A Family Recipe for Double-Digit Growth

Cover Story: Top 100 - Cover Story: Top 100

Arrow Exterminators says people are the reason the company can sustain its revenue track record.

May 14, 2020

“A good recipe never goes out of style,” says Kevin Burns, chief development officer at Arrow Exterminators, which grew 13 percent over last year and is No. 6 on the PCT Top 100 list, posting $253 million in revenue last year. The firm has grown by double digits since the economic downturn in 2008.

Hire great people, train them well and get out of their way. That’s the secret sauce, and “we aren’t much about making changes every year,” says CEO Emily Thomas Kendrick.

“The other key to growth has been our family culture, which has been in existence since 1964,” Burns said, adding that loyal team members who “do the right thing” drive referrals from existing customers and encourage renewals — which introduces another key ingredient: recurring revenue.

Of course, most service industry businesses know the power of customers buying services year after year. Recurring revenue is healthy for the balance sheet and a foundation upon which to grow new business. But accomplishing it can be a challenge in a tight labor market. So, Arrow is intently focused on team member retention, with dedicated human resources personnel focused on the issue. The company asks its own people: “What has been great about the experience, what has been good, and what has been not-so-good?” says Chief Human Resources Officer Shay Runion.

These interviews form the onboarding process for future employees. “We know the first day of employment is a pretty big day for folks,” Runion says. So, Arrow makes that day special, and every office rolls out the red carpet differently. Mostly, it’s about the little things. “We may have a first-day cake or take them out to lunch, put their name on the door with ‘welcome.’”

Internally, employees immediately feel the love — and the idea is, they pass this type of caring on to customers. Externally, Arrow has grown its residential and Sentricon services over the past decade, which is a big contributor to the firm’s growth, COO Tim Pollard says. Its top recurring services are residential and commercial pest control, termite and mosquito services. Meanwhile, Arrow’s focus on organic growth is coupled with a robust mergers and acquisitions approach. “We tend to get 2 to 3 percent of our growth through mergers and acquisitions, and we don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future,” Burns notes. “We’ll continue to focus on recurring services and pay specific attention to areas where customers need and want us, and that includes home services.”

The Arrow teams celebrates being named the “Top Workplace in Atlanta” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Is there such a thing as growing too fast? Setting a double-digit pace annually for 10 years is one thing for a smaller business. But for an organization the size of Arrow, with 2,500 employees across the country, is there a point where it just can’t happen?

“We are blessed this year to be growing at the highest rate in a decade, and I can say that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which I think we will see some tick down, but we have been above 14 percent growth this year,” Pollard says.

Staying at that threshold is a challenge. “People, training — all the things you have to do really well to run a great company — become difficult when you are growing quickly,” Kendrick says, returning to culture as the reason Arrow can fill the deck with a solid hand of employees.

“My office is three doors down from Joe and Emily Thomas — the family that has had the business since 1964, so I’m lucky to know exactly how they want our folks to treat customers, and how they want our own team members to be treated,” Burns said.

“We treat each other like brothers and sisters. We laugh and we have fun,” he says. And, timely given the current public health crisis, he adds, “In times of need, we are there to comfort as any big family would.” — Kristen Hampshire