It’s always great for me to watch another professional in the craft I love work his or her magic. Their skill and expertise is one thing but what impresses me the most is the confidence they have in their ability to get the job done even if it has complex factors that would send any rookie running for the phone to call in for help. Recently I had a chance to spend an entire week with just such a confident technician and I actually learned quite a bit.
Billy Bretherton otherwise known as Billy The Exterminator is the man behind Vexcon, an exterminating company in Louisiana. He entered the bug world while in the Air Force and continued on with his studies through Purdue and LSU Universities and eventually became a Associate Certified Entomologist as well as achieving a Masters certification for termite control. His company was started in 1996 but Billy’s notoriety didn’t really come until he was chosen to be a feature story on the hit show Dirty Jobs. I remember this caused a little bit of a stir in the pest control community because of the way Billy and his technicians dressed. Instead of the sharp pressed uniform they wore shiny skull belt buckles with chains dangling freely and skull and crossbones shirts. Some even criticized his spraying techniques when he was hosing down some german roaches or jacking up a house that had severe termite damage. I ‘m sure he heard some of the critiques and that probably didn’t sit well for a guy who had worked so hard to come up through the ranks. (literally) There was even the comparisons between him and Mike Masterson, owner of Isotech and star of the mega hit series, “The Verminators.” Mike is the epitome of a stereotypical professional and the image that most bug guys preferred. I’m sure that had to hurt a little but in the end, Billy stuck to who he was and perhaps even went a little further with his now longer hair and spiked lapels and chrome tipped boots. This paid off for Vexcon and Billy as he too was awarded a show of his own on A&E known simply as “Billy The Exterminator” which is now also a big hit on the tube.
Now Billy didn’t know I was dropping by but he always welcomed me in each day I came. I’d show up every afternoon and ride along for about 3 hours in his nice Tundra truck while he got the calls for all sorts of different pest and critter problems. I was with him on his rat job of an animal rescue shelter where he bagged over 100 rats. The ladies there had no idea the problem was so bad and really were alarmed when they found out that most of their buildings electrical wiring was 1/2 chewed through by the rodents and the fire danger was huge. I remember the ladies screaming when he tracked down live rats in a plastic tub but how thankful they were when after the job was done he donated one years service to the shelter.
On the 3rd day Billy got the call for a snake in a tattoo parlor and I was right there with him. His brother Rick joined us for this one but since I was just a guest I simply watched. Rick is quite the guy as well and pretty brave, they both hunted that thing down and worked like a team to catch this 6 footer that would have sent anybody else running for the exits. They also paired up for a client who was infested with snakes to the point the kids couldn’t play in the back yard without fear of getting bitten. Prancing through the tall grass and debris left by recent storms they narrowed it down to a lone wood pile which they unceremoniously burned. Man did that drive out the biggest snake I’ve ever seen. A monster rattlesnake came out of that pile and he was mad. The two wrangled the beast for quite awhile until they got it in the bucket but I just watched and learned from my secure vantage point and was glad I didn’t have to do a thing but view the spectacle.
I learned a lot from my week with Billy, we went on so many jobs and saw some crazy things. There were lots of raccoon calls, spiders, snakes, opossums, rats, turkeys and even a bobcat. All handled with care and those that didn’t make it were buried with dignity by a saddened and humbled man. I don’t normally get into animal control and my views are more along the lines of ‘extermination’ but Billy tries to save every warm blooded pest he can. It was interesting as well to learn about some of his own concoctions which naturally took care of pests. Garlic sprays to repel snakes and an organic mixture which sapped the energy right out of the dreaded black widow and suggestions galore of how homeowners can avoid having these types of problems in the first place. I’m not much for the ‘green and organic’ movement but if more people would approach it in this manner I might be more inclined to listen.
There’s a lot more to Billy than meets the eye but if all you look at is his stainless steel apparel and narrow sunglasses you just might miss it. My first impressions were founded on the same Dirty Jobs episode you watched years ago and I must admit I thought his approach was not one I would ever emulate. However, after my week with him one on one I’ve come to a whole different conclusion. His business is a lot like mine and thousands of others as he and his family strive to grow and make it in this highly competitive world.
Billy has that confidence that only a seasoned professional exudes and from here on out the skies the limit on where he and his company may go. While I’m sure not many pest companies will follow his exact business model you can never go wrong with being passionate about what you’re doing in the way you want to get it done. Billy has proven this and in his way blazed a trail that others may follow albeit in their own modified way. I’m just thankful I was able to take time away from my work for a week to observe this guy firsthand and uninterrupted. For 3 hours a day I saw a great technician do his job and then I headed down to the beach to enjoy the rest of my vacation but looked forward to tomorrows marathon episodes of Billy The Exterminator on TV.