Hi Melissa, thanks for sharing your story with us. Let’s start by having you tell us a little bit about yourself.
“I am a 42-year-old mother of 2 kids, Ariana (21) and Ben (17). I have a beautiful fiance, who helped me get set up for this meeting, and together we have 2 dogs, 3 cats, and 2 turtles. I’m a lover of plants and animals.
I never thought that one day I would wake up and say ‘hey! I’m going to be an exterminator!’ and here we are.”
Which brings me to my next question — what made you get into the pest control industry?
“I was a young mom and needed to provide for my kids since their father wasn’t extremely helpful. I worked in childcare for a while until I decided to go back to school for a degree in education.
I had difficulty balancing my 2 children and school, and I wasn’t able to complete my degree. Soon after, we moved out to Philadelphia where I got a job selling insurance which also did not work out.
The good news, though, was that I met a coworker there who would become my future boss for pest control years later. He walked in on me working part-time at Red Robin while also balancing going back to school, and next thing I know, I’m working for him at his pest control business.
Unfortunately, he passed away last July from a massive heart attack. Seeing a healthy man pass away unexpectedly was the big push I needed. That was the moment I decided to do my own thing.”
Good for you! I was so fascinated by how you got into the industry. What phobias did you have to overcome in the pest field?
“Girl, I’m a New Yorker! We know our pests.
My mother still lives in the same apartment that I grew up in, and my biggest fear when I was young was that I would open the shower curtain and there would be a ginormous roach.
We never saw one and my mother has lived there for 45 years — however, I still had a fear of them.
I had to conquer it quickly because my very first job on-site with my former boss was a roach job. I’m not even exaggerating when I tell you that the whole floor was brown with roach carcasses. He opened the door and I was like ‘I need to go outside for a minute, I’ll be back.’”
I praise you for that — I’m still trying to overcome my own fear of roaches. What’s your favorite part about your job?
“My favorite part of my job is knowing that I actually do help people in doing what I do. That’s why I’m still in this field, regardless of the money.
At the end of the day. I sleep better knowing that I was able to help someone with their roach problem. Or that I helped get rid of mice running around in their baby’s crib.
I also love running my own business and creating my own schedule. It’s very beneficial to me and my family.”
What are some obstacles you’ve had to overcome as a woman in pest control?
“Being a woman in this male-dominated field is tough because it is known as a ‘man’s job.’ I have a lot of elderly clients who will say, ‘you’re too pretty to be an exterminator, what are you doing?’
What does that mean? What should I be doing? I get those questions a lot —even on Instagram — from a lot of men. I really try to keep it professional and courteous, but I’ll put you in your place if need be.
People will even question my uniform and I have to explain that I am my own boss making my own rules. What I wear does not constitute my work, and it doesn’t designate how good or bad I am at my job.
People use assumptions and old societal expectations to form their opinions and I’m here to disrupt that idea.”
I love that! What advice do you have for women who are trying to get into the pest control field?
“Don’t let anything stop you. Get trained by someone with plenty of experience, but also try to train with or shadow someone who is new in the field.
My former boss gave clients dirt cheap services. When I went on my own, I learned he was able to do that by using old chemicals and equipment. He had very old techniques and wasn’t willing to learn or adapt to the changing industry.
Because of that experience, I’ve become very open to experimenting.
I feel like a lot of exterminators are just out there to make their money and stick to what they know. Personally, I want to make sure my clients and their pets are safe and healthy. I’m always willing to learn and change with the industry to ensure the safety of my clients.”
That’s awesome. Giving out the same service that you would want in return, right?
“Yes, and word of mouth is everything if they’re satisfied.”
Oh, for sure. How have you been promoting your business?
“Instagram! I’ve had an IG account for about 5 years now.
When I started my @ladyexterminator page, my daughter asked me what hashtags were and I had no clue. Once I learned how to incorporate them into my posts, that became how people would find and refer me.
Notably, in Philadelphia, many residents will buy a house down the street from their mothers and grandmothers. That kind of close-knit family and sense of community brings a lot of people my way. I’m really grateful for it.”
What did your family think when you told them that you were going to get into this business?
“They thought I was crazy but my mom said, ‘okay Meli, you know what you’re doing. If it works for you, great. If it doesn’t, I know that you got this.’
In a past job, I was working over 40 hours in four days. I messed up my back and had to have surgery for someone else’s pockets. I decided that if I continue to work for someone forever, then I’m not going to make it in the long run.
Sometimes my family and I don’t see eye to eye, but they ended up being supportive of my career in the end. I want to leave a legacy for my kids. I want them to know that they can do whatever they want regardless of who their parents are.”