By Peter Hildebrandt
Here’s a bit of trivia: what holiday does one of our largest national pest control companies have the biggest problem with? Those who work on the uniform end of things will know it’s Halloween because that is when they have the most requests by people to dress up as the ever-helpful “Orkin Man.” So why not hand out a few uniforms and take advantage of the great publicity in the form of a few uniforms on those who are inclined to masquerade? Orkin technicians and others who are part of the Orkin family will be glad to explain their take on why not, but first some background.
Orkin Inc. has several thousand service people wearing uniforms in the treating of hundreds of different pests. In fact, the company reports ordering 24,000 uniforms per year. Orkin employees other than the field agents also wear the uniforms, including branch managers and most of the sales people. The standard Orkin uniform consists of either khaki or gray trousers and the standard, logoed white polyester-cotton shirt with the red epaulets. Accessories include steel-toe shoes, a white logoed “Bump Cap,” necktie and coveralls.
Orkin Inc. was founded in 1901 by Otto Orkin. Following the publishing of the company’s history on its 100th anniversary, Martha Craft, assistant vice president of public relations and corporate communications, had looked through information and old photos to see if anything specific had been said about its old uniforms. Though it wasn’t covered specifically or in detail, she did find photos of employees from the early 1930s and uniforms were being worn at that time. There may have been uniforms earlier than that, according to Craft.
“The earliest focus for pest control in the beginning was rats. Otto Orkin was known as Otto the Rat Man.’ Though it started as a one-man operation, I’m not sure exactly when we started wearing uniforms,” she says.
Orkin has different uniforms depending on which of the various job functions the individual is filling. Termite technicians wear a khaki-colored shirt instead of the white shirt. The commercial uniform also is slightly different than the residential one. Commercial technicians wear charcoal gray cotton/polyester blend pants and typically a golf-style shirt.
“The reason we did this is when an Orkin person walks into a restaurant or other commercial establishment where they must walk through a group of customers, with the standard uniform you’ll tend to get either of two reactions: Great, the Orkin man is here; this place must be pest-free,’ or Oh no, the Orkin man is here; this place must have a problem, full of roaches!’ For that reason we try to downplay, somewhat, our Orkin uniforms in commercial settings,” says Craft. “Restaurant patrons probably won’t notice someone in charcoal gray pants and a golf shirt as much as someone wearing our trademark white shirt with red epaulets.”
On its charcoal gray pants, Orkin has also added a cargo pocket on the leg because the commercial technicians now use a handheld data device for recording what problems service employees have seen and what improvements they’ve seen. They are then able to download this information into a databank.
For example, if a technician is visiting a large department store, he is able to plug the data device into a charging station and download the information for that location into the store’s national account in order to see how their stores are doing company-wide.
“But overall, our uniform is remarkably unchanged from what we had in the 1930s. It’s a crisp, khaki pant, short-sleeve or long-sleeve uniform shirt with the Orkin diamond stitched onto the left breast and the red epaulets. This has been standard for some 90 years.”
Orkin has recently added a stitched diamond to the back yolk of the shirt to help identify the person from the back. This addition is approximately the size of a quarter or half dollar. With the exception of the state of California where state regulations require the uniforms be rented instead of purchased, all Orkin employees purchase their uniforms until they’ve been with the company a certain number of years, beyond which Orkin will purchase the uniform for the employee.
The president of Rollins Inc., the parent company of Orkin, must approve all of the uniform changes. Gary W. Rollins is very logical in how he views the components of the uniforms, according to Craft. Each part of the uniform must have a clear function. Employees have been involved to some degree in uniform decisions, including offering feedback on the current issue of females wearing the standard necktie. The head of the Orkin purchasing department typically is the one coordinating changes, especially those involving uniform function, before the proposed changes are brought to Rollins.
One of the things technicians don’t want to happen when treating something such as fire ants is for them to crawl up their shoe and underneath their sock. Orkin technicians tend to tuck their pant bottoms into their socks when treating the ants. They also have crawl suits, which are khaki canvas jumpsuits for wearing when searching underneath houses for termites and other pests. These suits are placed right over the standard uniforms and are zipped up. They have a collar and the Orkin diamond embroidered over the left breast. After work is completed, the coverall can be removed and the uniform underneath is relatively unsoiled, allowing the technician to consult with the customer inside the house while still in a clean, presentable uniform.
There are a few things that can be added to a uniform, such as an embroidered sleeve patch if an employee is a Certified Field Trainer. This means the wearer has gone through a certain number of training classes and he is now certified to train employees in his branch.
Orkin also has a competition program it’s been running for 35 years called President’s Club. Those who’ve won this are a very elite group who’ve competed company-wide for the award. “If you win President’s Club, you can have that designation stitched onto your cuff. If you win multiple years, it can say Ten-year President’s Club member’ [for example]. President’s Club and Certified Field Trainer are things you can add to your uniform if desired,” says Craft.
The women’s uniform is different but the basic style remains the same. Though a man and woman side by side might both have khaki pants, white shirt and red epaulets, the woman’s clothes will have a modified cut and more fitted style.
Safety requirements in the uniform include steel-toe shoes for technicians. “There is no telling what a technician might encounter in someone’s home, up in their attic, crawlspace or basement,” says Craft. The men’s uniform includes a standard necktie, unless he is working in certain places where a clip-on tie is required by OSHA for safety purposes.
“There are also many different ties that can be ordered which would be acceptable to be worn with the uniform. Most have the Orkin logo or name on them. In fact, we design a specific President’s Club tie every year, a tie highly coveted as you must win President’s Club to receive it.”
At present, Orkin is in a bit of a quandary over women’s ties, because, as Craft points out, women don’t usually wear ties. She says, “There are a couple of styles in the uniform repertoire that we’re still working with. We’re just not sure what to do about women’s ties, as they are not especially popular. We’re looking at other items more acceptable to a woman’s sense of style, such as scarves. It’s not always easy to come up with something that’s an exact replica of a man’s uniform and not encounter some problems. But we’ve seen many women who haven’t had any problems at all with doing the technician jobs. Also, many times when women customers are home during the day, they would rather the technician servicing their house be a woman instead of a man.”
This leads directly into the Halloween issue. Each year around Halloween, Craft receives many phone calls from the public asking where an Orkin uniform can be obtained to wear to costume parties. But the company does not permit anyone to wear the Orkin uniform who is not an Orkin employee.
“What a great costume’ to use for someone looking to enter a house in order to do some really bad things,” cautions Craft. “We’ve worked hard to protect our good reputation and good name. We do not let anyone except certified personnel have our uniforms and no one in the public has ever had a problem with our policy once I’ve explained it to them; they automatically get it, thanking us for letting them know the reason.”
Another important part of Orkin’s uniform accessories is the “bump cap.” This is a white hardhat with the Orkin diamond on the front. “I recently noticed a comment about this hat on a blog,” says Craft. “The person was wondering why the Orkin man would have to wear a hardhat; what sort of bugs could he possibly come up against that could require one? I responded that it is in fact called a Bump Cap and the reason for its use has nothing to do with bugs but instead where we have to go to find them. In many of those places there are lots of things you can bump your head on, like nails, beams, attic equipment, fixtures and any number of items.”
Orkin has tried not to include any extraneous things on the uniforms. “Orkin already is such a recognizable brand. We don’t want to fill it up with too much other confusing stuff such as buttons or pins. A safety aspect comes into play. Whatever we add onto the uniform is usually stitched on,” says Craft.
During the past year, the safety shoes were changed. There were some issues about them being slippery and not as comfortable as possible. A wear test was done by letting several branches wear different brands of shoes. Using the feedback, a new shoe was chosen for the entire company.
Many branches will have a supply of spare uniforms for use in case a technician becomes too dirty and doesn’t have time to change into a clean uniform at home. Branches also may issue a previously used uniform to a new employee as long as that uniform is in excellent condition.
Since the 1960s, Riverside Manufacturing Inc. has manufactured Orkin’s uniforms. Riverside has been in business since 1911, and its clients include Chevron, Ace Hardware, Waffle House, 7UP, Dr. Pepper, Krispy Kreme, AmeriGas and many others.
A unique serialized number is permanently attached to each garment to help with tracking through manufacturing and distribution. Once uniforms are ordered and go out into the field, Orkin does little computer tracking of the uniform.
Instead, all uniforms are ordered through the branch, and either the branch or the individual pays for it depending on the length of the employee’s tenure. At the end of employment, all uniforms must be turned in to avoid any problems with possible misuse of a uniform by someone not associated with Orkin. The black Orkin shoes are provided by the company. If technicians do not wear the Bump Cap, technicians may wear a uniform baseball-type cap, and there are several approved designs from which to choose.
Bill Siegel is branch manager for Orkin’s Boston office. He has 35 employees at his branch involved with a combination of termite, residential and commercial customers. His own personal wardrobe is somewhat flexible depending upon his daily duties.
Siegel echoes what Craft says when it comes to the constancy of the uniforms, especially those used for residential applications. Craft says, “This uniform has withstood the test of time and has not really varied much at all over the years.”
Siegel mirrors that comment and adds, “We find the uniforms to be rugged and durable. Overall they’re very well made. They remain quite durable as well as being easy to launder. They also do a great job of displaying our company, advertising it and letting people know who we are. Our uniform is very recognizable.”
And because it is so recognizable, Siegel says security has become an important factor for the branch managers and the company as a whole. He says, “We are all concerned with our company and certainly do not want anything bad to happen because of something with our uniform; that hurts everyone in Orkin. Every time someone goes to the door to see the Orkin man, we want them to feel completely comfortable. We’d also much rather come up with policies before something happens than afterwards. Maintaining our integrity is a basic goal of ours. The fact that they’re so concerned about any issues which might arise with the uniforms means Orkin is studying everything they can in the effort to make them the best that they can be.”
|Above story first appeared in MADE TO MEASURE Magazine, Fall & Winter 2008 issue. All rights reserved. Photos appear by special permission.|
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