PCT Commercial Technician of the Year Derek Foster.

Sometimes you know what you want when you see it. For Derek Foster, PCT’s Commercial Technician of the Year, this best describes his path to finding the perfect job: commercial pest control technician.

While some get lucky and find their dream role in life rather easily, most do not. Foster, like most, was the latter. While working as a representative for a pest control industry distributor, Foster realized that he wanted to be driving a truck, working with customers and being “on the go” for a living. For Foster, making that move was life-changing and continues to pay off on a daily basis.

Northwest Service Center Manager Scott Brigman is his supervisor and said that Foster is the proverbial needle in a haystack.

“Truthfully, I wish I had 10 more of him,” said Brigman. “He’s one of the nicest people you’ll run across, great sense of humor, no task too big or too small, always willing to accept and the first to volunteer. And it shows. He’s making the transition from service professional to working in a supervisor role and that speaks volumes about his character, as he always wants to do things above and beyond. Nothing is beneath him.”

DREAM JOB. Foster worked in distribution for 14 years. He worked his way up to branch manager for four years, but “I needed a change and I envied everyone on the road coming in to get their supplies because I wanted an outdoor job to commute to different places,” he said. “So, it’s kind of amazing that Northwest happened for me because it was everything I wanted and I kind of willed it to happen.”

Foster worked in the hospitality industry out of high school and has always known that helping people and working with customers on a daily basis would be a dream job. “I really got everything I dreamed of (at Northwest),” he said. “I have a company truck and I get to get out and see people, but I also get to help people. This has been perfect.”

SKILLED COMMUNICATOR. On his commercial route, Foster interacts with all types of customers, from those who work in offices, to manufacturers, to law office workers.

“Commercially, we have sensitive accounts, like restaurants, that need to be serviced in a timeline before anything is served and for us to be out before they open,” Foster said. “So, there are early accounts in the morning, and also schools and daycares, and those are after hours or evening hours, late or weekends. Also, we can go from an 800,000-square-foot office warehouse building to small businesses run out of buildings, or even homes.”

Foster said on a typical day he can have all levels of professionals as his customer contacts, ranging from business owners and company presidents to warehouse managers and office supervisors. Having the flexibility to be able to discuss business with people in various roles helps him better understand their needs as he grows with them.

ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS. Northwest Exterminating was purchased by Rollins, and after that happened three years ago some employees were a little uneasy, as they weren’t sure if the family atmosphere would continue, said Brigman.

He said that Rollins has been able to maintain a sense of putting customers first while enabling the company to grow at levels they never would’ve without the purchase. As a result, technicians like Foster have been given the opportunity to service a variety of company types as Northwest grows.

“It’s just the relationship that you create and have with your customers,” Foster said. “The relationship includes trust — earn that trust and it’s a huge value for me and for the customer. Because we’re there month in, month out, and sometimes quarterly, but we don’t get to see anything after we leave.”

He added, “Gaining that trust, being up front with the customer, educating them as to what we’re doing rather than waiting to be asked, and showing up and doing what you need to do goes a long ways. That’s what builds that trust. You’re explaining what needs to be done and why. They value that and it makes them comfortable, and they’ll know you’re up front with them and why.”

KEYS TO SUCCESS. There’s a number of things that technicians can do to become the perfect commercial technician, Foster said. He has several tips for new technicians just entering the field.

Foster in front of Northwest’s “Inspired Culture” wall.

COMMUNICATE. “Not being in a hurry, getting to know your customers, and them getting to know you, and then it’s huge because now I have relationships,” he said. “I go in and they are shouting across the room and instead of ‘hey, it’s the bug guy,’ they say, ‘hey, it’s Derek.’ They want that kind of relationship with customers and that has helped me.”

GIVE TIPS. Foster said he visits many customer facilities where he notices things that might not be typical pest control observations, but they’re important. Being able to point out these things helps, he said. “I’ve gone to those customers to let them know if there’s a deficiency, like if trash is around the dumpsters or in a restaurant, or if I see stored plates that need cleaning. We’re a set of eyes for them in back sides or alleyways and it helps them.”

BE ON TIME. If your customers have windows for you to be there from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., because they open at 11 a.m., show up on time, Foster said. “They are running a business and my time is important, but theirs is too. While they’ll be there tomorrow, they need to know you’re coming and (will) always hit (your) timelines as well as know how much time you’ll take.”

BE HONEST.“Be up front if it’s going to take a long time,” he said. “Tell them and educate them on what’s needed, or what’s happening if [the service] goes fast or if it takes a lot of time. Let them know why.”

One of the things that Brigman said has made Foster into a tremendous commercial service technician is the fact that he’s always himself. Sharing your personality with your customers is always a great way to develop a relationship, Brigman said.

“For Derek, a lot has to do with great customers and having a relationship with his customers,” Brigman said. “They love the person he is, that he’s always prompt and when it comes to working late or working weekends, he’s a resource for all teammates too. He always gets his work done.”

Brigman said Foster understands the nuances of commercial pest control versus other types of pest control, such as residential work. “With commercial, you’re forced to think outside the box. You always run into different scenarios and have to think a little bit more. Derek’s done a great job of that,” Brigman said.

LAKE LIFE. Away from the office, Foster has been together with his wife, Tammy, for 11 years and married for eight. He has a son, and she has two daughters, and their granddaughter turned one in November.

The couple also has a pontoon boat and they enjoy lake life on Lake Lanier, which is about one hour north of Atlanta. The couple also enjoy beach time at the Gulf Shores in Alabama and vacationing in Florida. In his spare time, Foster enjoys woodworking.

The author is a PCT contributor and can be reached at edemask@gie.net.