin tail and made it into a mouse. Throughout the years, they have added eyebrows and the other features.
The other important factor in the company’s growth, Nolen said, is harder to measure — pride in company culture. “If you don’t have the right culture in place it is difficult to grow,” Nolen said. “I define culture as the things that people feel and talk about at work — and it’s not always about what’s going on at the company. It might be what they are doing in their personal lives. I think we’ve been successful at creating a culture where people want to belong, want to be involved and want to see the company grow.”
One way new hires learn about Truly Nolen’s innovative services, as well as the company culture, is by taking training courses. The company has invested heavily in training. In 2005, Truly Nolen opened Truly University, a $5 million, 14,000-square-foot training center in Orlando. A couple years later the company opened its second Truly University, this one located in Phoenix, Ariz.
Truly Today. Prior to the 75-year milestone, Truly Nolen of America hit a major mark in 2012 when it recorded $100 million in revenues.
Looking ahead, Scott Nolen said the company still has room for growth. Internationally, Brazil is “growing through the roof” and Nolen said African markets such as South Africa, Mozambique and Kenya, are growing at impressive rates.
Domestically, the growth focus is heavily organic. “The focus remains continuous double-digit growth and so we are going to be examining and fine-tuning our processes and I think we’ll be able to achieve that,” he said.
The author is Internet editor and managing editor of PCT and can be contacted at email@example.com.