Twenty years ago, when I was the general manager of my dad’s company, I had a customer call me saying our tech had stolen a garbage bag full of his favorite “electric lettuce.” When the tech came back to the office, I confronted him and, sure enough, he admitted to taking a 55-gallon black trash bag full of marijuana. Before I could fire him, he grabbed the bag and told me he was quitting. He was going to sell his confiscated cannabis and live off that for a while.
I called the customer to update him, and he was obviously upset. He asked me, “What are you going to do about my missing Mary Jane?”
I told him that I could file a police report. He hung up on me.
It can be argued that never before in history has hiring and retaining good employees been more complicated. It used to be so simple: Run an ad in the newspaper, slap a few magnets on your truck, maybe put up a flyer at the local grocery store. Now you have to hire a temp agency, place leads on Indeed or ZipRecruiter, run Facebook ads, post funny videos on TikTok, create YouTube videos, visit a head-hunter and put signs up in your shop windows. Then, once someone is hired, the fun really starts.
Thirty years ago, it was “my-way-or-the-highway” management. Now, a good manager has to juggle the feelings of every employee. Sometimes it feels like you’re on the reality TV show “Punk’d” (or if you prefer, “Candid Camera”).
When I was asked to write this article, I nearly spit out my mid-morning mimosa. Employee retention is my Achilles’ heel. “Game of Thrones” has a better retention rate than me.
When I first started my company, I had a habit of burning people out. My working theory was, if I can work 70 to 80 hours a week, my employees need to keep pace. Thankfully, I have learned a lot during the past 22 years — six as a general manager and 16 of owning my own business. I still treat life like a race, but I’m trying to be more patient and run it as a marathon, not a sprint.
Schopen Pest Solutions has been very fortunate finding talent through Facebook. When I advertise to fill a position within our company, we usually get several applicants. During the 15 years it took us to build a multi-million dollar company, we paid zero dollars to advertise for positions.
But just like everyone else, finding people at the tail-end of 2021 and early 2022 has been a challenge. Let me rephrase that. Sitting through your child’s fifth-grade band recital is a challenge. Finding an employee in December 2021 was a nightmare.
At Schopen Pest Solutions, we had to rethink our recruitment and retention procedures. We took six major initiatives as a result:
- Expanding our current social media efforts. For many years, the only way I recruited new hires was through my personal connections and our company Facebook page. Now, we recruit on more than a dozen Facebook group pages like “McHenry, The Way We Like It” and “Wauconda for Wauconda.” We’ve not yet hired anyone through Instagram, but we are promoting our open positions there, too. We also place ads on LinkedIn.
- Recruiting recruiters. When we were struggling to find people last fall, we started reaching out to family and friends. My banker found us two new employees: her grandsons. We also hired a guy I know through my health club, and we hired two young men who were high school friends of both my branch manager and my older son. I also offered a $750 bonus to both a referring employee and to the person he or she was able to bring into our company. I pay the bonus out over three months. If the new person doesn’t work out, the bonus is forfeited.
- Using recruitment companies. ZipRecruiter and Indeed are the two biggies, but there are several other companies that help people find jobs. Recently, we started using Indeed, and the results have been phenomenal.
- Calling past potential candidates. We keep the information of anyone who interviewed with us for 24 months. Sometimes the timing isn’t right. Maybe they had a poor interview. Sometimes people evolve or their situations change. In February, I contacted all of the candidates from the previous 18 months. Most weren’t interested, but one young man came back in, had a great interview, and was hired.
- Using temporary agencies. Temp agencies can help you fill gaps when people are out, or during peak pest season. Most will also help you find temp-to-permanent employees, but there’s a huge caveat: Basically, the new employee works for you, but is a subcontractor for the temp agency, which pays for the health insurance, worker’s comp, background checks, etc. In return, we pay the temp agency 65 percent above the worker’s normal wages. For example, if I were to hire a tech at $20 an hour, my actual cost would be $33 an hour. Ouch! If I were to directly hire the person from the temp agency, the cost would be 30 percent of his or her annual salary. Again, a $20-per-hour tech (without overtime or commissions) would make $41,600. I would have to pay the temp agency $12,480, with no assurance the person will stick with us. Double ouch!
- Keeping our patience. People don’t interview today like they did 20 years ago. I recently had a 23-year-old man apply for a tech job wearing sweat pants and a backward baseball cap. He was funny, handsome and gregarious. My staff loved him. Another “kid” came in who was only 19. But he shook my hand firmly before the interview. He was calm and interesting, and his driving record was superb. The only problem was his face: There were more tattoos and metal on there than what you would find in the front row of a Five Finger Death Punch concert. Pre-COVID, I never would have hired either one. But in 2022, I’m going to take a chance on both.
Four years ago, I bought an 8,000-square-foot building and moved our company headquarters from Lakemoor, Ill., to McHenry, Ill. We had 13 employees make the move. Today, we only have two of those 13 people left. This summer, we will have more than 40 employees; most of them have been with us for one year or less.
The good news is that we are starting to build a core group of team members. Our warehouse supervisor has been with us 11-and-a-half years, and our senior service tech seven years. Our general manager, branch manager, technical director and sales manager each have been with us for four-plus years.
If you talk to pest management professionals today, most of them will tell you their current teams are less worried about money and more worried about quality of life. How does Schopen Pest Solutions improve our employees’ quality of life?
- Paid holidays: We give paid days off for Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day, Thanksgiving (Thursday and Friday), Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
- Sick days: We offer three sick days for emergency use only.
- Personal Time Off (PTO) days: New employees get three PTO days after three months with us. Everyone else gets seven days on Jan. 1, plus one additional day for every year they are with us.
- Health insurance: We pay health care costs; 75 percent for employees and 50 percent for their families.
- Retirement packages: We started providing retirement options in January through financial services company Edward Jones.
- Recognition: We make birthday and anniversary announcements both in the office and on Facebook.
We have contests like a chili cook-off. We choose an Employee of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Office Person of the Year and Salesperson of the Year. These individuals get paid vacations to pest management conferences such as the Wisconsin Pest Control Association (WPCA) winter conference, the National Pest Management Association’s PestWorld or Academy events, as well as others.
- Training: The only way you can feel confident in your job is if you know your job inside and out. We train daily, weekly and monthly at Schopen Pest Solutions. I want our billing person to know just as much as our techs.
- Promote from within: Our entire staff knows they can grow with the company. Our general manager, branch manager, quality control director, technical director, office manager and inside sales manager all started their pest control careers at Schopen Pest Solutions. This year, we are expanding and creating three new positions for senior techs.
- It’s the little things: Some of my employees struggle with day-to-day finances, especially in one-income households. To show them appreciation, I have bought them car batteries, new tires, work clothes, grocery store gift cards for Thanksgiving, brought them food when they were sick, extra PTO days during the pandemic, etc.
- Company culture: You must have core values and a good company culture. As an owner, don’t be a yeller and screamer. Be a teacher and a coach, instead.
I believe our nation’s labor crisis finally is ending. As I was writing this article in late February, we had huge success finding applicants for jobs on both Facebook and Indeed. I interviewed a dozen wonderful candidates over a three-day period for just three job openings. As owners, we always are preaching to our employees that it is significantly harder to find good clients than keep them. That’s why we work so hard to make our clients happy.
But the same is true for employees. Isn’t it worth keeping a good worker by paying them a few extra dollars per day? What does it cost us in man-hours and dollars to replace a good team member? At Schopen Pest Solutions, it’s about $3,000. To me, it’s worth the investment to keep them instead.
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: 35 (30 full-time, five training)
2006 REVENUE: $97,235
2007 REVENUE: $172,495
2008 REVENUE: $203,732
2009 REVENUE: $243,427
2010 REVENUE: $325,960
2011 REVENUE: $425,847
2012 REVENUE: $489,887
2013 REVENUE: $572,772
2014 REVENUE: $687,326
2015 REVENUE: $858,180
2016 REVENUE: $1,079,068
2017 REVENUE: $1,478,600
2018 REVENUE: $1,877,496
2019 REVENUE: $2,095,118
2020 REVENUE: $2,398,367
2021 REVENUE: $3,295,259
2022 REVENUE TO-DATE: $464,298*
FEBRUARY REVENUE: $228,993**
2022 GOAL: $4,119,344
*Up 41% from 2021.
**Up 28% from February 2021.
“Hiring for ‘attitude’ always has been a priority. Sometimes you might find a good worker or someone who delivered on a service, like a restaurant server. I will approach them with an offer to apply at our company.”
— Fred Willey, Invader Pest Management, Phoenix, Ariz.
“I have stolen workers from my local gym, twice! We offer them better pay, hours and benefits.”
— Alan Feuer, ACE, Preventative Pest Control, Albuquerque, N.M.
“We had an average employee who quit and worked for another company. Two years later, he reapplied. I said absolutely not! My manager vouched for him, though, and he has turned out to be a great employee this time around.”
— Jared Lajaunie, Lajaunie Pest Control, New Orleans, La.
“I took a gamble on a young man who had lost his driver’s license, but earned it back. Then while working for us, he got into three accidents! I was questioning my decision to ever hire him. But he took a safe-driving course and, over time, he has proven himself to be
an outstanding employee and person. No more accidents since.”
— Galvin Murphy, ACE, Yankee Pest Control, Boston, Mass.
“My employees are assets to my business. I need them to work out. As long as they aren’t doing anything malicious or negligent, they are entitled to make mistakes. If a red flag pops up, we try to work through it.”
— Josh Alpert, Green Earth Pest Control, Los Angeles, Calif.
“We were ready to fire an employee because it just wasn’t working out. Instead, we gave him an instinctive strengths assessment and realized he was in the wrong ‘seat.’ Once we moved him to the correct job, he turned into a fantastic employee.”
— Joel Miller, Miller Pest and Termite, Des Moines, Iowa