CHICAGO — Robiar (or Robi) Smith is a true innovator in the pest control industry. Against many odds, Smith opened R.B. Pest Solutions in 2016 and has grown it substantially while becoming a widely recognized leader on her home turf in Chicago and as an active member of the National Pest Management Association.
In fact, Smith was recently a recipient of NPMA’s Impact Award for Women in Pest Management.
Smith was introduced to the pest control industry by her mother, Dolores Benton, and her father, Michael Benton. Michael has been a technician since 1979 and worked at several different companies in Chicago throughout his career. He is still “rocking and rolling” with his tech work at R.B. Pest Solutions, said Smith.
Although Smith grew up in the industry, she never seriously considered getting involved until after completing her education and starting a teaching career of her own. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Roosevelt University and her MBA and master’s in information technology from Keller Graduate School.
“I went out there and got every degree that I could get,” Smith said. “I never thought in a million years I would be in pest control.”
It was when Smith was teaching information technology and professional business development at a college in Chicago that her father suggested she apply these skills to the pest control industry. She possessed the necessary skillset to develop her own business, as she had experience assisting other people scale and grow their businesses.
However, a major roadblock in Smith’s journey to success was passing the certification test.
“I failed it over and over again, to the point that when I got to the third time, I got serious about it,” Smith said. “The professor in me felt kind of cheated.”
This extra push towards the finish line was exactly what Smith needed to spark her passion. Upon studying more intensely, Smith said she fell in love with learning about the life cycle and “what pest control is really all about.”
It was also a major motivator for Smith, as a professor, to go through the studying process and see the “gaps and holes” in the education aspect of the industry, she said. Smith said that from the beginning, she hoped to contribute to the implementation of new curriculum, training and technology. From the advent of her company, Smith has made efforts to provide “transparency and education” to all her clients, she said. Presently, she is further achieving that goal by sharing informational videos to social media and walking her clients through the services she provides step-by-step.
Once Smith passed her exam in 2016, she did not waste a second.
“After I left that room, I immediately printed out business cards,” she said. “I created my website. I grabbed a vehicle. I started designing our logo, all our paperwork, everything. I just I created it all from scratch. I did it right there in my living room.”
Initially, R.B. Pest Solutions was composed of only three technicians: Smith, her father and her husband, Ahmand. Her daughters, Amaiya (21), Amari and Iman (twins, 19) are now heavily involved in the company, keeping R.B. Pest Solutions a family-run business to this day. During the past six years, the company has accumulated 21 technicians and nine office staff — 30 employees total. Also, the company has expanded into Indiana.
“It’s rapid growth over here. I’m excited about it,” Smith said.
R.B. Pest Solutions has made a name for itself and gained recognition largely through Smith’s unique marketing efforts. Smith said that her background in IT has given her a broad understanding of how to reach an audience using algorithms and formulas on social media. Smith emphasizes the importance of marketing and advertising to her entire team.
R.B. Pest Solutions is active on several social media sites, including TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Smith said that she has attempted to make fun, engaging content for viewers who might not otherwise find pest control to be so “cool.”
Offline, R.B. Pest Solutions continues to make strides in its advertising. Besides billboards and radio appearances, the company has begun to receive television opportunities.
“We’ve been on Chicago Fire on NBC,” Smith said. “They reached out to us to do a bed bug episode last year. And we’ve been on Fox 32. We’ve been on there three or four times, and WGN, too. So, we’re making a lot of strides media wise,” Smith said.
Smith opened up about some of the challenges with the rapid growth her company has experienced.
“I think it’s extremely important that no matter who’s in the seat, the systems and structures need to be there,” Smith said. “The challenge is not letting the business get ahead of me and not getting ahead of the business myself. I’m trying to just have a steady flow here right now.”
When asked who she thanks for her success, Smith replied, “My team. I’m nothing without them.” Smith also explained how her employees “don’t work for (her), (she) works for them.”
Smith’s passion for serving the greater Chicago community, and her familiarity with it, has been mutually beneficial to the company and the community. Smith is especially adamant about “giving back to the community” by serving urban neighborhoods in the city and providing tax-free extermination, she said. Also, Smith has made it a priority to hire local.
“I opened up the first office here in the neighborhood, and all of the techs and everybody have been hired and trained literally within the city of Chicago, in this neighborhood,” Smith said. “I want to be a part of the solution and hire and provide economic development in the community. My goal is also to just be a leader. I want to show that people that come from where I come from, which is the South Side of Chicago, can grow and scale huge businesses as well.”
Smith also attempts to connect with and uplift her competitors. She recently launched the PWIPM Chicago chapter for the sake of creating a collaboration, she said.
“Here in Chicago, I’ve created a community with them,” said Smith. “So even though they are my competitors, I still think as an industry, we need to step back and make sure that we have a collaborative effort here so that we can stay on top of the technology, treatment plans and ways of doing things.”
This stride for community and collaboration is what earned Smith an NPMA Impact Award for Women, which she accepted in Nashville this April.
Smith has taken her desire to educate the community about pest control to the next level by launching a children’s book on the topic. The story of “Kodi BlackMan” is of a Black pest control technician who is a superhero by night. The book was distributed around Chicago to local daycares and schools.
“This was our way to introduce pest control to children and talk about the lifecycle and just the industry in itself,” Smith said.
R.B. Pest Solutions also makes sure to participate in local career fairs and entrepreneurship panels to spread knowledge of the industry.
An upcoming project Smith said she is excited about is the launch of new R.B. Pest Solutions products such as mattress covers, which can be found online or in R.B. Pest Solutions select retail stores.
“We’re trying to be a one-stop-shop for your pest control needs in the neighborhood and in the community,” Smith said.
Her goals are to continue supporting her community alongside the scaling of the business and to leave a legacy, “raising awareness for the industry and putting it in a positive light,” she said.