Marsha and Tommy Reeves understand the family-oriented nature of the pest control industry because they’ve lived it. The daughter of industry icons Millard and Ada Oldham, Marsha grew up in the pest control industry, watching her beloved parents build Oldham Chemicals Company into one of the country’s leading pest control distributors. The company currently operates service centers throughout the Southeast.
A Family Legacy
Marsha’s parents met in college, where they played in the marching band together before graduating, tying the knot and launching their fledgling business.
That was more than 50 years and three great grandchildren ago!
“The toughest times were the first year or two after starting the business. We lived on $100 a week,” Millard recalls of those early days. “Thank goodness my father-in-law gave me a truck or we couldn’t have made a go of it.”
Marsha spent her formative years around the pest control industry, working summers and during school breaks at the company. “As a child, I worked in the warehouse and flagged down the UPS driver before moving into the office and doing different kinds of clerical work,” she says. “Since we didn’t have computers, all the invoices were hand-written, so it was very labor-intensive.”
“She has worked her entire life for the company, doing invoicing as a teenager, and later doing almost every single job in the business,” says industry colleague and family friend Dr. Jerome Goddard, extension professor, Mississippi State University. “There’s no aspect of the Oldham Chemicals business that she doesn’t know about. She’s done it all!”
Marsha also represented the company at local, state and national meetings, including the Five States Conference, where she would work the tradeshow booth, interacting with customers and handing out promotional items. “It wasn’t exactly a vacation, but I had fun,” she says.
As a result, Tommy says, “Marsha was taught customer service at an early age.”
Like many successful entrepreneurs, the Oldhams were able to keep their business and personal lives separate most days. “Even though they were busy growing the business, they had time for me,” Marsha recalls. “They went to all my band functions and we attended church together.”
A Perfect Match
Tommy met Marsha their junior year in college while attending Lambuth University in Jackson, Tenn. “We found ourselves in night classes with students who were already working professionals,” Tommy says. “The average age of students in those classes was probably 40 years old, so we talked business and politics a lot, and got to know each other.”
It wasn’t long before they started meeting between classes to share a cup of coffee and some conversation. “One of my favorite professors predicted Marsha and I would get married before we even started dating,” Tommy recalls, “and he was right!”
They graduated in 1979 and were married two years later. In the early days of their union, Marsha worked full-time at Oldham Chemicals and Tommy joined a local accounting firm, while attending law school at night. As a result, they didn’t see much of each other, although they always made time for their daughter Stephanie, the third generation of the family to work in the business.
Upon earning his law degree, Tommy worked for a firm in downtown Memphis for one year before striking out on his own, doing “a little bit of everything” – estates, divorces, contract law. In between, he found time to assist the Oldhams, sharing his expertise on various accounting and legal matters.
“I used to eat lunch with Marsha and spend three or four hours in the office helping out,” he says. It wasn’t long before Tommy realized, “I liked business more than law” and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Tommy Reeves is a hard-working man, some might say, driven,” Goddard says. “Yes, he’s an attorney. Don’t let that ‘aw shucks’ demeanor fool you, Tommy is brilliant. I personally like him because he’s so down to earth and personable. He loves people and especially his customers; (he’s) eager to get to know them as people, not just an account.”
With Marsha and Tommy taking over more and more of the day-to-day responsibilities of the business, Oldham Chemicals has expanded its footprint throughout the Southeast and beyond. The company now boasts 14 service centers, with Marsha playing a major role in the company’s expansion.
That doesn’t mean, however, Millard and Ada are no longer involved. “Mr. Oldham checks our invoices every day,” Tommy says, “and we talk business all the time.”
“They’re also very good at giving us guidance and wisdom,” Marsha adds.
A Legacy of Service
Like the founders of the business, Tommy and Marsha attribute Oldham’s success to the fact that both ownership and staff understand what it takes to run a small business. “Millard and Ada have always looked after the independent, small businessperson,” Tommy says. “That’s because they’ve actually walked in their shoes.”
“We try to practice The Golden Rule,” treat others as you would want to be treated, he adds. “They’re old-timey principles, but they stand the test of time.”
Valera Jessee, former executive director of UPFDA, has admired the Oldham family for years. “There are certain people in this industry whose friendship you value above others. They are the people who have weathered the storms, the folks who have been instrumental in building an industry from its early days to its maturity. All these characteristics are embodied in the Oldhams,” she says.
And that legacy has continued with Marsha and Tommy.
“Developing your own style and legacy is especially challenging when you are the daughter and son-in-law of a dynamic couple such as the Oldhams,” Jessee says. “However, Marsha and Tommy have succeeded in developing their own brand of professionalism, competency and success.”
“Marsha is … as true today as she was when I met her more than 30 years ago. Her style and demeanor reflect her loving and supportive family and a value system that doesn’t compromise,” she says.
“Tommy is a leader whose funny quips belie a brilliant mind and innovative spirit. Together the two are a united force leading not only their company, but the industry into the next generation of excellence.”
“Tommy has always been an encourager and personal friend of mine, and for that I’ll always be grateful,” adds Goddard. “In fact, Tommy was the first person to recommend me to speak at a pest control conference, thus helping launch my career as a speaker in this industry.”
Running a business can be an all-consuming enterprise, according to Tommy, so you better enjoy it. “It’s a 24-hour lifestyle. We still meet customers on Saturday and Sunday if they need something,” he says. “It’s a calling” … a calling he absolutely loves.
“If we didn’t have this business, I’d go crazy,” Tommy says. “Marsha and I are planning on being around to serve our customers for many years to come,” just like Millard and Ada!