Places & Faces
First Person with Robert John, Sr. founder of J&J Exterminating
8/6/2015 10:27:53 AM

Robert

With nothing more than a phone and desk at their parent’s home in Crowley, Robert John, Sr. and his brother Harry, founded J&J Exterminating in 1959. Harry had a degree in etymology and Robert was a young man ready to marry and in need of a career. They both nurtured a vision for entrepreneurship and had the work ethic to make it a reality.

Fifty-six years later, J&J Exterminating is Louisiana’s largest independently owned pest control company with 12 locations across the state. Through the modest beginning, years of growth, and awards received, Robert maintains his humility and says prayer and people are the keys to the company’s success. Here’s a look at the man behind one of Louisiana’s business success stories.

What prompted you to go into the pest control business?

I was 21 years old, majoring in business administration and fell in love with a young lady. This was during the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War. I joined the National Guard and was looking for a career so that I could get married.

My brother, Harry, had graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in etymology. He was working for a large pest control company in the New Orleans area. He decided we should go into business in our hometown of Crowley, Louisiana. I jumped at the opportunity to be part of it. In 1959, we began J&J Exterminating. The business name comes from our last name of John.

New businesses can be difficult to get off the ground. What was it like in the early years of J&J Exterminating?

It was difficult. We began the business in our parent’s home. They had a breezeway at the back of their house, kind of like a screened in porch. We put a phone and a desk there and went into business. We knocked on every door in Crowley and asked people for their business.

The good thing is that my parents were well respected in the Crowley area; people trusted our family name. That made it easier for people to trust us for their pest control.

My brother had the etymology background and knew all about pests. I knew I wanted this business to succeed. I was newly married and we had to make this work. With that mindset, we worked hard everyday.

What difficulties did you experience?

The year 1969 comes to mind. It was bleak. The oil field was in a slump and we felt it. At that time, our only office was in Crowley, and many people in this area worked in the oil field. There was very little money available for families. Pest control was far from their minds; they were struggling just to survive.

During those times, we worked with our customers as much as we could. When they needed to suspend their regular pest control service, we understood and we gave them suggestions on what they could do to control pests until they could afford to resume their pest control schedule. People appreciated that we helped them out in a difficult time and that we didn’t put undue pressure on them. They remembered that and came back when they could.

What are pivotal moments in the history of your company?

The growth we’ve experienced has been both humbling and amazing to see. My son, Robert John, Jr., joined the company in 1984 once he graduated from college. At that time, we moved our corporate office from Crowley to Lafayette and we opened our Lake Charles location. Our business grew tremendously when Robert, Jr. came on board. I give him a lot of credit.

That time was pivotal, but it was scary. We took on additional overhead. We were both watching those numbers carefully and, thankfully, it all turned out well. It was a leap of faith to grow.

J&J Exterminating is a family-owned business. Sometimes that can be great and sometimes it can be tricky. How is it for you?

We’re in the "great” column. My son is the CEO and runs this business well. I’m in more of an advisory position these days and I love it. My grandson, Robert Lewis John, is 24 years old. He worked for us for two years in our New Orleans office before he began his college studies at Tulane University. When he graduates, he’ll join my son in our corporate office in Lafayette. He is levelheaded and has a great mind for business. I’m very proud and excited for our future.

When our Lake Charles office opened, we were fortunate to have Tim Broussard on our team. He owns a minority portion of the stock, and we’re grateful for his expertise.

It’s been a blessing to have a family-owned business. I’ve been told that doesn’t always happen, but I’m grateful for it. We’ve been able to make it work well.

What is your business approach that has led to your success?

We recruit the best personnel. We hear testimony after testimony about our employees and how impressed our customers are with our team. Our people are the reason for our success.

Recently, a major hospital in Lafayette told me that several national pest control companies approached him; they wanted his business. He decided to stay with J&J Exterminating because he trusts us. That’s the bottom line for any business’ success: earning the trust of their customers.

We service food warehouses, hospitals, clinics, and healthcare facilities of all kinds. We work with more medical complexes, surgical centers and hospitals than any other pest control company our size anywhere in the country. We’ve developed solid techniques. The fact that they trust us says a lot. We work hard to keep that trust.

You’ve said your employees are one of the keys to the company’s success. How do you train them?

Customer service is everything. We live and breathe it. We look for employees who have strong communication skills and who treat people the right way; we can teach them the pest control industry, but they need to have the right attitude.

We have one of the best training programs. It took two years to develop. The employee who put it together was retired from the military and came to work for us. He developed and enforced it; it’s thorough, and very well done.

New technicians shadow experienced people for a while before they are allowed to be on their own. It has to be done that way. Until you see a person’s work ethic, you don’t really know.

How has the business climate in general changed through the years?

Technology and science have come so far. First of all, we didn’t have cell phones back in the early years. We had a pocket full of quarters and I knew where every pay phone was located in Crowley and the outlying areas. I had to know, so that I could check in with the office, get messages, and return phone calls to customers. Now, everyone has cell phones. Our employees can text customers and use laptops to stay in touch. They can even print receipts from their trucks! It’s so much easier now.

Science has benefitted the pest control industry. We have much more targeted ways of eliminating pests. There is solid scientific research behind advancements. For example, we have growth regulators these days. When pests are going through metamorphosis, it interrupts that process and they never develop.

If you hadn’t started this company, what line of work would you have chosen?

I don’t know. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I guess I would have been in some kind of business management.

If I had to imagine my whole life, especially in this last phase, and ponder where I’d like to be, this is it. I love the interaction I have with our employees. We have 260 employees all over Louisiana. I enjoy going to each office and visiting with all of them.

What is your personal philosophy? What drives you everyday?

When I was a young guy and we were struggling, I made a promise to God. I told him, "If you’ll let me be successful, I’ll give back. I’ll be open to people in need and try to help them as much as I can.”

Right now, this company gives as much to charity as any company this size that I know of, but I’m still not satisfied. I think there’s a bigger mission for us. One day we’re going to be called on to step up to the plate and when we are, we need to be ready. I don’t know what that might be, and I may never know, but if all the Lord expects of me is to build a successful company, then that’s what I’ll do. If He does call on us, we’ll be ready.

How does it feel to hand a charity or organization a sizeable check?

I have seven grandchildren. They are all healthy and perfect. Every one of them. How can I not want to help people who are less fortunate? St. Jude’s Hospital is one of our major charities. Being able to give back is what it’s all about.

My incentive to growing this company is to help. I want our employees to be able to make a good living and have a good life. We look for the best people and we treat them well.

What is ahead for J&J Exterminating?

I want to keep growing. I want to continue to help those who are less fortunate. I want our employees to have nice cars, nice homes, and have a good lifestyle right in their community.

My son joined me in the business 31 years ago. My grandson will soon join us. In 31 years, he’ll be 56 years old and running a large company. Our contributions to charity and our communities can grow exponentially. Helping people is what compels me to continue growing.

We just hired a young man; he’s probably 23 years old. He was working for minimum wage at his previous job. We’re going to make him a technician after his training, if he continues to do well. He’ll make a nice living and it’s going to change his life. That’s what makes me happy.
Posted by: Christine Fisher | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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