[Tech of the Year] Rob Van Willigen

Features - PCT News

Delivering Excellence for 24 Years

January 22, 2010
Brad Harbison

An ability to cultivate longstanding client relationships defines Rob Van Willigen’s tenure at Batzner Pest Management.

Three o’clock in the morning is a time when most people are sound asleep in preparation for the day ahead. For Rob Van Willigen his day is just beginning. "At that time of day, I’ve found that there are two types of people — those that are glad to see you, to have someone to talk to, and those that would prefer not to see you."

Van Willigen services many hospitals, restaurants and other commercial facilities that are best taken care of when they are closed. "In kitchens, you don’t want to be on the ground placing baits with workers carrying food or hot soup and them not seeing you. In hospitals, you’ve got people visiting loved ones and they may be upset; they don’t want to see someone making a bait placement."

The wee hours of the morning have proven to be the perfect time for Van Willigen to hone his craft the past 24 years. Van Willigen is highly regarded for the quality service he provides and his commitment to company and co-workers. Van Willigen’s tenure at Batzner Pest Management has occurred while the company has undergone significant growth and enhanced its reputation as a leading provider of commercial pest services (when he was hired, Batzner only had 11 service technicians; today the company has more than 50). That’s no coincidence. Van Willigen has excelled at retaining his existing accounts while at the same time growing his route, largely through referrals.

That customers remain faithful to Van Willigen is no surprise to Jerry Batzner, president of Batzner Pest Management. "Some people do their jobs and then there are those like Rob that are engaged and love what they do. This shows when Rob interacts with clients. He makes a big impression on them. They appreciate his commitment and it’s one of the reasons he’s become so successful."

CAREER PATH. Van Willigen has been a longtime fixture at Batzner Pest Management, but he’s traveled down several career paths. Growing up in suburban Milwaukee in the 1960s Van Willigen said he never had a real career focus, although he did have an interest in animals and forestry. His first post-high school job was working at the printing press for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He later went to work for Briggs & Stratton, a job that involved selling. Van Willigen earned some valuable experience with this position. "I was getting out and meeting people and I learned that you have to sell yourself before you can do anything else," he recalls.

When Van Willigen learned of the opportunity at Batzner he was intrigued. "Batzner lets you set up your route how you want – as long as you conform to certain rules."

A QUICK STUDY. Learning the technical aspect of the job — and then applying that knowledge to the field — came naturally to Van Willigen. He quickly earned a reputation as a skilled troubleshooter.

Van Willigen’s first pest control experience involved running a residential route, but he’s found commercial pest control more to his liking. "I like having a variety of accounts to service. One morning I might be at a leather tanning facility (a grimy account with strong odors) and then later in the day servicing an upscale hotel."

Regardless of the account, Van Willigen has gained the respect and trust of his clients. "You need to be an honest person. People are giving you things like keys and alarm codes."

And there are those traits that only come from experience. "Rob knows his clients’ history and the history of the accounts he services," says Operations Manager Jerry Lohr. "For example, he knows that Account A has Asian lady beetles at a certain time of year. He’ll treat that account proactively, so that it does not become a problem."

Adds Jerry Batzner, "It’s nice when you have an AIB inspector come in and Rob can speak the same language as him, understanding things such as HACCP and being up-to-date on product recalls. It’s something that I know our clients appreciate tremendously."

A TRUSTED MENTOR. Van Willigen said his favorite part of the job is training new service professionals. "I’ve enjoyed getting to ride with them and introducing them to this line of work, seeing which ones take to it, and which ones decide it’s not for them."

Van Willigen says his advice to new service professionals is to simply be straightforward with their clients. "If you say you are going to be there — be there. Everyone gets sick from time to time, but if you can’t make it, call them. Don’t leave them hanging."

Jerry Batzner has tried to tap into Van Willigen’s experience and has given him increased company-wide training opportunities. In addition to accompanying newer technicians on "ride-alongs," Van Willigen will work with Ted Snyder, Batzner training and technical director, as well as other managers, to put on training sessions.

Looking ahead, Van Willigen is excited about future training opportunities; at the same time, he still enjoys running his route and continuing to build on the client relationships that he’s molded throughout the years. "I look at my route as if it is my own little business and I try to run it the way I think a successful business would be run," Van Willigen says.


Away from office

When not out on the road servicing accounts Rob Van Willigen devotes much of his free time to Patty, his wife of 14 years, daughter Kylee (age 7) and son Ryan, 10.

He serves as an usher for his church and as a scout leader.

Van Willigen’s other pursuit is working out at the gym, a hobby he’s had since 1983. Van Willigen says he tries to make it to the gym twice per week.


A memorable encounter

In 24 years, Rob Van Willigen has dealt with just about every type of structural pest imaginable, but one of his most memorable on-the-job encounters involved an aquatic creature that he encountered on a residential route.

"I went to inspect the bathroom, turned on the lights and there were carp in the bathtub – it scared me," he recalls.

It turns out the family living in the home was from Southeast Asia who just happened to "live a little differently" than most of his customers.

"To this day, I remember that encounter," Van Willigen said.



The author is Internet editor and managing editor of PCT.