Atkins Inc. has changed in more ways than one since its birth almost 90 years ago. What started as a small janitorial company has now expanded to a thriving business with a customer base spanning a 75-mile radius around its headquarters in Columbia.
Atkins Inc., with services that range from pest control to janitorial services, is owned by Boone County native Tom Atkins, whose grandfather started the company back in 1925. Thomas Atkins Sr. was a farmer who got into the business of selling agricultural supplies before expanding the company to janitorial services in Columbia.
Atkins Inc. was kept in the family and was eventually bought out by Tom Atkins in 1969.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Atkins says.
Tom Atkins, who was originally in real estate, says he always liked sales, and enjoyed learning about different businesses and products.
“They’ve always had a seeing-a-need-and-filling-a-need kind of approach,” says Emily Thoroughman, chief operating officer for Atkins.” It’s the crux of the business. We are always looking for new ways to help people. Our service line has grown over the years based on that philosophy.”
A proven philosophy
Thoroughman has worked for Atkins for 20 years and can attest to all the progress the company has seen over the years. When she first started at the business, Atkins was limited to just lawn care and irrigation. Since then, the company has expanded its services to include pest and wildlife management, holiday and landscape lighting, handyman services, hidden pet fence installation and commercial janitorial.
“Sometimes, you have to look at the marketplace and see what’s needed,” Atkins says.
“I think we’ve been fortunate,” Thoroughman says. “When other companies have been struggling and shrinking, we have continued to grow. I think that’s a testament to both the way we do business and the vitality of our community.”
The company benefits from having such a diverse service market; it has a high cross-selling rate amongst its customer base.
“If they’ve already gotten one service from you, they’re more likely to think of you when they need something else done,” Atkins says.
Atkins Inc. recently reverted back to its janitorial roots in 2009, when Atkins decided to merge the business with his other company, Tom Atkins Maintenance Management. Thoroughman says Atkins Inc. currently employs around 350 people, having added almost 300 employees since she began work at the company 20 years ago. She says most of these employees are part of the janitorial staff, and the company has added more than 100 positions in the past two years alone.
“I think we’ve done an excellent job of creating a culture that truly values the people that are important in getting our work done,” Thoroughman says. “It’s your people who make or break you. You’ve got to have good people who feel part of something bigger than themselves.”
Atkins says the key to a successful business is having hard-working employees.
“You can’t grow a business without the right people,” he says.
With an expanded workforce and new services comes a continually increasing customer base. Although 85 percent of Atkins Inc.’s lawn care and pest management customers are residential and 15 percent commercial, its janitorial clients are 100 percent commercial.
“There’s been about a 500 percent increase in customers since I started working here 20 years ago,” Thoroughman says with a laugh. “Back then, I answered the phone a lot and knew most of the customers by name.”
Shaun Henry, vice president of grounds maintenance, says one of his priorities as the organization has grown has been maintaining the small-town, close-knit customer relationship.
“My division has grown tenfold since I started with Atkins 15 years ago,” Henry says. “It’s important we don’t lose touch with the people we serve, and my team believes that as much as I do.”
Even though the business itself has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts since its humble beginnings, the hardworking employee mentality remains.
“Our mission is to be dedicated to exceptional customer service that is delivered with respect and knowledge and friendliness and community spirit,” Thoroughman says. “It’s really what gets us out of bed every day. Just being able to come in and make decisions based on what is going to contribute to that is what holds everything together.”