Many pest control companies have long and storied histories, businesses that span the decades and hopefully values carried on by younger generations. There aren’t many that can rival Cook’s Pest Control in terms of history. John Lewis Cook formed the business over 85 years ago. The company was taken over in 1950 by son John R. Cook Sr. when his father passed away. Cook Sr. had joined the Navy out of high school, then went on to graduate from GA Tech. He met his wife at school where he received a degree in Architecture, but decided to move back to his hometown of Decatur, Alabama and honor the termite bonds that his father held.
In the years between then and now, he transformed the company into one of the best known pest control companies in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi, while also impacting massively on the overall community – just like any good business should.
Upon returning to his roots in 1950, John Cook Sr. found himself with one full-time employee. As he hired new employees to represent himself with customers and the community, he knew training would be critically important to their success and his reputation. The professional insect collections and related materials used to train employees became of interest to boy scouts, school groups, and others, and eventually the Cook’s Natural Science Museum grew out of that education collection. Initially, it only featured a few examples of the different pests and bugs Cook’s Pest Control employees would encounter while working, however, just these few examples managed to increase his knowledge drastically. This small display of pests led to a lifelong project, and in 1980, he completely filled a 5,000 square foot building with impressive exhibits and collections. The Cook’s Natural Science Museum would soon become one of the biggest attractions in the small city of Decatur.
Since 1980, the museum has played host to flocks of people, where over 750,000 visitors have enjoyed browsing through the educational exhibits. The result is Cook’s pest management team is trusted by locals for all manners of pest problems, as well as a brand that retains a strong local identity, and is valued by the residents of Decatur and surrounding areas.
It is worth noting something else about the museum – it has been a completely free attraction. The company has absorbed all costs since its inception, making it an even more remarkable contribution to the community.
It wasn’t just the museum that grew over time though, as Cook’s Pest Control also flourished from the moment Cook Sr. took the job. His leadership allowed the company to spread its roots and move into not just neighboring towns and cities, but also into neighboring states. Nowadays, they have 35 district offices spread over Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi, and employ a staggering 1,600 people. While their museum has to be seen as one of their finest achievements and contributions to the community, the fact that so many families rely on Cook’s for their employment shows the large impact that they have on families throughout the region.
Unfortunately, Cook Sr. passed away in 2009 from pancreatic cancer. His legacy however lives on in his family members as well as his business but most definitely through his grandson, Brian Cook. “Before his death my grandfather ensured that the company was left with a good future, as he discussed the expansion of the museum in great depth with our family. His dream was to see the museum not only live on, but flourish in order to educate the next generation,” Brian Cook recalls. When the Cook family found themselves at a crossroads with the next phase of what the museum would become, they voted unanimously to make it bigger and even better. Grandson, Brian Cook, currently sits at the helm of the development team, leading it into the next chapter in the extraordinary history of Cook’s Pest Control and the new Cook Museum of Natural Science.
The next generation museum will be located in downtown Decatur and will house modern, hands-on exhibits for visitors to interact with. Brian Cook explains,
“After comprehensive market research, it was discovered that the creation of this new museum could, in fact, see visitor numbers of 214,000 our first year. That was beyond our initial vision, so we began thinking and planning at a higher level to actually achieve that level of success.”
While not yet open – the current museum closes its doors this June – work has definitely begun in earnest at the new site. Once created, the impressive structure will be a mammoth two-story 60,000 square feet, and will house a 15,000 gallon salt water tank as well as exhibits focusing on, among other things, cave systems and different North American bio-systems. There will be a strong emphasis on the local geography and wildlife, in keeping with the company’s ties to the southeastern U.S.
As is often the way with Cook’s, much of the funding for this project comes directly from the family. They have pledged to fund $7 million of the project’s overall cost, but are having to look for outside donations in order to raise the rest of the capital needed, which is expected to be around $10 million more.
While the construction is ongoing, Cook’s Pest Control continues to operate as one of the best-loved pest control companies in the area. They ensure their standards through a commitment to training, not only with the existing museum but also through the Cook’s Academy of Customer Service as well.
“Our goal has always been to have a good name and reputation. We’ve been blessed with so many good people that are personally committed to this, so the business has flourished and allowed us to further meaningful causes such as the museum.”
It seems that everything done by Cook’s Pest Control can be summed up by Brian in his grandfather’s words; a phrase that encapsulates everything from their professional work through to their pursuits in the local community –
“Do the job right the first time, and do what you promise, plus a little bit more.”