Start-Up Diaries: Making the Switch to Hourly Pay


June 5, 2015

Photo: ©

At Schopen Pest Solutions, employees are now paid by the hour. Photo: ©

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been working. When I was 14 years old, I’d mow the grass of five clients every week during the summer. When I was 16, I chopped wood for a few rural widows during the severe Nebraska winters. I charged them 25 cents per log, which is about $6 an hour. That same year, I got a sweet gig cutting grass in ditches and along the highway — driving around on a tractor, listening to AC/DC and getting a tan.

When I was 17, I got a job after football practice at a butcher shop. During my freshman year in college, I ran the day-care center for a local church in Salina, Kan. When I was 19, I was Madonna’s bodyguard (just kidding — I wanted to make sure you were paying attention). When I was 20, I sandwiched college between working for Mid Central Pest Control in the morning and waiting tables at night.

All of these jobs had one thing in common: hourly pay.

After graduating college, I landed my first job in my profession of choice, becoming a sports broadcaster for a group of radio stations in western Nebraska. For that job, and for every job I’ve held since age 21, I’ve been a salaried employee.

All this background is to explain that it has been a long time since I’ve personally had to punch a timecard. But after much hand wringing and deliberation, I’ve finally decided to pay my employees by the hour.

In the pest management industry, there are several ways to pay technicians: hourly, on commission, on commission and hourly, salary, by sale, via subcontractors, or by cash under the table (just kidding, IRS). At Schopen Pest Solutions, I’ve always paid my techs on commission. For example, if a technician works $1,000 for the day, he gets 20 percent commission, or $200. I felt it gave the techs more control over how much money they could earn. The downside for them, however, is the winter slowdown.

As my company grows, though, I’ve received complaints from employees that they have too much down time during the winter. They think it’s unfair to make them sit and wait for clients to get home (or never show up at all). So, after a contentious meeting with them in January, I announced that starting March 1, they would be paid hourly.

The next question, of course, is what is a fair hourly wage? I called some of my friends in the industry, and was advised on pay rates starting at $12 an hour or higher.

I like to hire mature workers because they tend to show up on time every morning. I also want my techs to be professional. These are some of the reasons why I decided to pay them a wage that’s a little higher than most companies, but still fair to both the techs and me.

Normally, I’m open with all of you about my business practices, but someone’s wage is a private matter. The starting pay at Schopen Pest Solutions, however, is now $18 an hour. My employees will be given yearly raises based on the growth of the company and their success on the job. To sweeten the pot, I’ll also give my techs 10 percent commission on anything they sell and collect. They also can increase their hourly pay by getting licensed in both Illinois and Wisconsin.

For the time being, my employees seem to be happy with hourly wages. They’ll profit from the change during the winter slowdown, while the company profits more during the summer, when techs are knocking out $150 wasp jobs in 10 minutes.

And if my employees don’t appreciate the hard work I’ve put into this, I’ll just move back to Nebraska and start chopping wood again for $240 per cord. That’s about $30 an hour. Blame the price increase on inflation

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: seven full-time / two part-time
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 (six full-time and one part-time employees)
MARCH 2015: $53,671 (20% increase over 2014)
2015 YEAR-TO-DATE (MARCH): $132,663 (23% increase over 2014)
2015 GOAL: $873,000

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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  1. Art Manon says:

    The operatotive word is incite rive, often this is the difference between mundane and a heavy hitter. I have had the leaguer of knowing & working with heavy hitters over the last 25 yrs & the common denominator is incentive, healthy , trusting culture along with a sense of route management ownership. Mr. Schopenhas certainly has the right ingredients for both end users & elopes to feel their in a healthy, long lasting culture. The business model, culture is more profitable & stress free when customized to promote culture as opposed for short term profits only. The Jenkins family out of Texas have a incentive plan that the techs can take ownership of their trucks after 5 yrs service, this incentive rewards them of taking ownership of their routes , the floodgates of referrals open up after 2 yrs, this plan pays for itself, culture beats out short term profits