In the tough-talking town of Washington, D.C., this veteran pest management professional hasn’t minced words in his 40-plus years in the industry. Why should he start now?
There’s a photo in Robert Dixon’s office that not only illustrates where this veteran pest management professional is going, but also where he’s been.
In the photo, Dixon’s uncle is plowing a field, and he’s being led by a mule wearing blinders. The man and the mule, both obvious workhorses, have rows and rows of straight lines behind them.
“My life is predicated on that photo,” Dixon said. “When you go down the road, when you go through life, you have to have blinders on. If you don’t you’ll be pulled to the left or to the right. Every one of those rows is straight and the mule has on blinders; he’s going straight down that line. That’s the way you better do it in life. If you take time to go left or right you’ll be at the end of the row and nothing will be done.”
Dixon’s mother, a divorced mom of three, picked cotton in the South when Dixon was a child. And as a result of her dedication to provide for her children, Dixon learned at an early age that nothing in life is easy — and that in order to survive you have to be a hard worker. “You could be in the field 12 hours a day and not get paid,” he said. “You’re going to get paid for the amount of cotton you pick — your production. You have got to produce or you’re going to starve.”
At age 64, Robert Dixon has been producing in the pest management industry for 46 years. His firm, Dixon’s Termite & Pest Management, Washington, D.C., employs 12 technicians and performs a variety of services, including general pest control, termite control, turf and ornamental work, fumigations, rights of way treatments, termite pretreatments, bed bugs and more.
FINDING PEST CONTROL. Like many in the pest management industry, Dixon got started by answering a help-wanted ad in the paper. The year was 1963 and he was looking for a job when he saw an ad for the American Disinfectant Company. He landed the entry level, service technician job and instantly loved his work.
“It was a fun job, I got to be out all day and meet people and the day went real fast,” he said. “And you had a chance to service people and solve problems because the materials really worked.”
Dixon didn’t know at the time that he would make a career of pest control, but he enjoyed meeting new people and the freedom of not being tied to an office. “When I went to treat a customer’s home or business, I made it my business to make sure his problem was solved,” he said. “Once I solved their problems, my route was coasting. My clients never complained because they were always satisfied.”
But after being a general pest control technician for 10 years, Dixon wanted something more. He was particularly interested in learning more about termite control and took it upon himself to become certified in all aspects of pest and termite control. “I wanted to learn all I could possibly learn,” he said. He also earned his real estate license as he discovered how important termite reports were in that market.
Dixon eventually left American Disinfectant and in 1978 founded Dixon’s Termite & Pest Management. And 31 years later, his job is just as fun and gratifying today as it was back then. “I enjoy doing pest control and I don’t want to do anything else. Every morning I get up and it’s like I have on a Yankees’ uniform. Every day, I’m in the big leagues. I’m doing pest control in Washington, D.C.”
THE NEXT STEP...AND BEYOND. As his firm grew, so did the notable accounts. In the early 1980s, Dixon’s firm performed bird control work at the White House; termite control at the U.S. Coast Guard Base on Governor’s Island in New York; and general pest control and a clean-out at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Today, the business is about 50 percent residential and 50 percent commercial.
Even though Dixon has been performing pest management for more than four decades, he still loves the business and he loves being in the field. “I’m an outside fella,” he said, noting he’s in the field every day, whether it’s to price a job or ride along with a technician.
Although rats are the biggest pest control challenge Dixon has encountered — “I hate rats because they are so much like we are. They are great opportunists. They can’t live without us and we don’t spare any effort to support them.” — he says the biggest challenge to the future of the industry is having rules and regulations be dictated to the industry by people who don’t understand pest control.
“The biggest challenge are the rules and regulations. All of a sudden you don’t need a termite inspection. Who comes up with this foolishness?” said Dixon. “Rules and regulations are being put on us by people that don’t understand what we’re doing. If people keep this up, you’re going to go to the store and bread is going to be $15 a loaf. The only reason you pay a few dollars for a loaf of bread is because there are people applying pesticides on the farms. But the average person who buys bread doesn’t understand that. The farmer is the one that makes sure you stay alive. If you keep screwing around with him — his herbicides, his pesticides — you’re taking away his ability to get his crop with less effort.”
As a result, Dixon has regularly been involved in local and state regulatory affairs. But maybe that’s because as a citizen of Washington, D.C., he has no representative in Congress. “Washington, D.C. is a strange place because we’re not a state — we don’t have any juice,” Dixon said, so he has chosen to get involved in the regulatory process through his tireless work on behalf of various pest management associations.
“Robert Dixon has taken the lead on almost any notable pest management-related issue that has arisen in Washington for the last 40 years. To that end, Robert helped develop the initial D.C. pest control law and subsequent regulations in the 1970s,” said Gene Harrington, director of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association. “More recently, he lobbied the D.C. Council in 2008 to make sure a notification bill council members were working on was more workable for the pest management industry.”
“I have a good relationship with NPMA,” Dixon said. “They do a lot of good work.”
“Robert is incredibly active in the community and is well-known by Washington, D.C. politicians and business leaders,” Harrington added.
THE FUTURE. Dixon’s Termite & Pest Management is a family affair. His wife, Ann, “runs everything” he said, and his son, Anthony, vice president of the company, does anything that needs to be done. “I enjoy working with my family — it’s a fun thing to do,” he said.
When asked if he has plans to retire, Dixon said, “I retire every evening at 9:30 and I rise the next day. I don’t want to retire. It’s so stimulating and rewarding.”
And Dixon’s positive attitude doesn’t stop there. “I was born America — I was born in paradise,” he said. “I got up this morning, had no problem getting to work, no problem getting orange juice. I have no beef with anybody.”
So what does Dixon predict for the future of pest management?
“The lowballers are going to go by the wayside, we’re going to have more people practicing quality control — quality control is going to be the biggest thing in pest control,” he said. “I believe termite inspections are going to come back, the real estate market is going to come back, and five years from now the best of the best will still be here, worst of the worst will be gone, and we’ll be living in a different world. I am totally an optimist and I totally feel that way.”
Having goals and a vision for his life is important to Robert Dixon. He reads what he calls “positive thinking” books, which have helped along the way. But Dixon didn’t need a book to help him develop and achieve his goals in life.
“In my vision, I just wanted to be successful, marry well, make a million dollars, go to Hawaii,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do and I’ve done all those things.”
From Mentee to Mentor
Robert Dixon had several mentors in the pest management industry he looked up to throughout the years. While most of his mentors have passed away, their lessons haven’t faded for Dixon.
“I really loved working for Bill Roll and Bob Wells at American Disinfectant. They were straightforward, it was a fun thing to work for them,” Dixon said.
Dixon also said Howard Foster of After the Bug Pest Control brought him up to speed on the changes in pest control and was a real help in his career.
Caleb Wilkins of Wilkins Exterminators, founder of the oldest pest management firm in Washington, D.C., was a “real icon,” Dixon said. “He taught me about termite work and PR.”
And now Dixon has become a mentor to a whole new generation of Washington-area pest management professionals. “Robert Dixon has been a consistent mentor to many over the years. Personally, he has continuously encouraged me to continue to strive for greatness. It has been more times than one that his words of unsolicited wisdom had made a profound difference in times in which I was silently struggling,” said Cleveland M. Dixon Jr. (no relation), owner, Holiday Termite & Pest Control, Springfield, Va. “The pest management industry may not be aware of his continued efforts to encourage African American-owned pest management firms to become more involved in the industry. I’ve personally witnessed his continued efforts to encourage the beginning of the Washington D.C. Pest Management Association with fellow business owners.”
“Not only has Robert been in the pest management industry since the Kennedy administration, he has also served as a mentor to countless other D.C. and suburban Maryland and Virginia PMPs,” said Gene Harrington, director of government affairs, National Pest Management Association.
Up Close: Robert Dixon
Title: President and General Manager
Company/Affiliation: Dixon’s Termite & Pest Management
Location: Washington, D.C.
Personal: Wife Ann, married 34 years; two sons; two grandsons, ages 13 and 6. Enjoys watching professional sports.
- Founded Dixon’s Pest Control in April 1978
- Pest control technician with American Disinfectant Company, Washington, D.C. (1963-1978)
- President, Washington D.C. Pest Control Operators Association
- Notable accounts (past and present): the U.S. Department of Interior, the Washington Area Metro Transit Authority, the U.S. Capitol and House of Representatives office buildings, the Washington Convention Center, the MCI Sports Entertainment Center, BWI International Airport, the White House and the FBI Building in Washington, D.C.
- Certified pest control operator in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia
- Ranked “Superior” by the Better Business Bureau for outstanding customer care and work satisfaction
- In 2008, Dixon’s Termite & Pest Management was rated No. 1 in the Washington Consumers Checkbook (a nonprofit consumer information and service resource)
- Correspondent, NPMA’s affiliate group, Minorities in Pest Management