Start-Up Diaries: Helping Techs Advance Their Education


May 13, 2015

Photo: ©

Help educate your techs by developing a vocabulary test for them to take during the slow months. Photo: ©

I love to play Scrabble. Growing up on a farm in Nebraska, our winter days were long and weekends even longer. (Imagine your cable was out and you only had two VHS tapes* to watch: “Quilting with Grandma” or “Weeding for Beginners,” then double the boring factor.) A typical Saturday for me entailed feeding chickens in the morning, splitting wood in the afternoon and reading Louis L’Amour books in the evening.

To keep us busy, Mom used to play canasta, dominoes, cribbage, Monopoly, Yahtzee and Scrabble with me and my siblings. I still love all of these games, but to this day, it’s Scrabble that gets my blood flowing. There’s nothing like slapping a Q or a Z down on a Triple-Word, Double-Letter Score play.

Now that I’m older with two boys of my own (11 and 17), I’ve tried getting my kids to play Scrabble with me. But they prefer Tri-Ominos, Skip-Bo and Pay Day. My love of spelling has rubbed off a little though: My younger son, Caleb, won this year’s McHenry Middle School Sixth Grade Spelling Bee.

I’ll take relevance for 500, Alex
What in the W-O-R-L-D does Scrabble have to do with pest management? Well, it just so happens I developed a vocabulary test for my techs to take during the slow months of November, December, January and March.

The first month I tried the test, it was fantastic. Three of my techs took the test, and they only missed two words out of a potential 60. The test was no cakewalk, either. While there were some softballs (IPM, bait shyness, anticoagulant), there were some challenging terms, such as neophobia, commensal and sheathing.

I initiated the test because I felt my techs weren’t taking a large enough role in their education. You can preach until you’re blue in the face, but if employees aren’t into the idea, the education process will stall. Therefore, I gave the techs a chance to earn extra money. There was a catch: The reward would be a dollar for every correct answer. The punishment would be a week of training with me if they failed.
Believe it or not, the punishment far outweighed the reward for at least one of my techs. He told me he didn’t want another week of training under my T-U-T-E-L-A-G-E.

I eased them into the process by giving them five words per week to study, leading to an end-of-month test consisting of 20 words. Not only did I provide them with each study word. I gave them the proper definition as well. They also received a study sheet that corresponded to the vocabulary words.

I took another 25 questions from the handout and gave them $2 for every correct answer. For example, during January, the vocabulary words and handout had to do with mice. Before the test, my techs probably would have had a tough time explaining the difference between B-R-O-M-E-T-H-A-L-I-N and B-R-O-D-I-F-A-C-O-U-M, but now they can with ease.

The reason we’re only going to administer the test during the winter months is obvious. When it’s high season, I’d rather have my techs focus on controlling pests and not worry about spending a week training with me if they fail. Considering my techs average $1,000 each day during the summer, that would be a $5,000 training session! (We also won’t do February because of the lack of an extra day.)

I’ve already started working on the next lesson. It’s going to be on the Q-U-I-N-T-E-S-S-E-N-T-I-A-L pantry pest, the Indianmeal moth. In the meantime, I’m going to try and start playing against my mom in the online version of Scrabble. We might be 1,000 miles apart, but we can still play our favorite game together. I can’t wait to try out E-C-T-O-P-A-R-A-S-I-T-E on her.

*Yes, kids, VHS tapes. Ask your parents.

Schopen’s Open Book
Start-up: Schopen Pest Solutions Inc.
Headquarters: McHenry, Ill.
Founder: Peter F. Schopen Jr.
Start-Up Date: April 11, 2006
Number of employees: nine
2006 Revenue: $97,235 (one employee)
2007 Revenue: $172,495 (one employee)
2008 Revenue: $203,732 (one employee)
2009 Revenue: $243,427 (two employees)
2010 Revenue: $325,960 (three employees)
2011 Revenue: $425,847 (four employees)
2012 Revenue: $489,887 (five employees)
2013 Revenue: $572,772 (six employees)
2014 Revenue: $710,000 (one part-time/six full-time employees)
2015 year-to-date (February): $78,992 (24% increase over 2014)
2015 Goal: $887,000

Schopen is owner and founder of Schopen Pest Solutions, McHenry, Ill. You can email him at or reach him via Twitter: @schopenpest; Instagram: @peteschopen; or Facebook: Schopen Pest Solutions, Inc.


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