Orkin: A 110+-Year History … and Still Going Strong

Otto Orkin was a Latvian immigrant who founded Orkin, one of the largest consumer services companies in the U.S. He began by selling rat poison door to door and went on to build the largest pest control company in the U.S. In 1964, when Rollins Broadcasting purchased Orkin for $62.4 million, BusinessWeek magazine described the sale as a “Jonah Swallows the Whale” transaction.

Rollins Inc. has continued to grow the Orkin brand, which currently serves more than 1.7 million customers through its more than 400 locations in the U.S., Canada, Europe, South America, Central America, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Asia, the Mediterranean and Africa.

Throughout Orkin’s 110+-year history, Orkin has contributed significantly to the growth and advancement of the pest control industry, helping shape the public’s perception of the pest management industry. Select a time period below, and read how Orkin has continued its commitments to customer service, education, training and innovation through the years.

1901-1930

1931-1940

1941-1950

1951-1960

1961-1970

1971-1980

1981-1990

1991-2000

2001-2011

1901-1930

Orkin Business Card
In the early days of Orkin's advertising, Otto Orkin, the company's founder, used business cards to market his services to customers.

Born in Latvia in 1887, Otto Orkin immigrated to the U.S. in 1892. His job on the family farm in Pennsylvania was to kill rats to protect the family’s food stores and farm animals. In 1901, 14-year-old Otto began selling rat poison to neighbors. By 1930, he operated a pest control company that handled accounts in eight states and Washington, D.C. From the very beginning, Otto was extremely focused on customer service and very savvy at promoting his business by using customer testimonials.

 

1901: When arsenic was first commercially produced in the U.S., 14-year-old Otto Orkin began selling his special blend of rat poison door to door in Lockport, Penn. For years he was a traveling salesman, guaranteeing customers he would rid their homes and businesses of rats, mice, roaches and other pests before he would charge them a cent.

 

1912: Otto Orkin — known as “Otto the Rat Man” — established his first office, located in the American National Bank Building in Richmond, Va. He serviced residential and commercial accounts, including hotels, hospitals, feed mills and warehouses.

 

1925: In August, Otto Orkin landed his first government contract. The six-month contract to exterminate rats at the Wilson Dam in northwest Alabama led Otto Orkin to the South, where his company began to grow quickly.

 

1926: In January, Orkin Exterminating Company Inc. became a Georgia corporation. Orkin was the first pest control company to open an office in Atlanta.

In August, the company introduced a new Orkin logo, the well-known red and white diamond that still identifies the brand today.

 

1928: Orkin purchased its first company truck, a new Ford with the red Orkin logo on its side. At the time, some housewives worried what the neighbors would think if they saw a marked pest control truck in the driveway. Over time, the public equated pest control with good sanitation and pest prevention and no longer considered it an embarrassment. Orkin’s educational programs and marketing and public relations efforts played a large role in shifting this perception. 

 

1930: Orkin operated 13 branches in eight states: Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana.

1931 – 1940

termite truck

Orkin began offering termite control service in the early 1930s.

In the early 1930s, Orkin expanded its service offerings to include fumigation and termite control, providing more avenues for growth. By 1940, the company had 50 offices in 14 states with almost $1.5 million in sales.

By all accounts, Otto Orkin was an eccentric leader. He remained committed to customer service, and each morning he obsessed over cancellation reports. In the 1930s, he began the habit of calling branch managers at 2 a.m. to question why a customer had cancelled an account and how the manager planned to salvage the customer relationship. The tactic made an impression on managers, who learned to sleep with cancellation reports at their fingertips.

 

Early 1930s: Orkin began using other available products to help control bed bugs and other household pests. 

 

1931: Orkin entered the termite control industry through a franchise that patented a specific system of termite control. However, the franchise agreement restricted the sale of other pest control services to franchise customers, so Orkin sold the franchise after two years and developed a termite business within Orkin.

 

1932: When the National Association of Exterminators and Fumigators (later the National Pest Control Association and eventually the National Pest Management Association) was founded, Otto Orkin and other Orkin leaders pushed for a strong focus on safety practices, especially regarding the relatively new fumigation techniques in termite control.

 

1935: Orkin purchased a Columbus, Ga.-based pest control company from William H. “Uncle Billy” Crawford, beginning a long history of Orkin acquisitions.

 

1938: In a bold move, Orkin began offering a five-year bonded guarantee for termite service.

 

1940: Orkin operated 50 branches in 14 states, with gross sales nearing $1.5 million.

1941- 1950

orkin buggy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orkin used wagons like the one pictured above to make customer service calls during the gasoline rationing of World War II. The "V" on the side of the wagon stood for victory.

In the early 1940s, World War II took its toll on the pest control industry. The draft pulled many service technicians into war, and there were shortages of gasoline and materials needed for pest control. However, the military became a good customer for Orkin. At one time, Orkin handled pest control and bed bug fumigation for nearly 150 military establishments.

During the 1940s, pest control technology advanced rapidly, and Orkin expanded again after the war. To keep up with all the changes, the company advanced its training processes and standardized its procedures. 

1941: The pest control industry was one of two service industries classified as “essential” during the war. (The other was mortuary service.) Orkin was the largest pest control company in the nation, and leaders from Orkin and the National Pest Control Association met with military officials to explain the role of pest control in protecting water and food supplies, as well as public health. Due in large part to these efforts, the pest control industry succeeded in securing draft deferments for some industry personnel and getting pest control companies on preference lists for chemicals, gasoline, tires and food ration points for rodent bait. Even though pest control companies were given access to rationed supplies, gasoline rationing remained a challenge. Some branches used delivery bicycles to make service calls, while others used horse-drawn wagons.

 

1945: Despite the challenges of the war, Orkin posted strong numbers for sales. In 1945, the company’s gross sales were $2.09 million, including $250,000 in termite work. The company had 82 branches in 17 states.

 

1946: While Otto Orkin expanded the company by hiring family members and promoting service technicians, he knew he needed to hire well-educated pest control experts to remain a leader in the industry. In 1946 and 1947, he hired several entomologists and sanitary engineers who had served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Public Health Service. He hired professional sanitation engineer Herman Fellton as technical director, and Fellton developed the company’s first set of complete printed instructions for handling and using products and materials.

 

1947: Otto Orkin issued the company’s first uniforms, which featured the red diamond logo on caps, shirts and hats.

 

1948: Orkin employee Herman Fellton instituted a series of one-day educational programs for Pest Specialists. The sessions focused on training to use new products and standardizing methodology across all Orkin branches.

 

1948: Orkin’s Atlanta office began offering janitorial services.

 

Late 1940s: Drywood termites became a problem in Florida. Bernard Kolkana, manager of Orkin’s Miami office, met with Dr. Thomas Snyder, an entomology consultant to the Smithsonian Institution, to learn about drywood termites and how to control them. Kolkana devised a fumigation wrap using heavy craft paper, which led to the tarp fumigation method that Orkin perfected in the 1950s.

 

1950: The company’s first television commercial aired. Produced by WSB-TV in Atlanta, it featured a woman standing on a couch, screaming, after she spotted a rat. This all-too-real advertising campaign was quickly followed by ads featuring animated characters and, eventually, ads featuring The Orkin Man.

The October issue of an internal newsletter introduced a spray can character called Otto the Orkin Man that became the star of the company’s ads in the early 1950s.

1951-1960

Otto Orkin color portrait
Later in his pest control career, founder Otto Orkin had become a figurehead in his own company, which was run by his sons and his son-in-law.

Orkin made great strides in perfecting fumigation processes and improving termite control using its Orkin-Tox construction pretreatment system.

Otto Orkin continued to impress upon his employees that unmatched customer service was the key to success in the pest control industry. He encouraged Specialists to do small favors for customers when they performed pest control service, such as collecting the newspaper, gathering eggs or changing a light bulb. This was the beginning of The Orkin Man image.

Orkin began the first of its public education initiatives when Orkin Specialists hosted insect presentations at local schools.

1951: Company sales volume jumped to $7.03 million, including $3.25 million in termite contracts. Just six years earlier, gross sales were less than $2.1 million.

 

1952: Fortune magazine called Orkin the “General Motors of Exterminating.” The article reported that the company had 190 offices in 22 states and serviced 69,000 contracts for monthly pest control service.

In May, Orkin opened its first international office: Cuba-Fumigadora Orkin in Havana, Cuba.

 

1953: The company introduced Orkin-Tox, a construction pretreating system for termites. In addition to treating the land prior to construction and treating wooden components near the ground, Orkin Specialists installed aluminum pipes beneath houses for future termite treatments.

 

1955: Orkin spanned from coast to coast as the company opened its first California office in Pasadena. By this time, the company operated 325 branches in 28 states.

In September, Orkin completed the largest drywood termite fumigation at that time — a three-week job to fumigate the 15-story Fleetwood Hotel in Miami.

During this year, Orkin also completed the largest tarp fumigation at the time, using 9.3 acres of tarps to fumigate the J.B. Hill Company office — which suffered from an infestation of Khapra beetles — in Fresno, Ca. Life magazine covered the treatment.

 

1960: By the late 1950s, Otto Orkin had become a figurehead at the company, which was then run by his sons and son-in-law.  

1961 - 1970

Rollins Office

Okrin and parent company Rollins Inc. are headquarted in Atlanta.

By 1961, 74-year-old Otto Orkin and his family had begun to consider the company’s future and their options. In 1964, savvy businessman O. Wayne Rollins studied Orkin and saw the potential for continued growth in the pest control industry. He ultimately purchased the company for $62.4 million in the first-ever leveraged buyout. The deal was so unusual at the time that it became a case study at Harvard University. Under the Rollins leadership, Orkin continued to grow.


1961: Orkin operated offices in 29 states and Washington, D.C. In August, Otto Orkin’s sons Sanford and William Orkin and his daughter Bernice Kaye sold 360,000 shares to the public at $24 each ($9.36 million). They retained 85 percent of the shares.


1963: Orkin moved into its newly constructed $1.8 million headquarters office at 2170 Piedmont Rd. in Atlanta, where it is currently located today.

 

1964: In the first recorded leveraged buyout in the U.S., O. Wayne Rollins’ Rollins Broadcasting purchased Orkin Exterminating Company for $62.4 million on Sept. 1. Prior to the sale, Wayne Rollins hired management consulting firm McKinsey & Company to study Orkin as a potential investment. The company’s report noted that Orkin’s annual sales had jumped to $37 million and that Orkin was larger than its next 10 competitors combined.

In September, Rollins Broadcasting established the Orkin Acceptance Corporation (OAC), a Rollins-owned finance company, to standardize the payment process and give salespeople across the company an advantage over competitors that could not offer financing. (The OAC would later become State Fidelity and then Rollins Acceptance Corporation to better provide financing across all Rollins companies.)

In December, Rollins Broadcasting purchased an 80 percent interest in Dettelbach Pesticide Corporation, which was Orkin’s major supplier. By 1967, Rollins owned 100 percent of the company, and Dettelbach began supplying Orkin and other pest control companies in the Southeast in 1981.

 

1965: Rollins Broadcasting changed its name to Rollins Inc.

Rollins acquired Illinois-based pest control company Arwell Inc. for $3.14 million. The acquisition included 68 locations in nine midwestern states. The company, which specialized in commercial accounts, reported $4 million in revenue, with earnings before taxes of more than $475,000.

Wayne Rollins’ younger son Gary Rollins joined the Chattanooga, Tenn., office of Orkin. He worked as a pest control technician during the day, while taking morning and night classes at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Gary worked his way to the top of the company from his starting position as a service technician.

 

1967: Gary graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and joined Orkin’s Atlanta office as a pest and termite sales inspector. Shortly thereafter, Wayne moved Rollins Inc.’s corporate headquarters from Wilmington, Del., to Atlanta.

In the mid to late 1960s, Orkin International Inc. was established in Panama as a base to enter pest control markets in Central America and Mexico.

 

1968: By January, Orkin operated branches in 35 states, Washington, D.C., Mexico, Guatemala and Panama.

On February 11, 82-year-old Otto Orkin died. Rollins ran an advertisement in the Atlanta newspapers that read, “On the Passing of Mr. Otto Orkin, Founder of Orkin Exterminating Co. Inc., the Management and Employees of Rollins Inc., Acknowledge His Contributions to the Community, the Industry and Our Company.”

On August 12, Rollins’ stock was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock price was $65.50.

 

1969: The fiscal year ended on April 30, and Rollins’ revenues were $106.3 million.

1971 – 1980

fleet of Orkin Trucks

At the time, Orkin advertisments focused on the standardization that comes with a big organization, helping differentiate the company from small businesses that are a large percentage of the pest control industry.

During the 1970s, Orkin continued to increase sales, but growth had slowed and the company was not as profitable as the Rollins family knew it could be. Gary Rollins, head of operations at Orkin, partnered with his older brother, Randall Rollins, to study the company from every angle and position it for continued growth. They experimented with new procedures, employee incentives and bolder television ads — all of which helped increase sales and improve the bottom line.

 

1971: Rollins’ revenues climbed to $127 million.

 

1976: Orkin hired outside advertising agency J. Walter Thompson (JWT).

 

1977: JWT launched “Big Number One,” a national award-winning campaign for Orkin. The campaign highlighted Orkin’s position as “the world’s number one pest control company,” due to its size, reach and ability to offer guarantees. 

 

1978: In July, Gary Rollins became president of Orkin.

 

1979: Orkin had more than 1 million active accounts throughout the U.S. and Central America.

1981 – 1990

PanAm fumigation

Gordon Crenshaw, manager of the Orkin South Florida district in 1983, supervises the fumigation of the Pan Am world headquarters in Miami. At the time, it was the largest fumigation Orkin had ever performed.

1983: In July, Orkin fumigated the Pan Am world headquarters in Miami. The building was 6.7 million cubic feet, making it the largest fumigation Orkin had completed at that time. It remained so until 2005.

 

1984: In June, Rollins spun off two new companies: Rollins Communications (NYSE: ROC), which included the radio, television, cable and outdoor advertising interests; and RPC Energy Services (NYSE: RES), which included the company’s oil and gas services business. Orkin continued to operate under the Rollins banner. Stock prices for all three companies grew, with Rollins increasing from $8 to $12.25 in less than a year.

 

1988: Forbes magazine names Rollins the “Nation’s Number One Service Company.”

 

1989: Orkin’s new advertising campaign featured the Orkin exterminator robot.

1991 – 2000

RCCC

The Orkin Customer Care Center, now called the Rollins Customer Service Center, trained its employees to make quality control calls, close sales and offer information to customers after hours.

In the 1990s, Orkin grew through acquisitions and the introduction of its franchising program. In addition, Orkin remained at the forefront of technological advancements in the pest control industry, introducing a number of products and working with engineers to develop new equipment for the pest control industry.

 

Early 1990s: Orkin introduced innovative termite control products and equipment such as OrkinFoam, a flowmeter that accurately measured termiticide, and borates for termite treatments. Pest Specialists also began to use handheld computers.

 

1991: In October, 79-year-old O. Wayne Rollins died. His company continued to grow under the direction of the sons he had mentored.

 

1993: Orkin sponsored the O. Orkin Insect Zoo at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. 

Forbes magazine named Rollins to its best customer service list for the seventh year in a row.

 

1995: Orkin established its franchise program. Don Lackey opened the first franchised location in Conyers, Ga.

Orkin recognized a change in customer preferences and moved from door-to-door sales with in-person presentations to providing more information and closing sales over the phone. The company expanded the Orkin Customer Service Center to take calls from customer awareness campaigns and to make quality control calls to ensure customer satisfaction.

 

1998: The new animated Orkin Man appeared in a Toy Story-inspired television commercial.

 

1999: Orkin became the largest pest control company in Canada when it acquired PCO Services (now Orkin Canada).

 

2000-2001: Orkin’s “Fake Out” advertising campaign received homeowners’ attention across America, as a very real-looking cockroach appeared to scurry across television screens. The ad generated a great deal of media coverage, and Orkin created a fun interactive contest called “Orkin Got Me” on its website so that customers could describe how they were fooled.

2001 – Present

Fight The Bite

Between 2008 and 2011, Orkin's Fight The Bite campaign raised more than $818,000 to purchase and distribute insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets to fight malaria in Africa.

In the last 10 years, Orkin has taken its commitment to training and education to a new level. To educate its own Pest Specialists, Orkin developed a state-of-the-art training center and added a satellite broadcasting system, creating virtual classrooms. The company created a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which gives Orkin representatives access to the newest information about pest-related health concerns and prevention measures.

As a responsible corporate citizen, Orkin donated services to address pest-related concerns after natural disasters, including the earthquake in Haiti and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Orkin continues to meet the pest control needs of its customers and to address pest-related public health issues that affect the public at large.

 

2001: Orkin celebrated its 100-year anniversary with the traveling O. Orkin Insect Safari, developed in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution.

The company had 400 branch offices and 7,500 employees, which served 1.6 million commercial and residential customers.

The Orkin Training Center, a $10 million facility, opened in Atlanta. The facility has classrooms where Orkin representatives learn about the biology and habits of pests as well as the principles of Integrated Pest Management. For hands-on training purposes, the training facility has a separate one-story brick house and a model commercial kitchen, restaurant, bar, hospital room and hotel room.

 

2002: Orkin’s first franchisee, Don Lackey, was also the first franchisee to sell his location back to Orkin, which paid Lackey more than $1 million. Orkin’s franchise contracts include a buyback provision, whereby Orkin has the option to buy franchises that hit certain milestones.

 

2003: Orkin Exterminating Company became Orkin Inc.

Gary Rollins received the National Pest Management Association’s Pinnacle Award, the industry’s most prestigious award.

 

2004: When West Nile virus became a U.S. concern in 2004, Orkin reached out to the CDC for information to share with customers. Orkin and the CDC developed a partnership to further educate the public on pest-related health risks.

 

2006: Orkin launched Orkin TV, an interactive satellite broadcasting system. With this system, Orkin employees can view live broadcast educational seminars from any Orkin office around the world. By 2010, Orkin had partnered with the CDC on five satellite-broadcast training sessions.

 

2008: Orkin began its Fight The Bite campaign to raise money for Nothing But Nets, which distributed insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets to malaria-prone areas of Africa to prevent the spread of malaria. By the end of 2011, Orkin had raised more than $818,000 to purchase more than 81,800 nets.

Orkin introduced its Junior Pest Investigators program, which provides educational curriculum to teach students in K-6 classrooms about insects and integrated pest management.

 

2011: As Orkin entered its 110th year in operation, the company had offices in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Central America, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Asia and the Mediterranean.

2012: