Fresh Start Fuels Wins For City Wide Exterminating

Mar 22, 2024
8 min read
Fresh Start Fuels Wins For City Wide Exterminating
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By Eddie Wooten

Ashley and Dylan Morrison can laugh now about the index cards.

That’s how her father, Robert Hunnicutt, kept track of customers in the early days of the pest control company he started from his home in Midland, NC.

“They would sit lined up on a desk, and if their cat jumped up there and knocked one down behind the desk, somebody missed their renewal,” says Ashley Morrison, now the president of that company, City Wide Exterminating.

Ashley Morrison is the majority owner of the business. She teams with Dylan, her husband and the director of operations, and her brother, Chris Hunnicutt, the vice president and wildlife services manager, to lead City Wide from the business’s present-day location, about 8 miles away in Locust and about 25 miles east of Uptown Charlotte. 

Ashley Morrison’s push to partner with ServSuite in 2013, when she was director of operations, would foil the feline and introduce City Wide to the software for scheduling, routing, billing, inventory tracking, reporting, and more.

That move to modernize would be followed by City Wide's purchase of a house on West Main Street in Locust in 2015. After converting the house to an office and with the addition of a storage building for trucks, supplies, and equipment, City Wide Exterminating could present a storefront presence beginning in 2016 along four-lane N.C. 24-27.

Ashley Morrison's leadership skills would continue to evolve one year later, and she'd put them to use to turn a challenge into an opportunity.

‘Better for it in the long run’

Everything changed for City Wide Exterminating in 2017.

Start with Ashley Morrison taking a seat in the National Pest Management Association's first Executive Leadership Program

"The friendships and relationships that I made in that program just changed the total trajectory of our company and myself personally and professionally," she says. 

Morrison found a mentor, Dennis Jenkins, who would go on to become an NPMA president and who leads operations at ABC Home & Commercial Services in Dallas, TX. She formed another such relationship with classmate Audrey Hall, the president of Eco Serve Pest Services in Orchard Park, NY.

"She and I were the only females in our class, so we naturally kind of just bonded," Morrison says. "She is an inspiration and a mentor to me. She's somebody who I will text and say, 'Hey, what are you doing for this? Hey, have you ever dealt with this?' There's really not a day that I don't ask her a question or she doesn't ask me something." 

Later, at an NPMA event, she met Daniele Collinson, director of client experience at Blades of Green and B.O.G. Pest Control in Edgewater, MD.

"Not only can they be brutally honest with me on a personal level, but I come to them for business help all the time," Morrison says. "I'm going to call them mentors, but they're also really good best friends, personal friends."

Morrison, who earned degrees in business management and psychology from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, talked with her new frientors about what made their businesses successful, how they recruited and retained, how they operated. She read Jim Collins' "Good to Great" and Gino Wickman's "Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business." 

She considered what was working for City Wide.

And what wasn't.

"2017 is when she really took over day-to-day operations and really started steering the company," Dylan Morrison says. "She made a lot of decisions going back to things that she believed in, things that she thought were better: The way that we bill customers, going to monthly billing, for example. I would've never done that, her brother would've never done that, and her dad would've never done that.

"That was something she thought was convenient as a female, and she thought it would be convenient to our customer base."

But the most abrupt change, and Morrison's most strategic decision made with her husband and brother, involved who would do City Wide Exterminating's work in the field—and a calculation of risk vs. reward.

"We made changes that ultimately either made people shape up, find another job, or we had to politely ask people to leave because we knew the direction that we were going wasn't where we wanted to go," Morrison says.

Constantly correcting techs

Skill sets for some of the technicians weren't improving. Not all of the technicians' relationships with customers were what they should've been. Others didn't like being held accountable.

"I started really looking at the people we had and the pain points that we were constantly talking about," Morrison says. "We were constantly correcting and recorrecting and talking to people about the same things over and over."

Dylan Morrison says she acted on insight from Jenkins, one of her mentors.

"You're small enough now, just let them go. Just start fresh," Jenkins told Ashley Morrison.

And City Wide Exterminating did. 

That summer was a long and hot one for Dylan Morrison and Chris Hunnicutt and for a couple of others helping in the field, filling gaps vacated by 40 years of experience. 

"But we were better for it in the long run, for sure," Ashley Morrison says.

City Wide used job boards to find technicians, but by last year, 75% of their hires would be made through referrals. 

"We started looking at why we were hiring for technical ability," she adds. "We need to hire good people and then figure out where they fit."

One new hire, for the wildlife team, turned out to have a fear of heights. So City Wide has plugged him into pest control, his "sweet spot," Morrison says. 

“We survived, we made it,” Morrison says. 

Truth is, City Wide Exterminating has more than made it.

‘Happy people do better work’

City Wide Exterminating now employs 17 technicians serving an area that covers about 25 miles in all directions from Uptown Charlotte. And City Wide has been owned by Ashley Morrison, with Dylan Morrison and Chris Hunnicutt as minority owners, since they bought it from Linda and Robert Hunnicutt in December 2021.

Another software change, from ServSuite to the FieldRoutes® Operations Suite in March 2020, enabled City Wide, among other things, to send service agreements from the system to customers for approval, including putting a card on file, before a technician makes a visit. 

The software change also eased pain points in payment collection, customer communications, and in tracking and converting leads to subscriptions.

And she called FieldRoutes software “pretty.”

"Whoa. This is modern, this looks good, this is nice,” she remembers saying. “We like for our customers to see this side of it."

And the Morrisons evolved as leaders, not only at home but beyond. Ashley Morrison, in 2019, would become a member of the NPMA's board of directors, and Dylan Morrison is serving as the N.C. Pest Management Association president for 2023-24.

Oh, and City Wide Exterminating's annual revenue, bursting across the $3 million threshold, grows about 20% annually.

“We have learned everything we know from other people who are already doing it, or something that didn't work for them,” Morrison says.

City Wide in a word: Fun

The best, certainly, is yet to come. But a rebuilt team serving customers on modern software has made City Wide an award-winning company, most recently with its selection as one of the Best Places to Work in the market by the Charlotte Business Journal. 

In City Wide employees' comments on the publication’s survey, one word appeared more often than any other to describe the environment.

"Fun."

"We spend a lot of time together, and we also understand that happy people do better work," Ashley Morrison says. "We really try to make it a collaborative effort, and we tell everybody when we sit down and interview them, 'If that is not what you're into, we're sorry, but it's what we're into.'"

That has meant company outings involving axe throwing or go-karting, a pool party or tubing along the New River. Or assembling a meal that employees can take home for their families.

When it’s your birthday, you get the day off.

And during difficult times, the City Wide family members support each other. Melissa Smith, the billing manager and customer service representative supervisor, lost her husband, Locust police chief Steven Smith, unexpectedly in 2020.

"It wasn't, 'How's your work going to get done?'" Smith says. "It was, 'What do you need? How can we be there for you?'"

And now for two years in a row, City Wide has presented the Steven R. Smith Memorial Scholarship to a Charlotte-area high school senior in selections based on a student's academic excellence, character, and community involvement.

The growth and the professional development of the City Wide family has in turn allowed the company owners to focus on their own families. In the case of Ashley and Dylan Morrison, that’s getting their three children to and from school or to the barn or to tumbling. They’re even able to put work talk aside at the dinner table.

That’s a significant change from the days of index cards. And it’s revolutionary change from 2017.

"I look back at that year, and that was one of the turning points," Morrison says. "We survived. We made it. But now we have even better people in place.  I look at where we've come from 2017 to today and the amazing people that we have on our team, and I know that it had to happen." 

What They're Saying

"Everything about FieldRoutes was user-friendly. That was priority No. 1." – Ashley Morrison, president, City Wide Exterminating

"I like to make sure people are happy and fulfilled, and it's whether that's our team or our customers are happy with the services that they're getting from us and we're not being another pain point for them. Nobody likes to pick up the phone and call a pest control company. It's a service they wish they didn't have to have, so if we can make it as easy as possible and painless as possible for you, that's our goal." – Ashley Morrison

"(FieldRoutes software) makes it easier to access the work we need. If we're on the road or a family vacation, heading to the beach, and something comes up, Ashley can jump on. Or from mobile, I can look at an account that a technician is servicing if they're having trouble. Being able to see everything regardless of where we are is very helpful." – Dylan Morrison, director of operations, City Wide Exterminating

"The efficiencies you see by investing in technology pays for itself, in my opinion. If you can simplify some of the things you're doing and FieldRoutes has that solution for you, there is no reason that should not be a contender on your list of companies you're looking at." – Ashley Morrison

"Our technicians were collecting paperwork, they were collecting checks in the field, they were collecting signatures, they were setting everything up in the field. And now all of that is done prior to them ever coming to the customer's house because we're able to do it out of the system." – Ashley Morrison

"There's an accountability aspect to that where we have pest control devices that are set up around the structure or a commercial facility that require a technician to open those and scan the barcode in it. All of their findings are recorded, time-stamped, when that device is serviced, and the client gets a work order that shows that all of these devices were managed and maintained, just like the contract that we proposed. That is a big selling piece for us." – Dylan Morrison

"The trigger rules: There's no limit to what you can build with that. Ours are simple follow-up text messages. It has taken some of the mundane tasks that don't require human capital to do; we've been able to automate a few of those things." – Ashley Morrison

"(I love) all of the performance reports I pull to go over (technicians') scorecards from their re-service rates, cancellation rates, production. All of those reports and how easy it is to pull those is awesome for me." – Dylan Morrison

"It's a pretty software. It's important to the team because the prettier it is, the easier it probably is also.” – Ashley Morrison 

Key Performance Improvements

  • Revenue surpassed $3 million annually in 2023; growth is about 20% each year.

  • Amount of commercial service has increased from 2% to 17% in the past three years.

City Wide Exterminating

Owners: Ashley and Dylan Morrison, Chris Hunnicutt

Location: Locust, NC (service centers in Concord, Mooresville, and Charlotte)

Technicians: 17

Office Staff: 3

Sales Reps: 1

Years In Business: 24

Key services: Pest, termites, wildlife

Learn more: CityWideExterm.com, 704.888.0911

In this Case Study
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