A dozen years ago, American Pest Management (APM), Manhattan, Kan., sent a green technician to Denver for a Bed Bug Summit. While listening to the presenters, he noticed that everyone was discussing reactive control. He brought back from his seminar an interesting concept: proactive bed bug control.
That is when Travis Aggson, vice president of APM, knew Joey Hoke was something special in the industry. Now, a decade later, Hoke of APM is PCT’s Commercial Technician of the Year. “I came into the situation with no experience and no preconceptions,” Hoke says. “We were just starting to see bed bug pressure and management knew we needed a protocol.”
What he learned then is part of his core belief today as a trainer: “Always be willing to learn,” he says. “You provide the education and I’ll learn.”
That is the attitude he wants in a new technician today. “I don’t want you just spraying baseboards. I can train anyone to do that in a day,” he said. “I want you out there solving the client’s problems.”
Hoke noodled on the bed bug situation for a while. At first, he thought about inspection programs. However, property managers need more than inspections. Then, working with other professionals, he came up with a protocol to catch and preventively treat for bed bugs before they become established. He used the bed bugs’ natural foraging habits against them. The key to proactive success, he found, is rotating materials and different chemistries.
This love of defining and then defeating a problem remains a hallmark of Hoke’s career.
INDUSTRY INTRODUCTION. Hoke is a Kansas State University grad with a degree in social sciences. He also studied marketing and management at Manhattan Area Technical School.
He got started in the pest control industry when a friend opened a door. He worked his way through the ranks from a general pest control technician to commercial technician, supervisor, and currently is lead trainer and technical director at APM.
Hoke was a member of the inaugural class of the Kansas Pest Control Association’s Master Technician class that is taught in conjunction with K-State. He is one of just 14 people in Kansas to earn Associate Certified Entomologist status. He earned that in 2013.
APM recognizes the gem they have. Hoke is a four-time winner of the company’s Terminator Award, which goes to the employee with the highest pest control revenue. He has been named Employee of the Year and has won the company’s Marksman Award which goes to the tech with the lowest call-back percentage.
His customers love him…and that speaks more about the man than certificates and awards.
CUSTOMER APPRECIATION. Hoke knows the key to successful commercial pest control is keeping all involved parties in the loop and on the same page.
“Talk to the managers and get them to buy into the program to help their tenants,” he said. While some managers simply want their problem resolved, he finds most managers see the benefits of a proactive program.
Especially challenging are sites with large populations of elderly or fixed-income tenants who buy second-hand or at garage sales. Hoke knows that is one way to bring bed bugs onto a property. “Without the manager on board, the job is much harder. But if everyone is on board, and the tenants can help, things go more smoothly,” he said.
And Hoke makes sure that the managers are on board whenever he can…and management appreciates that he cares.
“Joey is pleasant to work with and is very thorough in his work,” says Susie Burenheide, manager of Broadview Towers in Emporia, Kan. It’s not just the manager of this building who is high on Hoke. It is the residents, too. That counts big for Burenheide as well as for APM. Some of the words people in Broadview Towers use to describe Hoke are “very knowledgeable,” “has a great sense of humor,” and “trustworthy.” What else can a boss ask of an employee?
One of those things might be to interact with both property management and the folks there. In fact, Hoke has given talks for property management on the different types of insects and spiders that people might encounter. He also talked about bed bugs.
Tiffani D. Lara, head of maintenance at Redbud Estates, Manhattan, has noticed the same thing. “He takes the extra time to share his knowledge with both the staff and residents, explaining not only what the problem is, but what it will take from both the landlord and tenant perspective to eliminate the problem,” Lara says.
She is impressed, as others are, with Hoke’s professionalism. “He has a passion to keep researching and learning about the newest and most effective treatment options out there,” Lara says.
NEW OPPORTUNITIES. If there are two hallmarks of APM they are education and communication. After Hoke found his niche in bed bugs and commercial property service, the company made him technical director. That is when his abilities to educate other team members came to the fore.
“You can sit in a classroom and watch a PowerPoint or video,” APM Vice President Travis Aggson says. “But Joey has a way of bringing in people, setting up a room like a hotel, and giving technicians hands-on experience.”
The week PCT interviewed him, Hoke was conducting a termite class. He had built a wall with markings to show exactly where 24 inches high is and where the studs and cross-members are in a wall. “It makes our technicians learn better,” Aggson says.
Aggson attributes some of Hoke’s attention to detail to his earlier career as a railroad engineer. Hoke worked several years for a short-line rail system, then returned to Manhattan where he got his job with APM. Aggson notes the pre-run check lists, protocols and attention to detail required to operate a locomotive. That training serves him well in pest control where checklists and attention to detail spell success.
APM runs a “Town Hall Meeting” for each new client and their tenants. They used to drag. Hoke was responsible for changing the meetings from a dull 30-minute lecture to a snappy 10-minute talk and an interactive show-and-tell to keep folks informed on what APM would do.
Helping others reach that goal is Hoke’s job today. “Take every educational opportunity you can get if the company is willing to send you to a seminar,” Hoke advises young technicians.
“It helps if you have an inquiring mind and are willing to ask questions,” he added. “Asking questions is what makes a good technician. If you don’t know, ask!”
The author is a PCT contributing writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.