Joe Thomas owes much of his, and Arrow Exterminator’s, success to his family. It was his father who got him into this business, and his daughter who’ll take the reins when he’s ready to hand them over.
He admits he couldn’t have built Arrow into the $100 million company it is today without them.
“My mother stayed active with Arrow up until she was 86-years-old,” Joe recalls. “The day before she passed away, she called me and wanted to know what the deposit was.”
For his lasting commitment to excellence in the pest management industry, Pest Management Professional is proud to induct Joe Thomas into the Hall of Fame, Class of 2009.
Growing Up Pest
The current chief executive officer of Arrow Exterminators, Joe has been around the pest management industry his entire life. His father, Starkey Thomas, began his pest management career in 1939 with Otto Orkin.
“Growing up, I used to go with him to Orkin headquarters here in Atlanta,” Joe recalls. “I’ve been around the business my entire life. It’s all I’ve ever known.”
Starkey spent 25 years with Orkin, and then formed Arrow Exterminators in 1964. At that time, Joe was in high school and ready and willing to help his father’s young company out. He did whatever he could at Arrow after school and on weekends.
Joe continued to help out in the summers while he pursued his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Tennessee.
After graduation, Joe toyed around with the idea of going to law school or even starting a career in investment banking. Ultimately, though, pest management came calling.
As a young man, going down to Orkin with his father, Joe recalls witnessing the camaraderie and excitement of the pest management industry. It was a natural progression.
“When I got out of college in 1971, I thought about going into law,” Joe says. “But I was married at the time and needed to make some money. So, I went with Arrow and it’s been a great run. I’ve never looked back.”
From day one at Arrow, it’s been a family affair for Joe. He fondly recalls his first seven years at the company, when he was able to work side-by-side with his father.
“I just had a great time,” he says.
Joe similarly looks upon the last 11 years with fondness, as he’s had the opportunity to shape the next generation at Arrow and work side-by-side with his daughter Emily.
“I’ve worked with my daughter for 11 years and have watched her blossom,” Joe says. “Emily has done just about every job there is to do in this business. She’s blossomed into one of the best executives I’ve seen in this business and I’m very proud of her.”
After spending a few years in sales with Arrow, Joe was moved into management.
“We only had one office and 15 employees, so there really wasn’t that much to manage,” he jokes.
When his father passed away in 1978, Joe was suddenly thrust into the spotlight. It was up to him now.
“My dad, by far, has been most influential person in my career,” Joe says. “By the time he died, he’d been in the business 38 years. I worked with him every day for eight years, mainly selling.
“All kind of information I gleaned from him. He’s made the biggest impact on me.”
Joe had his sights set on growing Arrow. He dreamed of a bigger company. His main focus was on growing the company to the point where it was large enough to open branch offices and make acquisitions.
“The hardest thing was getting to $1 million,” Joe says. “Once we got to $1 million, the second million came faster and then we were able to pick up momentum with our growth.”
Joe and Arrow made their first acquisition in 1988 — Douglas Pest Control. Soon after, it acquired Mayfield Brothers in Chattanooga, Tenn.
“It was a matter of getting the company large enough where we could afford to expend a significant amount of cash on buying a company,” Joe says. “To get the company to that point was a long process.”
He never looked back from there. Whenever Arrow could hire a salesman, it did. When that salesman was productive, it would hire another one. The company did the same thing with its pest control routes.
“After we built our first route, we start a guy building a second route,” Joe says. “We’re blessed to have great people.”
Joe has seen many developments in the pest management industry over the years, and he’s liked what he’s seen. Though regulations have gotten stricter as the years go by, Joe notes the science has improved drastically.
“The chemistry we’re using now is so much more advanced than the old days when we’d go to a house and just drown it with chemicals,” he says. “The baiting systems are terrific now.”
The evolution of the pest management industry has been gradual, he notes. And, through Joe’s leadership, Arrow has been at the forefront of industry innovation.
One thing hasn’t changed over the years, and that’s Arrow’s commitment to people. Joe is a people person, and he’s made sure Arrow is run with the customer in mind.
“We’ve always tried to deliver as high a level of customer service as we,” he says. “That hasn’t changed. It’s all about pleasing the customer and having them keep your service. It’s always been about pleasing the customer.”
According to Joe, selling hasn’t changed because it has always been all about people. If you know your product, Joe says, and have good beliefs, your sales won’t change.
“The methods of communication, with e-mail and the Internet, have changed,” he says. “But I still feel the best selling is done face-to-face.”
Joe has a positive outlook on the industry in the years to come. It’s his optimistic attitude that believes that if bed bugs can come back from nowhere, termites too will return in large numbers.
“Technology is getting better and tools are getting better,” Joe says. “I don’t see the demand for our service going away.”
And, thanks to Joe’s leadership, Arrow will continue to be there to provide that service for many years to come.