In March, Scarlett Nolen was promoted to president of Truly Nolen Pest Control and is the third generation in her family to work in the industry. Scarlett succeeds Scott Nolen, her brother, as the company’s president. The family-owned company was founded in 1938 by her grandfather, Truly Wheatfield Nolen, and was expanded by his son, Scarlett’s father, Truly Nolen. The company is headquartered in Tucson, Ariz., with nearly 120 branch offices in the U.S. and Canada, and close to 250 offices in more than 60 countries.
Nolen shared her experiences working with her father and her rise in the company — learning the industry and company from the ground up, informally starting at a young age. She served a variety of roles, starting in 2013 as a manager in training. Scarlett was a branch manager, member of the corporate operations team and district manager of the “Growth District.”
Nolen shared with PCT how her academic career (psychology) helps support her efforts to build Truly Nolen’s culture and its success. Here she offeres her perspectives on her mentors, the company’s marketing and social media philosophies, and her current responsibilities as president of Truly Nolen.
PCT: Did you do any work for Truly Nolen when you were younger?
Scarlett Nolen: When I was a kid, I’d periodically go in to my dad’s office. My sister and I probably caused more havoc while running amok than anything else. He would hand me three differently colored pens, a ruler and a stack of paper with green bars. He would instruct me to, “Circle the number in red if it’s low. Circle it in green if it’s a high number.” I didn’t know it at the time, but I was doing P&L reviews! I think my dad may have done the same thing with my seven siblings. I thought I was just coloring.
Going to my dad’s office was actually going to business school at a very young age. During the summers, when I was in my late teens, I’d go in and do secretarial work — organize personnel files, fax and answer basic phone calls. I was learning through osmosis. I’d see my dad making large business decisions and how he interacted with employees. I’d say that was when I started to more intentionally learn the business.
I worked with my dad in different capacities throughout my life. When I formally joined the company in 2013, I certainly didn’t report to him, but I’d seek his advice, including when I was in the manager-in-training program.
PCT: Did your father encourage you to get into pest control?
SN: My dad’s advice was, “Do what you love.” He preached that to me, my siblings and all of his employees. He was neutral on the topic of me joining the business. My dad worked with his father, so he knew the challenges of working in a family business. I don’t think he wanted to force any of us into those challenges. There was zero pressure. If what I loved happened to be pest control, that’s great.
PCT: What’s the No. 1 thing your dad taught you about business?
SN: The most important thing my dad taught me about business was, “It’s all about the people!” He stressed the ability to look people in the eye, shake their hand and talk with them. It’s the ability to have a conversation and sell. I also learned that perseverance will always win in the long run.
PCT: Which was your favorite role in the company?
SN: It’s not a position, it’s an aspect of the work. I really enjoy termite work! It’s like solving a mystery.
PCT: Who has served as a mentor in the industry? Any women?
SN: Yes! I’ve had many!
Debby Newberry, our Manager-in-Training coordinator. She’s been at Truly Nolen for over 25 years. She’s been one of my mentors since the beginning.
Emily Kendrick, who runs Arrow Exterminators, has been a mentor. We share the philosophy that pest management is a people industry. She and I also share the experience of working in a large, family-owned business.
Michelle Senner, my sister, is a mentor. She’s had a number of positions in the company and now works in public relations and marketing. I seek her advice professionally and, of course, personally.
I’m also a member of a Facebook group called Women in Pest Control, founded by Lisa Myers-Botts and Bobbie Terry. Members are posting every day asking for help identifying a bug, posing a business question or just sharing a funny customer experience. I enjoy the group, yet I’ve never met any of them. We enjoy the commonalities we have within the industry.
PCT: Your bachelor’s degree is in experimental psychology and your master’s degree is in marriage and family therapy. How does your education apply to pest management?
SN: I was a practicing therapist and worked mostly with families that survived abuse. It’s amazing how my background in psychology is tremendously applicable to the pest management industry. Therapy and pest management are both people industries. We’re helping people gain peace of mind regarding their businesses or homes.
PCT: What are your responsibilities as president?
SN: I have three primary responsibilities as president. My number one responsibility is to maintain the culture of Truly Nolen. Another is to ensure my employees have opportunities to be successful. People want to be part of a company that they can feel good about and proud of every day. Ultimately, my responsibility is to build the bridge to reach new customers and employees so we can continue to provide the same level of service and thrive as a company.
PCT: Truly Nolen’s home office is in Arizona. Why do you continue to work from your Orlando, Fla., office?
SN: Florida has more pest control companies than anywhere else in the world. Florida is the epicenter of the pest control industry, simply because there are more bugs here. It’s like New York being the epicenter of fashion. Living here allows me to stay in touch with the industry and gives me a great perspective on the competition.
Sixty-percent of our revenue comes from Florida. We sell services in Florida that we don’t offer in other areas, such as lawn care. We’re also able to provide support and leadership on both coasts.
I travel to our home office in Tucson at least once a month. I’m lucky that some of my siblings live there and work at our home office. It’s where a lot of the action happens as far as big decisions, so having family working there provides that extra support.
PCT: What are the dynamics of working in a family business?
SN: Sibling rivalry doesn’t come into play. We all have the same goals. We’re competitive with each other, but we’re competitive to be the best in the company. You can count on family members to give you honest feedback where others may hesitate.
Everyone in my family brings something valuable to the company—areas of expertise — and different perspectives. We don’t all have the same areas of specialization, so we’re not stepping on each other’s toes trying to do the same thing.
My brother Really Nolen, for example, is an engineer. He’s been a huge help in designing the layout of our service vehicles. That’s an area I know nothing about. Really also contributes to the development of many of the innovations you see throughout the industry that started at Truly Nolen.
It helps that we’re spread out geographically, as well as in age — each of us has a different generational perspective, which is particularly helpful.
PCT: How do Truly Nolen’s marketing initiatives support its social media efforts?
SN: Social media is very helpful to Truly Nolen. In fact, we were one of the first major pest control companies to create a social media presence when we joined Facebook and Twitter in 2008. Over the past decade, we’ve added YouTube, Instagram and LinkedIn profiles. All of these tools help us highlight and celebrate how we work with communities.
The mouse car puts a smile on people’s faces. It has the same impact in California and Florida as it does in Saudi Arabia. There’s an innate human response to our iconic mouse car, and it has always easily translated to social media through photos and the hashtag #SpotTheMousecar.
Community events and getting out into the community are very important to our marketing efforts. They efficiently bring our customer communities together, provide a platform for referrals and increase brand awareness. Events create social media opportunities.
One of the hallmarks of our social media efforts is our work with local schools to educate children about good bugs and bad bugs. Our efforts go hand-in-hand with many of the schools’ STEM programs. In addition, children love to take selfies with our mouse car or mouse limo, which often accompanies our school visits.
My dad had a passion for antique cars and many of his cars can be found both outside our service offices as well as strategic locations in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Florida. Since the cars are imprinted with Truly Nolen, as well as the year, make and model, we view this as a unique way to build brand awareness because people often share and tag Truly Nolen photos on their Instagram pages.
At the end of the day, anything we believe will tell our story as a company can end up on social media.
PCT: What are your marketing strategies to reach customers?
SN: We’re a referral-based business. We have better opportunities for referrals, because we focus on very specific communities. Density also helps us gain efficiency from a business standpoint. We can provide better service to our customers when they’re closer together.
Another marketing focus is community events. Each of our service offices becomes firmly entrenched in its market by participating in their community. Our culture dictates staying engaged, whether it’s a partnership with the Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona, the Fort Myers Miracle Minor League Baseball team or a home show in El Paso, all of which can help us be top of mind when our services are needed.
PCT: Is there a reason why Truly Nolen isn’t a member of NPMA?
SN: The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) is a great platform for industry education and provides opportunities for networking. I encourage those just starting their business to be members.
At Truly Nolen, we use many in-house tools, including continuing education. We have entomologists and professionals who have been in the industry for decades. We’ve developed and provide a lot of educational opportunities. We even offer training to other pest control companies for their teams to get their CEUs.
PCT: How do you spend your free time?
SN: I was born in Florida and I’m a typical Florida girl. I enjoy the beach, boating and scuba diving when I get a chance. I love to binge watch shows on Bravo — the Real Housewives shows are my favorites! I am also a huge Marvel fan. In addition to The Avengers series, I really like Iron Man and Thor.
Editor’s note: The following questions and answers were cut from the print edition because of space limitations.
PCT: What role do you believe you’ve played in the success of the company?
SN: I can’t take credit for where Truly Nolen is today. My dad built the foundation for the company and I’m lucky to have great people around me. I believe I’ve helped the company’s success by helping people develop their career path. During my personal career evolution, I learned the importance of career pathing. During my time at Truly Nolen, I’ve worked hard to illuminate this and we’re embracing this at a higher level. We don’t want people to come to Truly Nolen for just another job. We want them to find their passion and have a career with us.
PCT: Tell me about the “Growth District” covering Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
SN: “Growth District” locations are newer territories where we have not historically had a presence. We offer regional support when we open a new location. It’s then the responsibility of the territory to do what they can to help that location grow. Our locations in Rio Rancho, N.M. and The Villages, Fla. are two examples.
PCT: How has the Truly Development Program impacted the company?
SN: I created the Truly Development Program, which focuses on both professional and personal growth. We address both, because I don’t think you can have professional growth until you understand your strengths and blind spots. The members in the program build a foundation for becoming leaders in the company. I task them with reaching out to partners they wouldn’t otherwise come in contact with on a regular basis, such as technicians talking with vice presidents. I adapted many psychology philosophies when creating the Truly Development Program, such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which addresses motivation.
PCT: What are some of the challenges facing the pest management industry in the next several years?
SN: Our industry needs to ensure we’re attracting talent for the next generation of pest management professionals. Our company employs many talented people who spent years in retail and other disciplines before joining our team. As an industry, we need to find ways to attract those with great talent who don’t have a background in pest control. The challenge will be identifying these people.
PCT: What opportunities do you see for the pest management industry in the next several years?
SN: Pest control has and should continue to embrace technology to help evolve how we approach pest management. I think there may be opportunities using new technologies we might not think are applicable to the pest control industry. How can drones and apps, for example, fit in to treatment options? I look forward to seeing our industry’s journey in this regard.
PCT: What are some of your professional and personal goals?
SN: Professionally, I want to help evolve the way people think about pest control. The industry has come a long way in changing the perception of pest management, but more can be done. Pest management tremendously impacts society. It’s not just the work, it’s the people we serve.
Personally, I would like to take one trip outside the country each year for vacation — Barcelona, Spain is at the top of my list.
PCT: Are there opportunities for women in the pest management industry?
SN: Pest management is a wonderful industry for women and there are opportunities throughout for them as a pest management professional, manager, president or owner.
Pest management is predominantly a male industry, but there are many women in the industry, too. I want to illuminate clear paths for women in the industry and demonstrate by example one of those paths.
PCT: What factors do you attribute to your company’s success?
SN: The magic came from my dad. He understood people and how to take care of them, whether they were employees or customers. It’s probably a bit cheesy or trite, but our core values have contributed to our success. We live our core values—from the golden rule to having fun. They’re part of every decision we make.
We’re not afraid to make mistakes, so we don’t hesitate to test new ideas or try something new. We have a research and development department exploring new equipment. We’re always working to improve the use of technology for more communication options with our customers. We’re also exploring more green solutions, especially for the commercial industry and chemically sensitive areas. We’re proud to have spearheaded many things that have influenced the industry.
PCT: What’s your favorite thing about working in the pest management industry?
SN: Pest control people are my people. I think we just get each other. You can walk into any industry function, it doesn’t matter what company you work for, and we all share similar experiences. The pest control industry is a tight community and everyone has a good sense of humor.
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.