After 75 years in business, the leaders of J.C. Ehrlich Co., in Reading, Pa., knew they had to commemorate the year in a special, meaningful way. After all, the pest control firm has been run by the same family for its entire history. And its guiding principles of initiative, ingenuity and exceeding customer expectations, are as evident today as they’ve ever been.
Julius C. Ehrlich, the company’s founder, displayed those admirable qualities when he founded the company back in 1928. The salesman of insecticides and fogging equipment established his service business after one of his customers, a department store, needed assistance applying materials he had sold them. Ehrlich volunteered to do the work himself and in doing so created the company that bears his name.
Ehrlich’s great grandsons, Victor Hammel, president; and Bobby Hammel, regional manager, own and manage the company today. One of their core values has been a legendary dedication to employees — or coworkers, as they are called. The strategy has paid off. Ehrlich’s close to 1,100 employees now serve six Mid-Atlantic states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia; and the District of Columbia. The company — which ranks as the fourth largest pest management company in PCT’s Top 100 list — offers pest and termite control, as well as industrial vegetation management and bio-remediation, to commercial and residential customers.
MARKING A MILESTONE. As J.C. Ehrlich Co. approached its 75th year in business, the question of how best to commemorate the event was frequently discussed. At the company’s 25th and 50th anniversaries, all coworkers and their spouses were invited to the company’s headquarters in Reading, Pa., for gala celebrations. And so late in the summer of 2002, an anniversary committee began exploring some options for the 75th.
At the company’s 50th celebration, there were about 400 coworkers. Twenty-five years later, the number of coworkers had grown to more than 1,000 throughout seven states. The challenge facing the committee was to find a way to make the celebration meaningful to those coworkers. Bringing coworkers and their spouses to Reading for a celebration would certainly be exciting. But was it the best way to mark this milestone?
A survey was sent to each of Ehrlich’s 39 offices asking that question. While many wanted to come to Reading, slightly more wanted to do something locally. John Tercha, Ehrlich’s vice president, suggested perhaps the most meaningful way to celebrate would be to do something for the communities that have helped the company grow over the years.
So, the company suggested that each of their offices do just that. Every office was encouraged to select a local charity they wanted to help. The company would close its office on a day of their choice, while continuing to be paid, and the Ehrlich coworkers would donate their services as a group.
"We tried to make the 75th anniversary meaningful," said President Victor Hammel. "It’s not one event but rather that each of our offices would show their gratitude to the communities in which they work and which have been so supportive to us over these 75 years."
SERVING THE COMMUNITY. The Community Service Day Project was officially kicked off in January and the response has been overwhelming. District office teams have helped at hospital fundraisers, worked in soup kitchens, dyed Easter Eggs, delivered food for Meals on Wheels, cleaned parks, spent time at elder care facilities, worked in zoos and donated pest control services to museums, among many other projects. In the end, the Project represents approximately 8,000 hours that Ehrlich coworkers have donated to the community.
The benefits of this program have been enormous. "Intrinsically, we knew that there would be some benefit from our coworkers participating in community service," said Tercha. "But it has far exceeded our expectations. People have really been enthusiastic about it."
According to Tercha, one of the biggest benefits has been the spirit of teamwork and camaraderie it has fostered among coworkers in a given office. "Putting up tents in a Girl Scout Camp gave our people a new way to interact and to get to know each other. Everyone feels good about what they have accomplished for their community."
There also have been external benefits. Goodwill in the community has certainly been one of the key outcomes. The projects have generated some positive publicity in the communities. "Although the spirit of the Community Service Day is not self promotional, several local newspapers have run nice stories and photos about the work our coworkers did," said Tercha. "That’s made us feel even more proud."
Lynn Hill, Ehrlich district manager in Williamsport, Pa., said that he agrees the project was worthwhile. His coworkers donated time to clean a not-for-profit airplane museum. "The museum has limited resources, both financial and people wise. They were so grateful for our help. We cleaned spider webs, washed windows and dusted displays. It was really quite an experience, especially because of the location. Working together outside the office was a lot of fun."
Hagerstown Office Manager Karen Drew said that her coworkers were so enthusiastic that they want to do more community service. "We had such a great time, both our people and senior citizens at the centers," she said. "It’s kind of unnerving when you go into an environment where you don’t know exactly what to expect, but we had such a great time playing cards and making crafts with these folks. What I heard throughout our district was coworkers asking if we could do a community service day every year."
And for some Ehrlich offices, that might well be the case. The program was so successful, the company has decided to let each district office consider whether to continue it in the future.
J.C. Ehrlich’s Community Service Days Projects
Below are just a few of the projects completed by Ehrlich district offices in honor of the company’s 75th anniversary. All together, the projects represent 8,000 hours that co-workers have donated to their local communities.
• Worked at soup kitchens and thrift shops
• Cleaned and landscaped local parks
• Cleaned highways, zoos and museums
• Worked on Habitat for Humanity homes
• Delivered Meals on Wheels
• Participated in United Way and other fundraisers
• Assisted senior citizens and visited nursing homes
• Planted flowers in downtown areas