Convention Conversation: Dennis Jenkins

Convention Extra - Convention Q&A

NPMA’s new president, ABC Home & Commercial Services (DFW) President Dennis Jenkins, talks about recent association developments.

October 5, 2018

When PCT first tried to sit down with Dennis Jenkins this summer for an interview about his tenure as NPMA president, he was a tough man to pin down. The venue was NPMA Academy and Jenkins was busy roaming from committee meeting to committee meeting to absorb as much in-formation as he could and provide his input whenever appropriate.

“Having the privilege of being NPMA president this year is something I don’t take lightly,” Jenkins said. “I look at it as an opportunity to try to make everybody feel great about what we do.”

Jenkins brings to the NPMA president’s role an interesting perspective as his dad, the late Robert Jenkins, served as NPMA president in 1987, and his brothers are also past NPMA presidents — Bobby Jenkins in 2000 and Raleigh Jenkins in 2009.

The Jenkins brothers have all grown up in the in the pest control industry…and within NPMA. They own and operate ABC Services Inc., a multi-faceted corporation that provides pest control, lawn care, handyman, pool construction, maintenance and other services from 11 locations throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Florida. Each brother is responsible for an arm of the business, and their competitive natures have helped spur the separate companies to growth under the ABC Services umbrella.

In 1989, Dennis, a Texas A&M graduate, moved his wife Jennifer and 1-year-old daughter Marsha to Dallas, and set up a pest control business there. Jennifer went back to work at a teaching job to help support the family while Dennis began building the business. Meanwhile, his dad, Robert Jenkins, resigned from Waste Management and invested in Dennis’ new family venture, as he had previously done with sons Bobby in Austin and Raleigh in Houston.

Under Dennis’ leadership ABC has grown into a leading pest control firm in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, approaching $20 million in yearly revenues and employing 186.

Dennis has held numerous leadership positions within NPMA and was part of the association’s inaugural Leadership Development Group (LDG) in the mid-90s.

In addition to professional accomplishments, Dennis and Jennifer recently celebrated their 35th anniversary and he is enjoying watching the next generation of Jenkins' — including son Russell (and his wife Mary Margaret) — join ABC ventures full-time.

In July 2017, Bobby, Raleigh and Dennis Jenkins completed a 3,500 cross-country bike trip to raise funds for two causes close to their hearts. Raleigh road in support of “A Child’s Hope,” a foundation he founded that helps orphans in Haiti. While Raleigh was NPMA president he was a part of an NPMA team that traveled to Haiti in the wake of the catastrophic 2010 earthquake that hit the island. That life-changing experience for Raleigh is what led him to create the “A Child’s Hope” foundation. Bobby Jenkins cycled in honor of his late grandson, Moss Pieratt, who died of Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC). One year after his death, the Pieratt and Jenkins families founded the Moss Pieratt Foundation, which raises SUDC awareness. Dennis rode in support of both of charities.

In the following Q&A, Dennis Jenkins talks about recent developments at ABC and discusses some of his objectives as NPMA president.

PCT magazine: This is the one-year anniversary of your cross-country bike ride. What stands out for you from that experience?

Dennis Jenkins: It was the impact of the ride, the people that we met along the way, and the money that we raised. One of the charities we were riding for was “A Child’s Hope.” Although we didn’t meet any children from Haiti along the way, we remembered them all the time because we talked about them during media interviews.

We actually met with lots of SUDC parents while we were on the ride. A parent who had his child die of SUDC has both the horror of losing their child and the unbelievable aspect of not knowing why the child died. One of the things we learned is how hard it is for SUDC parents to explain it to family and friends. It almost becomes like a suicide situation in which friends and family — especially friends — don’t necessarily know how to be around them. They find that their friends just start to kind of back off a little bit because people just don’t know what to say.

There were several events that we did and then there was one family — Ronny and Stephaney Zarecky — that I will never forget because they drove four and half hours just to have dinner with us and share the story of the daughter they lost in January of that year, Scarlet. Talking with people like that really reminded us why we were doing what we were doing.

We had people open up their wallets and offer to give us cash while we were driving down the road. We went all across the country and we didn’t have anybody that wasn’t nice to us.

PCT: How tough was it physically?

DJ: Well, I outweigh my brothers by probably about 60 pounds. Going uphill I was clearly the one coming up the hill last! That’s okay, we made it. We got all the way across; we made it all the way there. In the end we raised $560,000. It was amazing.

PCT: How else do those two groups raise funds?

DJ: ABC holds the KiteFest every year (featuring various artists, vendors and associated child-friendly activities). As part of that event the Pieratt and Jenkins families decided to stage a concert in Moss’s honor. This past year they held the 3rd annual MossFest.

A Child’s Hope is educating [orphaned]Haitian children in a Christian environment and developing them as leaders for Haiti. The goal is to take them from birth to 18 and educate them so that they will have a positive effect on Haiti through leadership and development. The foundation is fortunate to be receiving ongoing funding — some on a monthly basis — to cover costs. I know Raleigh will have another fundraiser as they get ready to build the next building.

PCT: Could you share with our readers some recent developments at ABC of DFW, either in terms of advertising, best practices, marketing or other areas?

DJ: One of the biggest things we’ve done kind of follows in my brothers’ footsteps in that we are continuing to add different lines of service. For me personally, for a number of years, I was more interested in just sticking to pest control. I remember years ago Bobby started talking about the next line of business he was going to launch. I sat there and I said, “You guys remember when all we did was kill bugs? I loved those days.” I kind of hung on to that kind of concept for a long time.

Dennis, Bobby and Raleigh Jenkins make a 3,500 display signifying the end of their cross-country bike ride of 3,500 miles.

Then we dabbled in a couple of other things and we got scared. It was, “If I’m going to do your lawn fertilization and if you have weeds, and if we burn out your lawn, are you going to fire me for pest control too?” That had been my fear. Now, I look back and I see what Bobby’s done. Bobby now has 17 different lines of services. My average customer uses us for 1.2 services and that includes pest and termite, lawn maintenance and lawn mowing. Bobby’s average customer uses him for an average of four services. What he has found is customers are more “sticky” the more services they use with you. They are likely to forgive you for being late or for a weed being in the yard, or the pest being back. Because they say to themselves, “I don’t want to call and find another electrician, another plumber, another HVAC person, another pest control person, another lawn person.” They just don’t want to go through that hassle. It kind of better ties them into your business.

Looking at that and knowing that Bobby’s customer base is not all that different from mine, we decided to give it a shot. Just this year, we’ve added plumbing, pool and handyman services to our offerings. I expect by the end of the year to seek out and find an HVAC business that we can acquire and fold in as well.

PCT: How do you cross-market to these customers?

DJ: It isn’t taking much to generate business. One thing we’ve done is drop off a plunger in areas we do plumbing services to tell our customers we now offer this service. We found these plungers that we bought for 99 cents a piece — and they are real plungers. We put sticky notes to them that have the ABC logo on it. We attach a $25 off coupon to them using a Cable Zip Tie and our technicians deliver them to the customer. For the pool service we made a cozy that has the pool service info and a coupon on it. We sent mailings out to existing customers informing them that we now offer these services.

People are like, “Yeah, I’m glad you did that too.” Again, we build on the trust they have in us. We are so relational in this business. Those customers who have been with you for a long time, they are willing to give us an opportunity to try something else. It simplifies their life.

Other than that, the changes we've undergone at ABC are with our management structure. I’ve got an incredible senior management team that really enables me to do what I’m trying to do today with NPMA.

PCT: I know the NPMA staff has undergone some changes recently. Can you give us a staff update?

DJ: I love the direction we are going. I think the new leadership folks are really hitting their strides. I think (NPMA CEO) Dominique Stumpf is doing a very good job. I really enjoy working with her. I think her staff has come together in different ways than it had in the past and they are very supportive of each other.

We just lost Andrew Bray (former vice president of public policy), which was a bummer. He was solicited by another industry that recognized his talents, and when somebody makes you a game-changing financial offer, it is hard not to consider that. We are still trying to fill Andrew’s position, but I think NPMA is able to withstand some turnover with Public Policy. You have Jake Plevelich and we’ve seen with the SPAR program how he just takes on a project like that and runs with it. And then you have Jim Fredericks, who has shown that even though his background is that of an “insect guy” he is a smart, funny, personable guy with a good business sense. And he has always done well when representing NPMA on the Hill.

PCT: How is NPMA’s relationship with EPA?

DJ: I think we have a really good working relationship with them. I think we have an openness from the standpoint we don’t feel like they are black or white on every issue that comes up. I think that the years of NPMA Legislative Days have built a strong network of folks across the country that are able to have discussions.

Even with the previous administration, I think we had a good working relationship with EPA and we were able to find some middle ground. When bed bugs came back and when mosquitoes started bringing new diseases, people started being really worried. The focus became more on human health and less on what pesticide is being used or “Let’s ban pesticide X.” I think when people have nothing to fear then they begin to fear things like pesticides. When other things happen that cause them to say, “Wait a minute we can’t have that in our world,” then that becomes a driver of the emotions.

PCT: That goes to my next question. What type of opportunities are there for the pest control industry to shine on the national stage?

DJ: It’s been amazing to see CDC want to partner with NPMA when it comes to public health, and it just speaks to the strides NPMA has made in presenting the industry as partners — and not the opposition. That comes from years and years of not saying “We have to win on every issue,” but instead “Let’s find a middle ground.”

We have built ourselves as a reasonable industry with a job to do and that needs to have the tools to do it. I think the Hill has come to know us as a reasonable industry, so that when issues like Zika arise, we are seen as trusted people to do the work. I think another development that has increased our trust within EPA are concerns about the DIY market. I think they realize that misuse and overuse of pesticides is coming from the homeowner market — professionals are not the ones misusing pesticide.

PCT: How have you witnessed NPMA Academy evolve throughout the years?

DJ: The idea for Academy came from (the late) Linden Griffin when he was NPMA President (1993-1994). It was his idea to develop future leaders for the association. My brother Bobby was head of LDG at the time and I was a part of that inaugural LDG class. Over the years it became a little bit more about developing you and your ability to run a business. I know that a lot of the successes we have had in our business are the result of things we learned at Academy and tried in our business. I think the focus has swung back to somewhere in the middle of those two [objectives]. We are definitely trying to develop folks as leaders for the association. When I leave Academy, I am more energized than after any other meeting. You go back to your business and you’re kind of on fire.

[Editor’s note: In March, NPMA’s Board of Directors voted to accept a large-scale sustainable platform for the future of the association. The former dues structure had been in place for 20 years and a task force determined that restructuring was necessary in order to make the system fair for all members and sustain NPMA into the future. These changes included a new dues classification largely to account for significant growth experienced by very large firms, and to address problems with previously agreed upon large state agreements.]

PCT: The new dues schedule will take effect Jan. 1, 2019, for calendar year renewals and July 1, 2019, for fiscal renewal. Can you tell us how the dues restructuring is being received?

DJ: There is a three-year roll out, which is going to help folks quite a bit. One of the areas it was most broken was dues classification of the largest companies. The original dues structure could only conceive of a $100 million company; now you’ve got companies that are like $1.6 billion. And these companies have been generous — I’m not trying to throw a stone their way because as they acquire companies they’ve agreed to continue to pay those dues. But the most they we’re paying was 2 times what a $100 million company would pay. That was the highest level of anybody. It couldn’t continue to work that way.

The other big area of concern was large state dues. You had three classifications: standard, joint-state and large state. There are four large states (Texas, Illinois, Florida and California). Each one of those states had a different deal. It all came from a time when the goal was to build membership numbers. The feeling at that time was that if we were going to go to Capitol Hill, and we were going to say we represent this industry, that we will get questions back like, “How many people exactly do you represent?” There was a really strong push to see the number of member companies grow. We made deals and some of those deals were flat out not good deals for NPMA. They weren’t good deals back when they were struck and they just got worse and worse over time. I’m in one of those states (Texas). The deals were slightly different from state to state, but they were all basically this: Listen Texas, you pay NPMA a bill of X amount and you get to keep the rest. The amount that they were paying was around the same amount as the top four companies in the state might have paid if they were paying dues directly to NPMA. It was a stupid, sweet deal.

Outgoing NPMA President Bryan Cooksey (left) passes the gavel to new president Dennis Jenkins.

We’ve had discussions with multiple large states, and I believe at this moment most of these large states are at least open to revisiting this and saying, “How do we continue to make this work?”

PCT: Do you have one overarching goal that you want to accomplish during your presidency?

DJ: A long time ago, every NPMA president kind of had a theme, and then at some point it became less of the president’s role to set a theme and it became more about continuing the same progress from the year before — sticking to the course. I wanted to bring back a theme this year. My theme for this year is “impacting lives.” I truly believe that is the crux of what we do. I think we impact lives every single day. Whether you are talking about the number of people we employ and the families that they have (their children and their spouses) — or you talk about the vendors that we work with and how we impact them by how we do business and how we pay bills — we have an impact.

When I think about the food that we eat just about all the stuff — except for what people grow in their gardens — our industry has a hand in protecting at some point. I made up a saying that I shared with our people: “We protect food from grain to train to store to table.”

We protect health. We are fighting mosquitoes. We are fighting bed bugs. We are fighting vectors. We truly do impact life whether it is directly or indirectly, whether the average American recognizes it or not. I think if we, as an industry, truly embrace that I think it brings depth to what we do.

And customers on the residential side will share their lives with us. We go repetitively into their homes and over time, we have a real relationship with those folks. For example, we had a customer who was unmarried when he started with us. His same technician has been with him the entire time, and [the technician] has seen him get married and have two kids. Those are really, really cool stories.

We go into places in the house that nobody goes to. We go into their attic every time we are there. We see things that they need to know about. We find gas leaks, we see plumbing leaks and we see other issues that we bring to their attention.

In our organization, we have faith at ABC. I don’t care how somebody believes but I just look up and believe there is a God and I hope that everybody who works with us kind of feels the same. We don’t force our beliefs on anybody, but I don’t hide them. We’ve had people who have shared about the death of a spouse or a loved one. And we stop and spend time and pray together. Those stories hit you in the heart like nothing else does. It’s an amazing kind of gift that we are giving.

PCT: Your dad was NPMA president and then Bobby and then Raleigh. What is the significance of this position to you?

DJ: For me it is a hell a lot of pressure [says laughing]. No seriously, when I look at this industry and when I think about my life that I have lived in this industry, it has been incredible. It has been an incredible gift and it still is. When I look at being NPMA president, I really want to do it. It’s not that I want to check off a box [of a list of career accomplishments]. It is about having that opportunity to give back to the industry that I love so much. To be able to stand up in front of folks and try to win their hearts over to get them to recognize how much more this industry is than just a job.

The author is Internet/managing editor of PCT.