Robert Woodson, the PCT/BASF Termite Technician of the Year, is always up for a challenge. Whether it’s climbing on the roof to crawling deep under a home to pinpoint a termite infestation, or if it’s identifying the optimal treatment plan for a unique situation, Woodson is always challenging himself to better serve his customers.
Today, Woodson is passionate about everything from the biology and habits of pests, to chemical-free, environmentally friendly treatment methods to control them, but that wasn’t always the case.
Born and bred in Corpus Christi, Texas, Woodson was raised by his grandparents, who instilled in him old-style tradition, family values and a strong work ethic. When Woodson graduated high school in the early 1980s, he landed a job in the oil fields. However, after a couple of years the recession hit and it became more difficult to find work.
“Eventually I found a job at a pest control company,” Woodson said. “I didn’t know what it was all about, but I needed to feed my family and pay rent, so I said, ‘Let’s give it a try.’ I didn’t think I would stick with it, but 36 years later I’m still doing this.”
Woodson started out as an apprentice at a small pest control company, and worked hard to get his technician license, taking advantage of additional opportunities for education every chance he got.
This included becoming a certified applicator, even though the owner of the company he was working for at the time assured Woodson he could work under his license.
“I’m a guy, that when I do a job I want to find out the ins and outs of it,” Woodson said.
Which is why Woodson also began approaching local vendors to learn more about pests and treatments.
“Once I started doing that, termites became easier for me to treat,” he said.
As Woodson worked, he paid close attention to the biology and habitat of the pests he was treating, always observing their actions and patterns. Along the way, he used his observations to challenge dated treatment techniques, like [large-scale, broadcast applications to baseboards], in favor of focusing on cracks and crevices.
A HOME AT ABC. After about 10 years in the business, Woodson landed at ABC Home & Commercial Services. There he found a company that wholeheartedly supported his desire to learn. “ABC is a good-sized company, we’ve got over 800 employees with Bobby Jenkins’ business [ABC Home & Commercial Services in Austin, Texas], but you can still have that one-on-one conversation with the owners. They’re not too big that they can’t talk to you or reach out to you,” Woodson said. “The support is really awesome, you can just call someone and say, ‘Hey I’ve got this type of an issue. Can you help me out?’ They’ll bend over backwards to help you, and if they don’t know how to do it, then they’ll find someone who can. You still have that mom and pop feel, but you have all the benefits.”
One of those benefits was support in earning his Associate Certified Entomologist designation through the Entomological Society of America. Woodson has also attended the Texas A&M University IPM workshop for many years, attended NPMA PestWorld and taken Purdue University correspondence courses in urban and industrial pest management.
Between his education and ongoing experience, Woodson became ABC’s resident termite expert at the Corpus Christi office.
“Corpus Christi, being on our Texas coastline, sees a variety of termite species including eastern subterranean, drywood and Formosan termites,” said Randy McCarty, education and training coordinator at ABC Home & Commercial Services. “Robert has developed and learned how to identify, inform and help to recommend treatment to our sales inspectors and customers. You could say Robert is our ‘closer.’ When there is a difficult termite issue that needs to be addressed, Robert is the one everyone asks for help.”
NEW ROLES. Through his years with ABC, the company took note not only of Woodson’s expertise, but also his desire to learn and grow, so they placed him in a position where he could encourage other technicians to do just that. Woodson has been working as the residential service manager for the last five years.
“My daily job is making sure the guys are doing their work, making sure they’re trained properly, making sure they all have their credentials, giving them pointers on what to look for and going out with them quarterly,” said Woodson.
“Robert is an outstanding leader. He leads with his heart and does so by setting an example for all to follow,” said Bobby Jenkins, president of ABC Home & Commercial Services. “He truly has a servant’s heart and wants to help those he works with. People can feel his positive and kind energy and are inspired by him daily.”
That energy is palpable as Woodson serves as a mentor for these technicians. “As a mentor, what I like is when I see that technician that really wants to learn. You have to pass down any questions or experience, because you want to make them better. If you make them better, you’re going to make that next guy better too,” he said. “Being a mentor, and really caring, you don’t just want to hand them a can of spray and say, ‘Go get ‘em.’ I didn’t get that mentorship that I was desperately seeking when I first started out, but I want to give that to a new technician that is willing to learn.”
Woodson has found that the key to becoming a great termite technician is having the right attitude. The individual must have that willingness to learn, plus a great personality when interacting with customers.
“Always be curious on why things are, why does this insect do this,” Woodson said. “If you’re always curious about how things work, that means you’re interested in the business you’re doing.”
The ability to adapt to change is just as important.
“There is always going to be change. You’ll see different techniques, different results,” Woodson added. “If you’re willing to work with the changes and adjust that’s going to make you even a better technician.”
When it comes down to inspecting for a termite incident, Woodson has some recommendations, too.
“Instead of just finding that normal ‘kick out hole’ like everyone wants to, you have to go beyond that,” he said. “Go inside the home, up and down, up and down, throughout the whole interior of the room. Check closets, especially if it’s behind a bathtub or commode, and pull up the carpet.”
He also suggests checking spider webs for swarmers, looking for wings around windows and checking the roots in trees. Woodson sometimes marks his findings with chalk, which keeps him focused on any problem areas.
He often educates customers on problem areas. When Woodson finds conducive conditions or harborage, he enlists the customer to help remove garbage, dispose of wood piles, remove soil to grade, seal openings to windows and doors, or pick-up dog or cat food left after feeding.
“Robert is absolutely one of the most caring people I have ever known. His caring and compassion for others is such an impressive trait. He genuinely cares about every customer we have at ABC,” said Jenkins. “He doesn’t just want to solve their pest problem, he wants to make a lifelong friend in the process.”
A FAVORITE AT SCHOOLS. Woodson’s passion for pest control has made him some other unlikely friends too.
He recalled receiving a call from a local school asking him if he could teach a biology class on insects. “So, I did an entomology class for them,” he said.
Using magic as his theme, Woodson explained how ants follow pheromone trails to get to their food. “It was so great to see everyone interact with it,” he said. “A little girl came up and said, ‘Can I give you a big hug?’ It’s just really touching when you can bring pest control and talking about bugs to a third-grade class and they really enjoy it.”
Although he’s happy to plan lessons for mentees, customers and even a third-grade classroom, Woodson has found that for many, the best way to learn is by sharing a story.
“I always like to share stories,” he said. “Sharing stories and sharing experiences really helps out with the guys, because they’ll remember that story when they come into a situation and they’ll use what they learned.”
There are some stories that Woodson himself will never forget — including one of the worst termite infestations he’s ever treated. Although the homeowners’ new property had cleared inspection, they quickly found termite damage and activity. From the floor beams to the beams supporting the roof, it was nearly all eaten out and needed to be repaired or replaced. So Woodson got to work.
“After we got everything treated, we made a two-week, follow-up appointment to come back out and make sure everything was good and recheck all the areas we treated,” he said. “We also put out termite monitor stations to check and see if we got hits on the bait we used.”
What Woodson found when he returned was remarkable. All termite activity in the home had ceased, but that wasn’t all. Woodson’s treatment quelled termite activity in a 100-foot radius, killing termites in the neighbors’ trees, which were 30 to 40 feet away.
“It was one of those challenges where we weren’t sure we should get involved but when we were done we were really proud,” he said.
Although not every job is quite as big of an undertaking, Woodson’s drive remains the same. “It’s really the challenge of it, the challenge of trying to find how to take care of that customer, learning the insect and always trying something different with your products,” he said.
The author is a PCT contributing writer.