In 1949, when Stanley Baker purchased the J.T. Eaton Co. from a man whose name he has long forgotten, Baker thought of himself as a peddler. Maybe the word “peddler” fit Baker to a “T” in those days, as he moved throughout the pest control industry selling his Red Squill and Warfarin rodent control products.
Fifty years later, Baker may still think of himself as a peddler (you can almost see him wink when he says it), but others think that Baker is one of the innovative pioneers who helped to pave the rodent control road toward the future.
“Basically, I was a salesman,” Baker says as he looks back. “I had a little job before World War II selling Hartz Mountain Bird Seed. However, I was always interested in manufacturing. I wasn’t just interested in selling this or that to them, I wanted to be part of it. I was always looking for a niche market.”
Bird seed was, of course, one of those niche markets along with the rodent control market.
“One of my favorite stories was about what I did,” Baker recalls. “I couldn’t say that I was a peddler of rat poison, but I read somewhere that I was in ‘environmental management.’ So, I told my mother that I had changed my job to environmental manager. She didn’t understand what it meant, but it sounded good.”
Baker might have called himself an environmental manager, but in the early days of the J.T. Eaton company, he held just about every title there was to hold. Still, back then, it all came down to selling.
“What do you think the word ‘peddler’ means?” he quips. “You have to go out and sell.”
Baker and his trusty station wagon traveled all over the country.
“When I would go into a city, I would start early in the morning, before 8 a.m., to find someone in the office. Then, if I got lucky, I would find someone in his office at lunch time and then I would find another customer after 4 p.m.,” he recalls.
“I deliberately went to the first account of the day who would pay me in cash so I had enough money to make more rodenticide for the next day,” he continues.
Baker purchased J.T. Eaton for $2,500, and in the first year, he did $35,000 worth of business.
“I had to borrow that $2,500 against my insurance policy, but I have deliberately not paid off that note to remind me from whence I came,” he states.
The company was at first in an East Cleveland, Ohio, storefront building.
“One of my uncles helped me put up a partition between the office and the plant,” Baker remembers.
It was much later in the life of the business that it moved to the current offices in Twinsburg, Ohio.
When Baker first got into rodent control 50 years ago, Red Squill was the product of the day. He learned that the J.T. Eaton Co. took oysters and dipped them in chocolate that contained Red Squill. After the product dried, it was wrapped in wax paper. Exterminators would then put the product out.
“There was a lot of resistance,” Baker says.
A short time later, Warfarin came along.
“With Warfarin, rodents literally died next to the dish,” Baker remembers. “However, it was difficult for us manufacturers to compete with our finished products against exterminators who would mix their own rodenticide product. In fact, the do-it-yourself exterminator was our biggest competitor.”
Baker hit upon the idea of taking his products to the Purdue Pest Control Conference.
“I had six to eight Warfarin formulas on display, but pest control operators (PCOs) would walk around my booth,” he says. “The truth was, though, if you were around the Purdue Conference for a second year, the exterminators thought you might have something legitimate to offer.
“I went to Purdue for 25 consecutive years, but that was the end of that because of the snowstorms when we were either coming to or leaving West Lafayette, Ind.,” Baker states.
However, snow or no snow, approximately 15 years ago, J.T. Eaton thought so much of the Purdue Conference experience that the company launched a J.T. Eaton scholarship at that university’s Center for Urban and Industrial Pest Management. Now, each year a student entering the university’s entomology program is awarded a $500 Eaton scholarship as the result of a $20,000 Eaton endowment to Purdue.
Of course, as the years moved along, J.T. Eaton developed a host of different rodenticide products.
“I always looked for a need that existed that would make our products better than someone else’s,” Baker says. “We tried to stay away from the ‘me-too’ products.”
One of the industry’s early problems was that Warfarin got moldy when it was left outside. Therefore, there was little acceptance on the part of rodents.
“I was at a California vertebrate conference where a county agent had taken paraffin and mixed it with grain bait and then poured it into a Dixie-type cup,” Baker says. Baker did a lot of the early research on paraffin bait blocks. He soon refined the idea, and the paraffin bait block was born for the pest control industry.
John Beck, a longtime pest controller and government official, helped Baker test his paraffin bait block research.
“Stanley was a very honorable, dedicated rodent man,” Beck says. “He would give you the shirt off his back.”
“We were very fortunate in a sense that people became sensitive to pesticides,” Baker says.
That sensitivity, whether it was created by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or by Rachel Carson’s famous book Silent Spring, helped to bring about an increased emphasis on glue boards for rodent control. Once again, Baker’s company was one of the leaders in developing that technology.
Over the years, J.T. Eaton also played a role in improving rodent bait stations.
“The first ones were pretty crude, I could see a need for certain things,” Baker states.
Eaton, under Baker’s guidance, also pioneered a series of other things that helped to shape the rodent industry today, including a guaranteed satisfaction program and emergency service delivery within 48 hours.
“If you are producing something, you have to back it up,” says Baker. “If a guy gives you $50 and he expects $1 in change, you better give him the $1.”
Of course, the industry has changed. When Baker first purchased J.T. Eaton, the only way to sell products to PCOs was to go direct.
“There weren’t many distributors then,” he says. “I thought the only way I could get into the market was to sell direct.”
Over the years, though, that changed.
“I remember going to Memphis, Tenn., to see Millard Oldham and his wife, Ada, and the same with Cal Stephenson in Atlanta, Ga.”
Today, J.T. Eaton has grown to approximately 30 employees, and is one of the leading rodent control manufacturers in the country. This is despite a fire five years ago that burned down the manufacturing section of the company.
The company has also expanded beyond just rodent control products. J.T. Eaton also currently offers a line of bird control products called 4-the-Birds, as well as a new ant and cockroach bait called Dr. Moss’ Liquid Bait System.
Baker, who has residences in both Ohio and in St. Petersburg, Fla., says, “I have been fortunate enough to have the curiosity to not be satisfied with the way things are.
“What’s most frustrating to me is to see people who have retired, yet they have put their minds on vacation.
“Any company that has stayed in business for a certain period of time (in the case of J.T. Eaton, 50 years), hasn’t fooled all of the people all of the time. If you don’t produce, you won’t be there,” he says. “I had to sell what I produced, I was a peddler.”
Wrong Stanley. Let’s make it an innovative pioneer.