Truly Wheatfield Nolen had just a sixth-grade education, but that didn’t stop him from creating a pest control legacy.
Nolen had an unshakable belief in the American dream — and he chased it with an abundance of energy, enthusiasm and vision. When the Great Depression robbed Nolen of business and home, he plunged ahead with the determination of a bulldog.
In 1937, with only $500 to his name at age 60, Nolen invested everything in the pest control industry. Nolen went to Miami, which was coming out of the Depression well ahead of the rest of the country and bought a small pest control company with one truck named Economy Exterminators.
What good fortune led Nolen to the pest control industry? Past successes did: Earlier in life, he had owned and operated a Home Care Takers business and had found pest control to be the enterprise’s most profitable and promising service segment. Formerly the head of Indianapolis’ Department of Sanitation, Nolen was no stranger to pests — or technology and techniques needed to successfully control them.
Ever the showman, legend has it that Nolen carried a caged rat door to door to solicit rodent control work and agreed to collect for services rendered only after pests were controlled.
Nolen’s company — which evolved from Economy Exterminators to Nolen Economy to Truly Nolen Exterminating and finally to Nozzle Nolen (with its Big Top trademark featuring an elephant with a super sprayer trunk) — handled some of the largest fumigation jobs at the time and was one of the first to use sulfuryl fluoride.
Long before offering value-added services would become in vogue, Nolen had established countless side businesses that included Christmas tree sales, insecticide development (TNT–Truly Nolen Treatment, an aerosol for general household pests), mildew prevention and carpentry/structural repair services to name just a few. Not all of these ventures were successful from a bottom-line standpoint, but they were driven by Nolen’s entrepreneurial nature and deep desire to better serve clients.
Nolen’s innate ability to promote touched every aspect of the business — from his growing fleet of branded service vehicles parked in the most-visible spots around town to his traveling carnival staged for clients at their children’s birthday parties as well as for churches and other charitable organizations.
Perhaps most of all, Nolen, who worked until the day he died in 1965, is remembered for his absolute commitment to the customer. Working seven days a week, nothing stopped Nolen from getting out of bed at midnight to help a customer with a house mouse problem. Nolen’s work was his baby, and his customers and employees were his extended family.
Truly Wheatfield Nolen, Pest Control’s posthumous 2006 Hall of Fame inductee, is being recognized and remembered for his perseverance, professionalism, promotional and pioneering ways — which live on through the companies of his children and grandchildren.
Following are just some of the leadership traits industry insiders say Truly Wheatfield Nolen personified:
“Dad wasn’t the best delegator, but he didn’t have to be — he was masterful at doing things himself. Everything dad did, he went maximum strength — and he did it all for his customers,” said son Truly David Nolen, founder of Truly Nolen of America and its franchising arm, Truly Nolen International.
“Dad was a real stickler on the appearance of his employees, vehicles and headquarters. Service was everything, and it was weekly, not monthly or quarterly like it is nowadays. He knew the inherent value of customer relationships — while he didn’t always embrace change, in a lot of ways he was well ahead of his time,” said son Ken Nolen Sr., founder of Nozzle Nolen in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“As stories have it, sometimes, he would take a ruler out to the parking lot to make sure the company cars were parked with absolute precision. He paid even greater attention to those he hired — how they were dressed, trained and equipped to care for his customers,” said Scott Nolen, president of Truly Nolen of America.
“He was built on unwavering ethics and an undying work ethic,” said grandson Mickey Nolen, president of Nozzle Nolen.
“He had great vision, coupled with strong self confidence and determination. In some ways — perhaps more than either would ever admit — my dad (Truly David Nolen) and grandfather (Truly Wheatfield Nolen) were more alike than they were different,” said Truly William Nolen, Truly Nolen’s director of franchising.
“Truly Wheatfield Nolen gave me my first job in the industry — and he did likewise for a number of others. He was a generous man with kind a heart. He would help anybody in need — especially his customers,” said Norman Goldenberg, Terminix International’s senior vice president of government affairs and industry relations.