Two students, both biology and chemistry majors, entered Arkansas State University in Jonesboro in 1947. One, planning to be a doctor, was having trouble with math. The other, planning to do cancer research, understood math exceptionally well.
She helped him do the math, they started dating and eventually got married — and thus was born the partnership between Millard and Ada Oldham of Oldham Chemicals that has served the pest management industry with honor and distinction since 1966. The sum of the contributions of these two proud members of the Hall of Fame class of 2007 has had a profound effect on what pest management professionals (PMPs) have come to expect from their distribution partners.
After the duo graduated from college in 1951, Millard began his career as a formulation chemist for a chemical company in Memphis, which is where he first encountered PMPs. He admired their dedication and commitment to making life better for the public at large, so when he and Ada decided to launch their own company after moving twice with other chemical companies and being unable to break into sales as they wanted to do, it was a natural choice for them to serve the pest management industry.
Founding a company can be a scary proposition, however, so Millard and Ada Oldham wanted to know what they were getting into before launching this bold venture. So Millard wrote to the pest management firms he’d served with the other company and asked them if they would back a new distribution company. The positive response surprised both of them.
“We received letters in return, and 60 percent of them said they would back us,” Millard Oldham says. “So we said, “What the heck? Let’s go home.'”
“I figured I could get most of them — maybe 70 percent of them — back as customers by the end of the year, so that’s when we moved back to Memphis.”
With this encouragement under their belts, the Oldhams moved back to Memphis, daughter Marsha in tow, and prepared to set up shop with a borrowed Ford pick-up truck generously supplied by Ada’s father. Problem was, they had no building from which to run the company.
“Before we could open a business, we had to have a place to live, a place to store the chemicals and a place we could call an ‘office’ so we could field phone calls from customers,” Millard Oldham says. “We did all that in a week and ran the business out of our home for a while.”
The Oldhams built their company, which now employs 78 people and has 13 distribution centers throughout the Southeast, on a reputation for personal service. Whether it’s Mr. or Mrs. Oldham delivering products personally on weekends when their customers need them or floating loans to companies to help them through slow times in the winter, the Oldhams work hard to build a caring, giving community among the PMPs they serve.
“This is what we’ve done for all these years — we have waited on the customer,” Ada Oldham says. “Millard delivers products, I’ve delivered products — everyone in this office has done that at one time or another.
“When someone needs a product desperately, I’ve been known to leave the office early so we can deliver it to them. It’s what we promise them, and it’s our obligation to keep our promises.”
Oldham Chemicals remains strong today even when faced with increasing pressure from direct sales over the Internet. One reason is the company is also known throughout the industry for the educational sessions the Oldhams sponsor and making sure that PMPs receive the training they need to do their jobs more effectively.
“We’re teaching them — we’re having school,” Ada Oldham says. “Our company has always supported the local, state and national pest management associations, and we’ve long been an advocate of keeping our customers as well-trained as we possibly can.”
“PMPs will always need people who can explain to them exactly what a product does and exactly what it will not do,” says Millard Oldham, who as a former formulation chemist is in a particularly strong position to do just that.”
Millard Oldham believes that remaining focused on customers and their ever-changing needs will keep Oldham Chemicals successful long into the future.
“I truly believe this is the best industry in the world, and it’s all because of the people,” Millard Oldham says. “Customers were — and still are — the main thing,” Millard says. “Whatever they wanted, they would get — and we still operate that way today.”
Oldham Chemicals also has benefited from being a true family affair. Son-in-law Tommy Reeves serves as a company vice president, as does the Oldhams’ daughter Marsha Reeves. Stephanie Reeves, the Oldhams’ granddaughter, graduated from college this spring and also is working in the business. “We are fortunate to have all of our family in the same company,” Millard Oldham adds.
But when the Oldhams talk about including their family in the business, they don’t just mean their immediate blood relatives — they mean the rest of their employees as well.
“Our success has been the result of our dedicated employees, who have always gone the extra mile to achieve unmatched service delivery and product knowledge to our customers,” Millard said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”
Ada Oldham says that when she looks back at their 41 years in this industry, she’s amazed the industry is still going strong after all of the challenges and struggles it has endured over those years. She’s grateful for all the people who have supported them.
“We like them,” Ada Oldham says. “They’re our friends — we’ve made many, many friends in this industry, and we want to do everything we can to support them.
“PMPs do a lot for their customers,” she adds. “I’m not sure the customers always recognize what they do for them. But it’s a fine industry to be involved in, and we’re proud to help them any way we can.”