Pest control has always been part of Rob Heisner’s career, even though he hasn’t always worked directly in the industry. And although he didn’t know it, the years Heisner spent learning how to protect plants from harmful pests would later enable him to keep dozens of food industry facilities pest-free.
With a B.S. in agriculture from Murray State University, Heisner has dedicated time to everything from maintaining a garden and keeping crops healthy while growing up on the farm, to working for a commercial landscaping company that provided pest control services for lawns and plants.
But it was his position as a food safety coordinator working at a food processing company that made Heisner look at pest control a little bit differently. “It helped me realize how important pest management is to food safety,” said Heisner. “Pest management is not just one important component of food safety — pest management is food safety.”
Now Heisner puts his unique skill set and vast knowledge of food processing centers to use keeping pests out of food facilities, the way only a former quality control professional — and the PCT/BASF 2016 Commercial Technician of the Year — can.
SMOOTH TRANSITION. Heisner made his official debut in the pest control industry when the food processing company he worked for began downsizing.
“They were going through financial difficulties which meant layoffs,” he said. “So I began looking for new opportunities in my area and that’s where I came across a posting for a service specialist for McCloud Services.”
The opening was for a service route covering the exact route Heisner was working at for the food processing company — but that wasn’t the only thing that caught his eye.
“I researched McCloud Services and reviewed the website to learn more about the company,” he said. “Their commitment to food safety really stood out to me, and I applied for the position.”
McCloud management thought that Heisner was the perfect fit too.
“For McCloud Services’ food industry customers, Rob is the ideal service specialist,” said Chris McCloud, president and CEO of McCloud Services. “Rob’s background in the food industry, along with his strong commitment to food safety helps him create partnerships with his customers. He ‘speaks the same language’ as our customers, and as a result he has a high level of credibility when delivering his IPM recommendations.”
After seeing Heisner’s application and offering him a position, the pest control company helped him transition to servicing accounts all across the food supply chain including food processing facilities, food distribution centers, food packaging businesses, grocery stores and restaurants.
“Going from my past position into a pest management position wasn’t a large jump for me,” Heisner said. “I understand how closely connected they were, and felt that I could refocus my food safety skills.”
ALWAYS LEARNING. Throughout his time at McCloud, Heisner has continually refocused those skills with a wide assortment of training programs, seminars and continuing education including an initial training program, the McCloud Pest Invasion annual food industry seminar, the McCloud Fumigation School, and later a Purdue Correspondence Course, the Cardinal Fumigation Seminar, the Insects Limited Fumigation School, McCloud monthly training sessions for continuing education, Signature Care Certification through Copesan Services and NPMA Food Plant Standards certification. According to McCloud Training Manager Anna Berry, Heisner is not only always at 100 percent completion when it comes to company-required training, but he also reaches out for additional education.
“One of the most important things is being engaged in learning more about the industry, understanding risks and hazards, and providing solutions for our customers,” said Heisner. “I wasn’t very good at this until I understood what I was looking for.”
It’s clear that Heisner knows exactly what he’s looking for now.
“To be worthy of a Technician of the Year designation you have to possess both superior customer service commitment along with exceptional technical skills,” said Earl Singleton, area manager for the Nashville Service Center. “Rob has both.”
According to Heisner, an expertise in how the types of pests that inhabit food facilities behave, and knowledge of the facilities and equipment used on the job is a recipe for success.
“Rob is an exceptional service specialist,” said Singleton. “In servicing large, complex food facilities, he educates himself in the product flow and pest sensitive points.”
In fact, Heisner’s average day actually starts the night before he heads out for his route.
“I put out equipment and supplies that will be needed for the accounts that I will be visiting,” he said. “I try to be as prepared as I can and I always make sure to have the specific items needed for specific accounts. If it’s not on the truck, you can’t use it.”
Tools and monitoring devices such as hand lenses and insect light traps are Heisner’s first line of defense when dealing with the small flies and pest-infested stored products, said Singleton.
Heisner also reviews his list of accounts for the upcoming day to ensure he is servicing them in order, and accommodating any early service hour requests.
“You have to be willing to put the time in to perform services at the customer or facility’s convenience,” he said. “Most food facilities are not your standard 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. operations, so you have to be flexible for the customer.”
Once he’s out at his accounts, Heisner takes his time to ensure that he is doing the job right — the first time.
“I look for potential problems that can be prevented, ensuring the customer is receiving quality service, but I am also reducing the potential for a customer callback,” he said. “This is why I have a very low percentage of callbacks with my customers.”
SHARING HIS KNOWLEDGE. Heisner said he is persistent in his inspections, and when he can’t find a solution he’s not afraid to ask for help from a team member or other expert. However, he often plays the role of expert.
Heisner has shared his knowledge as the Nashville office representative to the McCloud Safety Committee, assisting in training during monthly continuing education sessions at his service center, as well as serving as a field trainer.
“He imparts his knowledge onto the other members of the Nashville team regularly and is responsible for portions of their development and training,” said Getchell. “Robbie is deliberate with an excellent attention to detail. In an industry that can sometimes feel rushed, his thorough approach is a welcomed eye-opener to his trainees.”
It doesn’t matter if he’s training or servicing an account, after years of hard work on the farm Heisner isn’t one to shy away from putting in extra hours to satisfy a customer.
“Some days you work longer hours. This goes back to being persistent and not giving up until a solution is found,” he said. “This also means you are taking your time to complete your work to reduce the risk of injury and make sure you go home the way you left.”
Even after a long day at work, Heisner said he heads home satisfied, knowing that he’s done everything possible to protect the customer’s product, brand and most importantly ensured food safety for consumers.
“It is so important to protect the food supply, that I feel that I can have a greater impact with my knowledge and expertise by servicing commercial accounts — especially food accounts,” he said.
But Heisner doesn’t stop at keeping food safe. He and his wife of 18 years, Bonnie, are very involved in their local church. Not only is Heisner a worship leader, but he is also the school superintendent and he collects new and used Bibles to ship to overseas ministries. With Bonnie’s help, he collects gently used clothing, books and household items for Goodwill. And when they get a weekend without commitments, Heisner and Bonnie hit the road for a weekend getaway, or even just a long afternoon drive.
Heisner also finds time to spend with his stepson Rick and 16-month-old grandson Ben or to cheer on his favorite teams, the St. Louis Cardinals, the University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team and the Racers of Murray State University.
When the weekend is done, Heisner is rested, focused and ready to exceed expectations at McCloud.
Although Heisner has found his niche in the pest control industry, he is still able to serve his quality control roots.
“He becomes a member of the food plant team and provides a level of dedication to that food plant, that an employer would expect from an employee,” said Singleton. “The customer, as well as McCloud, are Rob’s employers. He knows the facility, he knows the team members and provides nothing but the best possible service for his two employers — the food plant and McCloud Services.
The author is a PCT contributing writer who can be reached at email@example.com.