A Convention Conversation: Ray Johnson

PCT magazine sat down this summer with new NPMA President Ray Johnson of Johnson Pest Control, Sevierville, Tenn. Here he talks about social media, NPMA’s trip to Dubai in May and why a business model with recurring revenue is so important to him.

October 19, 2011

Like many PMPs, Ray Johnson started out small. He began his one-man pest management firm in 1984 from his home, and today the family-owned and operated Sevierville, Tenn., pest management firm has 22 employees and performs pest and termite control, bed bug control and lawn care in nine Tennessee counties.

Family is a huge part of Johnson's life. He and his wife Tammy have twin daughters, Lori and Lindsey, age 23, and a son, Grant, age 21, who has cerebral palsy.

"It's hard for Grant to talk but he has no problem communicating," Johnson says. And with new technology ("I'm a huge Apple fan," he says), Grant has been able to converse even more easily using an app on the Apple iPad. For example, he is learning how to click commands or statements such as "I want," etc., and then key in whatever he needs, whether it's a drink, help with something or just to see his parents.

In addition, the Johnson family includes two young grandchildren, Sawyer, 2, and Rayleigh Beth, 3 months, who is the namesake of her "Pop" Ray. Lindsey's husband, Josh, has worked in the family business for five years and is the termite manager.

Johnson plays guitar and says he takes a few minutes every day to relax and play some music. "It's soothing to the soul," he said. "All of us love music." He considered majoring in music in college, but ended up in the pest control industry because he had a lot of friends who are starving musicians. "The great thing about my job is I have a business with a recurring revenue model so I can enjoy my music as a hobby," he said. "I don't have to rely on it as a source of income."

In 2004, Johnson Pest Control was the first company in Tennessee to earn NPMA's QualityPro certification. "It's been a great journey," Johnson said about his career in the pest management industry. "I'm very honored to be serving our industry's association at the level that I have and I don't take that very lightly. I want to serve admirably and be a good servant to the industry."

PCT Editor Jodi Dorsch recently interviewed Johnson to gain more of his insights. Here's what he had to say.

How did you get into the pest management industry?

Lunch with A Side of PR

A huge Apple fan, Ray Johnson has his iPhone and iPad with him all the time. And he doesn’t just carry them around — he uses them.

Johnson recently bumped into a Johnson Pest Control customer while out to lunch. She had recently had her home treated for mosquitoes so Johnson asked her if he could record a video of her singing the treatment’s praises. He recorded the 28-second interview with his iPhone and then posted to the company’s website and Facebook pages. “We got calls on her testimonial,” Johnson said. “People called and said, ‘Tell me about this mosquito service.’”

To see the video Johnson shot, visit www.johnsonpestcontrol.com and click on “video testimonials” on the right-hand side. Look for the Linda Ogle testimonial.

Tammy and I were getting married in September 1979. I saw an ad in the paper for Orkin that said they were hiring for $10,000 a year. Well guess what? I needed that $10,000 and I needed a job. I applied and got the job. I worked at Orkin twice for a total of three years.

I started my business, Johnson Pest Control, in the spring of 1984. I started it one customer at a time. I would go out and get one customer with a lot of shoe leather, knocking on doors and calling on people. I would ask for referrals and I was very good at getting business via referrals. I started the business with absolutely no money. In fact, I was dead broke. I went to Rent-A-Center to rent a typewriter to type out my invoices to send bills out. I paid so many dollars a week for it until it was paid off. I think I still have that old typewriter.

I always had a sense that I was going to own my own business. When I was growing up I mowed yards and I had over 40 yards that I mowed every year in my neighborhood in Madisonville, Tenn. I also worked at a local grocery store bagging groceries. Additionally, we had a small farm and I hauled hay.

How did you get involved with NPMA?

Early on in my career, I recognized the value of networking and continuing education and as a result I joined NPMA, TPCA and ETPCA. I was fortunate to be mentored by a group of men who are veterans of this industry through these associations. Then, about 15 years ago when NPMA Executive Vice President Rob Lederer came on, TPCA became a joint state with NPMA. I was past president of the TPCA and I was past president of the East Tennessee Pest Control Association, which is a small association and part of the Tennessee Pest Control Association. I was a servant and leader in both associations and then someone recommended that I run for the NPMA Board of Directors. I said, "sure, that would be fine." Luckily I got voted on the Board of Directors and served there for a couple of years. Then they asked if I'd run for secretary. I was very shocked at being where I am today. But I'm very humbled by it as well.

How did being a part of those associations help you and your business?

I learned from those organizations that we are a professional industry. Years ago, our industry wasn't thought of how we are now. But we really have raised the bar in the pest management industry in the last 30 years. We need to continue to raise the bar because we are a very professional industry and that's what people demand.

What role do you think social media will play in the pest management industry?

Facebook and Twitter — they're in real time. They're immediate. People can dialogue back and forth even as we sit here right now. It's paperless and it's the green way to do things. It doesn't cost anything and it's pretty easy to get set up. I'm hoping that social media will help me as a business owner to reduce my cost of TV, radio, newspaper advertising and Yellow Pages advertising. We're experimenting and learning, and I hope the implications of how they change the bottom line might be in direct correlation to how good our Facebook page is. We update our Facebook and Twitter presence on a regular basis. We try to keep it interesting by sharing interesting topics on Facebook. I think social media will help us with our brand and loyalty.

How has the economy been in your part of the country and how have you adapted?

Last year, we had about 9 percent growth and the year before that we were up 4 to 5 percent. This year we have seen around a 7 percent increase thus far. On the surface, this is promising, but I would have to be honest and say my expenses have cut into my profits. With the cost of gasoline over $1 more per gallon than this time last year, the increase in revenue was a much welcomed blessing to keep us on an even keel. Even though we have been in a down economy, my business has fared well. If you ask other PMPs, I believe you will find the pest control industry has weathered this economic storm better than other industries. People don't want to live with pests. They don't want to live with fleas, cockroaches in the kitchen, mosquitoes in the backyard and termites in their house. We have a great industry that is a needed service.

The best thing about our industry is it's built on the recurring revenue model. I can't stress that enough. If I go to the hardware store and buy a hammer, am I going to need another hammer next month or next year? I look at doctors and lawyers and I wouldn't have their job for anything. They may have recurring revenue but they are called on at 3 a.m. Recurring revenue is what feeds my family and feeds the employees' families. The good Lord makes bugs every day, we kill them and he makes more.

Johnson, photographed atop a high-rise, traveled to Dubai this summer to speak at NPMA’s Middle East Pest Management Association meeting.

Can you talk about your travels to Dubai to speak at NPMA's Middle East Pest Management Association meeting earlier this year?

Dubai is an amazing place. If you look at the Google images of just Dubai in the last 12 to 15 years, there's almost nothing there but sand. Dubai has come up from the desert with huge buildings and attractions in the last 25 years and it's absolutely amazing. There is one place in Dubai that seven years ago there were only 20 buildings and now they have built over 200 buildings. Two-thirds of the world's cranes used to build buildings have been in Dubai for the last eight years.

As far as the pest management business there, it was really amazing. The people there were hungry for information. They were hungry for the networking opportunities and they were very grateful to get that. Dr. Dini Miller did some great talks on bed bugs and roaches. Frank Meek from Orkin talked about specific pests. Raleigh Jenkins and myself talked about the business side of pest management and systems in our companies. There was a lot of sharing of knowledge in how we do business. These people were absolutely starved for information. A lot of people were from India, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. It was a great experience to be able to go to Dubai and it was great to serve NPMA in that capacity. After every talk, people would swarm us to have their pictures taken with us. They would talk to us and just ask us questions. I think NPMA benefitted greatly and they picked up about 35 new members from that meeting alone. The international presence that NPMA has and has had in the past is going to be growing and this ties into social media. We're in one world.

One of the great things about our business is that I get to meet people in NPMA in all the places I go. Because of this, I have friends over there. And they have the same concerns, and mostly the same problems with pests. They are in the same business that I am. They have rats, mice and the same pests we do. They also have bed bugs, but not to the same extent.

NPMA’s 2011-12 Board Members

FAIRFAX, VA. — Joining new NPMA President Ray Johnson on the association’s Board of Directors for the 2011-12 term are Laura Simpson of Dugas Pest Control of Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge, La., who will serve as vice president; Kevin Pass of Action Pest Control, Evansville, Ind., who will serve as treasurer; and William Tesh of Pest Management Systems, Greensboro, N.C., who will serve as secretary.

NPMA also elected several new members to its Board of Directors. Bernard Holst Jr. (Horizon Termite and Pest Control Corp., Midland Park, N.J.) is past president representative. Five new at-large directors have been elected to the NPMA’s board: Lanny Allgood (Allgood Pest Solutions, Dublin, Ga.); Cleveland Dixon (Holiday Termite & Pest Control, Springfield, Va.); Alford Foster (All-American Pest Control, Nashville, Tenn.); Stacy O’Reilly (Plunkett’s Pest Control, Fridley, Minn.); and Jeff Spencer (Griffin Pest Solutions, Kalamazoo, Mich.).

I think it's good we are expanding our presence since we are a global community with the social media. Expanding our international presence is good. Yes, we have membership to gain but we also have learning opportunities from them as well.

Why is NPMA's QualityPro program so important to you?

We were the first QualityPro company in Tennessee. We got on that bandwagon right away. According to NPMA we were number 12 in the nation. QualityPro has been a good thing for us.

QualityPro has really provided the structure we needed in our company in making us more professional by giving us the background checks. It's also helped us to provide marketing opportunities. Everything that we have is pretty much marked QualityPro. We talk about it with our customers. They don't know what QualityPro is, but we educate them about it. We are in people's homes every day and the No. 1 thing they want to have is trust. We want them to know that they've hired a trustworthy company that has checked out their employees.

I would say QualityPro — and NPMA in general — provides a proactive response to manage the negativity that might come out of certain news stories. It helps you raise the bar of the industry. QualityPro provides business operation, environmental stewardship and customer relations assistance. The training is really a big thing. When we hire new employees, I use PPMA's "Pride and Professionalism" video. You set an employee to watch that video about our industry and the importance of what our industry does, and they come in blown away. They are excited about the possibility of getting the job there. It's really a good thing. Every company in the world needs a professional organization like NPMA to rely on for support. I couldn't do it myself. I need help every day.

What advice would you give someone who is just entering the industry?

Get involved with your associations. For someone who is thinking about entering into the industry, I would have them check out my website to see the level of professionalism. Go on potential employers' Facebook and Twitter pages and check out the social media. What are the employees saying about working there? What are the customers saying? Look for a company that will give you proper training. QualityPro training is invaluable. It really helps set us apart from XYZ company that doesn't come to the association meetings. I don't know why anyone wouldn't want to be a member of the National Pest Management Association. For most state members, it doesn't cost them much at all. It's pennies per day.

What is the biggest challenge facing the pest management industry now?

Bed bugs, bed bugs, bed bugs! But another challenge is also government regulations that may affect our industry. That's why we need NPMA and its strong government affairs department to keep abreast of all that information. Bob Rosenberg (senior vice president of government affairs) and Gene Harrington (director of government affairs) both do a great job. They are on top of all the government regulations, state issues, etc.

Another issue facing the pest management industry has to do with human resources. Lots of companies out there don't realize the implications of bad HR decisions. They can make or break you. Today's workplace is ever changing and requires keeping up to date with labor laws and regulations.

Which of NPMA's initiatives will you focus on during your presidency?

We are going to be coming up with a new strategic plan looking at where NPMA is going to go. We're going to ask questions like: What is NPMA? What is QualityPro? What is PPMA? What are all of them going to be for members moving forward? We are going to re-energize a new plan.

Another goal is to continue training. We need extensive training because we need to continue to raise the bar for our employees. The best trained employees out there are the ones that keep their companies out of lawsuits.

A personal goal of mine is to visit as many members as I can. By doing this I can network with as many companies as possible. Listening is so important. I want to listen to other members and learn from them. When I listen, I learn.