I bought a recreational vehicle (RV) this summer.
No, I didn’t use my Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan. That money is still sitting in the bank waiting to be used in one of three ways:
- Pay my employees and me this winter if the COVID-19 pandemic turns bad again.
- Forgiven completely, minus the taxable earnings that I’ll pay in April.
- Paid back with 1 percent interest.
I will write more about the PPP once I know where that money is going.
Anyway, back to my diary: I’ve been saving up to buy a boat. I live in the middle of one of America’s most beautiful waterways — the Fox River Chain O’Lakes — and I’ve wanted a pontoon boat for years, but I didn’t have the money. My two sons wanted a boat. My mother-in-law wanted us to get a boat. Our friends wanted to party on our new boat. Everyone wanted a boat — except my wife, Tami.
The Queen wants to travel. Happy wife = Happy life. We got an RV!
For those RV lovers out there, we got a Thor Chateau 27R. We thought about a fifth-wheel pull-behind, but I wanted something in which my family would be comfortable while we were driving. Our RV is equipped with a bedroom, full bathroom and shower, an outdoor shower, a couch that folds into a bed, a kitchen table that folds into a bed, a loft with a bed over the driving compartment, a microwave and stove, potable water tank and a city hookup, an indoor TV and an outdoor TV, an awning, and enough storage to hide Jimmy Hoffa. We have a Ford-450 Super Duty hauling us. It is not a massive RV, but it is perfect for us.
In July, I drove my new RV to Gettysburg, Pa., with Tami and our son Caleb for a college visit (Trey and our dog stayed home). As I was driving across Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania, my mind started to wander into those weird places that only Pete Schopen can go, and I started comparing my RV to my company. For example:
- RVs are beautiful, but they need a lot of upgrades. Just like my Schopen Pest Solutions’ headquarters at 1005 N. Front St. This summer, I added a few items to our RV to make life easier, like the Camco Sidewinder sewage hose support system (campers will understand). Back in McHenry, Ill., I recently got quotes for crash-resistant bollards to protect the front of my building, since we had someone ram a car into our facilities last winter. This spring, we also installed a new phone system, and we switched pest control software companies.
- RVs need a lot of care and feeding, just like my company. Washing, waxing, tire pressure, slide lubricants, water treatments and sewage line cleaning are all necessary. At Schopen Pest Solutions, we need to constantly check our fleet’s tires, our power sprayers, our handheld sprayer parts and our computers and printers. During 2020, you can add “check face mask covers” to the list.
- You have to study, study and study some more. The more a person knows about his RV, the more enjoyable the experience. For example, I can now use a generator just as easily as plug-in electric. That means we can camp at a Walmart parking lot without amenities and use power from our generator, or we can stay at a five-star campground with electric and water provided. Switching back over to pest control, our team saw a handful of pests this summer that we don’t normally encounter, such as crazy worms (Amynthas agrestis, aka Alabama jumpers). We also ran across Dobsonflies (Corydalinae), river bugs (Trichoptera, aka caddisflies), and sand wasps (Bembicinae). Learning how to manage these pests was critical for our company and our clients.
- Driving an RV through the mountains is nerve-wracking but doable; you proceed with caution. Piloting a pest control company through the murky waters of COVID-19 is also cause for ulcers. From March through early August, five employees had to quarantine because they were in contact with a client, friend or family member who ended up testing positive for coronavirus or had flu-like symptoms. Of the five, only one employee tested positive for COVID-19 (and has since recovered). Despite the scary situation, though, we still had a profitable summer.
- There’s a lot of jargon to stay on top of. Every business or hobby will have its own language. In RVing, you will use words like “boondocking,” “pie iron,” “grey water tank,” “gross vehicle weight rating” and “dump.” I’ve explained in a previous column that we give a list of vocabulary words to all of our employees. My assistant billing lady, my part-time seasonal worker and all of my techs know words like “desiccant,” “anticoagulant,” “vermin,” “parasite” and “pyrethrum.”
As summer turns to autumn and yellowjacket jobs turn to rodent work, I’ll be winterizing my RV. But once Caleb heads to college next August, Tami and I plan on traveling the country so we can help small pest control companies become bigger, better and more competitive. Ideally, we would be looking at helping one- to 12-person operations.
Our dream is to park our RV in beautiful locations like Benton, Ala., on the Alabama River, or Spring Meadow Lake State Park in Montana, or maybe Mount Sunapee State Park near Newport, N.H. We would live out of our RV for two to four weeks at a time, and help local pest control operators grow their businesses the way I’ve grown mine over the past 14 years.
I will still own my company, but I’m going to trust the smart people who work for me to continue to grow Schopen Pest Solutions in the same manner that I built it.
SCHOPEN is owner and founder of Schopen Pest Solutions, McHenry, Ill. You can email him at email@example.com or reach him via Twitter: @schopenpest; Instagram: @peteschopen; or Facebook: Schopen Pest Solutions, Inc.