Editor’s Note: Coincidentally, the author’s boss is Pete Schopen, whose “Start-Up Diaries” columns can be found here.
I became a pest management professional by accident.
In 2018, I reached out to Pete Schopen, owner of Schopen Pest Solutions, McHenry, Ill. I needed a job. He needed technicians who would show up on time and take care of his clients.
My first months spent as a pest control tech were grueling, physically and mentally. Power spray applications involve unreeling a 300-foot hose, wrestling that hose around and through gardens and yards without damaging flowers or ceramic gnomes, and applying pesticides to areas consistent with their labels. Couple that with 95°F heat, all the personal protective equipment necessary to safely apply chemicals, and doing up to 20 of these a day with other regular quarterly in-home stops, and you have a series of 12-hour days and many empty cases of water bottles. I haven’t even mentioned the amount of information I needed to absorb to do my job safely and effectively.
Pest control had long been at the periphery of my previous, 20-year career in restaurant management. If I saw ants in the restaurant, I called our service provider and told the receptionist, who sent someone back out on a callback, usually in the middle of the night — end of relationship. Not only did I never have a discussion with a tech, I never laid eyes on one or saw what they actually did. It was like having magical elves who took care of everything before I arrived for work the next day.
A TURNING POINT
About a few months into my new job, I was talking with my wife, Jessica. I expressed some gloom over “being close to 40 and killing bugs.” In my heart, I knew I was feeding our kids and taking care of our family, but I wasn’t fulfilled. I wasn’t finding meaning in dragging that hose, finding rodent entry points, checking exterior bait stations, and removing webs from home exteriors.
Then Jessica hit me with something so plain and simple, it lightened my load immediately. She said, “You can call yourself an exterminator, you can call yourself a pest control technician, you can call yourself a bug squasher. But how many times have you come home and told me about the little old lady who was so scared of the mouse in her house, and how hard you worked to make her house rodent-free, and tried to ease her worries by your presence? How many times have you told me about the new homeowners, beaming with pride over their new digs, that you helped feel more secure in their new place of safety and comfort for their children? Remember that one little boy you told me about, who followed you around the house asking questions about bugs and telling you that he was going to be a technician one day? All of those experiences added value to those people’s lives. You went to their homes and fixed a problem that they didn’t want to fix on their own, they didn’t know where to start fixing on their own, were unqualified to even try fixing on their own, or were too scared to even sleep in the bedroom before you got there!”
At that moment, Jessica’s words allowed me to find value in what I was doing. I’m not “just” an exterminator. Sometimes, I’m a handyman. Oftentimes, I’m part psychologist. I’m an observational biologist and constant learner in service to my clients. I’ve been welcomed human interaction for several older clients, bringing up their garbage cans and collecting their newspapers.
I strive to build relationships on trust and authenticity. My clients know I will not try to sell them something they don’t need, and that I do everything I can to help them feel more comfortable in their homes, prouder of its appearance, happier in their place of relaxation.
In other words, I guess I became a pest management professional on purpose.