Top 100: New to the List — Economy Exterminators
Nearly 50 years ago, two brothers set out to take their careers into their own hands. Today, Economy Exterminators has become a place for employees to grow and build strong community partnerships.
Throughout college, the pair had worked at a hardware store and admired their boss. But after graduating, their jobs (and their bosses) left something to be desired.
“We were single. We had nothing to lose,” said John. “We figured we could do pest control.”
Joe received his pest control license in 1976, and Economy Exterminators opened for business that December. Joe and John ran the sales and service portion of the business, and their father ran the office.
“There was no great business plan, no great vision,” said John. “Really, we just wanted to be in our own business. This industry suited me perfectly, because I got to see customers, I got to take care of their problems. It was a physical job, because I was really not built for inside the office.”
Over the years, the company expanded, opening a Charlotte service location in 1994 and a Wilmington location in 1998, offering general pest control, termite control, moisture control, crawlspace encapsulation, thermal bed bug treatments, rodent exclusion, fly control and more to residential and commercial clients.
Now, the family-owned business is being led by the next generation, with John’s son Greg Canning at the helm as president.
Greg joined the business full-time in 2015, but he grew up working at Economy Exterminators in the summers as a customer service representative and technician. With a Ph.D. in philosophy, he hadn’t planned on joining the family business full-time. For about 10 years, he taught philosophy in Washington, D.C., then moved to Massachusetts for a year, where he struggled to find a job in academia.
“There were hiring freezes at all the universities, and I couldn’t find any work,” Greg said. “My dad and Joe invited me to do human resources, because we had gotten to be about 65 employees at that time. So I stepped in, and I really liked it.”
Gradually, Greg moved into a leadership role at the company. After Joe retired in October 2022, Greg took over his half.
When company revenue hit $12.6 million in 2022, Greg said he and his father decided it was time to showcase its growth by submitting to PCT’s Top 100 list. To put that growth in perspective, when Greg joined the company, revenue was $6.3 million. Now, the company is No. 66 on the list.
“Some employees have been here 30 and 40 years, and it’s a good way to recognize them as well as us, because we could not have done it without them,” John said.
Greg added, “And also to let the community know. A lot of our success has been due to the Raleigh-Durham community and the great customers and clients we’ve had.”
IT TAKES A VILLAGE. Employee longevity and community partnership are two steady constants that have contributed to Economy Exterminators’ success.
Among the company’s three locations, it now has 100 employees, and many have been with the company for decades.
“If they find the right place to land and they like the work and they like the customers and it supports family — I think it has to answer all of those questions,” said John. “To take it all the way back to the hardware store, I enjoyed working for that man. I get to see people I really enjoy working with all the time, watch their families grow and they watch our families grow.”
The business’ proximity to North Carolina State University also has contributed to its success. Early in the company’s history, John and Joe would head down the street to NC State for advice on unusual pest issues.
“If we ever had any questions, we could go straight over there and they would help us resolve whatever pest issue it was,” he said. “We had this readily accessible set of expertise within 15 minutes of us.”
John and the rest of the team developed a close relationship — going on over 30 years — with Dr. Mike Waldvogel, who recently retired as the university’s extension specialist for household and structural entomology.
Through this partnership, Economy Exterminators became involved in early research of Sentricon’s termite bait stations. In 1993, Waldvogel asked Economy Exterminators manager Daniel Harris if the company was interested in working with the university on new termite technology using a baiting system.
“Daniel had what we thought would be the perfect test house — a home that had multiple slab additions over the years and had been treated with liquid material multiple times, but still had termite swarms,” recalled John.
The client agreed to let the home be used as a test structure, and over the next year, Sentricon was successful in eliminating the pests.
Waldvogel next wanted to test an above-ground treatment station. Economy Exterminators had another client home suited for the study, and the above-ground baiting research assisted in the development of what was to eventually become Sentricon AG. Economy Exterminators has been using Sentricon products ever since.
“It’s been a beautiful collaboration,” John said. “They get something, and our clients are happy to assist. And we gain cutting-edge technology in our industry, which is absolutely wonderful.”
As part of the ongoing partnership, Economy Exterminators also built and donated a termite trailer to NC State’s Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology for teaching purposes.
FORWARD VISION. In 2007, Economy Exterminators hired a consultant that helped the business see beyond what John described as “our own little bubble” and fully accelerate its growth.
“He came from a larger pest control company, and he gave us a different vision,” he said. “I’ve always liked being as close to the cutting edge as I can be.”
The consultant helped the company go paperless, a saving grace in 2020 when COVID-19 hit.
“We had it all in place where we could send the office staff home and they could operate,” Greg said. “And there was not even a hiccup.”
Greg said he envisions several avenues through which the company can continue growing, including expanding its commercial client base, which currently accounts for 30 percent of revenue.
“I think we mainly focused on residential for so many years that it’s just become second nature to us,” said Greg. “But we’ve started really shifting the focus towards commercial clients and pursuing those.”
The company has been building its commercial sales team and recently hired a director of sales and business development to guide them.
Greg also sees the company opening another branch and eventually venturing into acquisitions.
“We wouldn’t be here without our employees, but we also wouldn’t be here without the vision of the founders and their willingness to change over the years and adapt to different business environments,” he said. “I think that people want to be part of that mission. You spend a third of your life doing work, and you want to make sure that it’s worthwhile.”