In 2016, the threat of the Zika virus had many in the U.S. on alert about mosquitoes.
“I think because of the Zika virus and the amount of media attention that it received, we actually had a good number of customers asking for the service,” says Robert Kerns, president and CEO of Custom Turf Lawn & Irrigation Services.
Located in Finleyville, Pennsylvania, Custom Turf added mosquito control as a service in 2016, first marketing to existing customers via invoice upsells.
“We took a very conservative approach to advertising,” Kerns says. “We didn’t want to invest a tremendous amount of dollars to the service, not really knowing if it would be successful.”
Roger Slaughter, owner of S&S Landscape in Hickory, North Carolina, also starts with his current client base when selling mosquito services.
“We started offering it even before the Zika problems happened in Florida and the deep south, and out of the country, but we started offering mosquito spray just because they’re a nuisance,” he says, adding that this is the company’s third year offering mosquito services.
That nuisance factor of mosquitoes can be an effective selling tactic compared to marketing the threat of Zika or West Nile.
“We’ve – in West Michigan – had West Nile virus for many years,” says Jim Zylstra, owner of Tuff Turf Molebusters in Byron Center. He says many people in the area don’t fear acquiring a mosquito-borne illness unless they’ve known someone personally affected by one. Therefore, they’re not likely to purchase the services to prevent those.
“Until it happens to somebody they know, it’s really a ‘not in my backyard’ thing, so I wouldn’t really use the viruses as a scare tactic,” Zylstra says. “We go more for comfort. They’re just a pain. Who wants mosquitoes landing on your arm while you’re trying to enjoy outside?
“To me, the mosquito buzzing in somebody’s ear is a much better sales tactic than the threat of disease or a virus.”
While adding a mosquito service may seem simple, with low-cost products and equipment, it’s important to look into a few factors before you just hand your guys backpack sprayers.
“First of all, you should know your state requirements for certification and licensing,” Zylstra says. “At least in Michigan, they are their own classification, not general pest. So know what your state requires.”
Once you’ve considered what requirements are present in your state, you need to train crews. Training requirements vary by state as well.
“The required training comes from the state of North Carolina,” Slaughter says. “I’m the one who holds the license. They dictate to me the training I need. We have to maintain our license and in order to maintain in North Carolina, we’re required to have so many hours of training a year.”
Ron’s Organics, in Mesquite, Texas, approaches mosquito control differently. Owner Ron Hall’s crews use an organic approach of applying plant oils.
Because of this, his crews require different training than most mosquito control crews.
“It’s a pretty short learning curve,” Hall says. “A lot of it has to do with the employee.” Hall’s crews watch YouTube videos with him before going out in the field and applying sprays made of garlic, clove, cinnamon, thyme or peppermint. He also applies garlic granular products to the ground.
Kerns’s training focuses on showing crews the most common locations of mosquitoes depending on different variables.
“The training is probably more technical than anything in terms of the habitat of a mosquito,” he says. “Where they tend to congregate, under what conditions, the months of the year … those specific questions are the specific details of a mosquito’s lifestyle.”
When using chemicals, one of the most important things for your crews to understand and actively do, according to Zylstra, is wear personal protection equipment. “Because this is a product that is putting up a fine particle in the air, you’re going to be having to wear a lot more PPE than we’re used to,” he says. This includes a full respirator, full face shield, long pants, boots and gloves.
Zylstra says it’s also important for technicians to know the weather report for each day they’ll be spraying.
“You can’t do it with more than 10 mph wind, and you’ve got to watch the rain coming,” he says. “It’s the most weather-sensitive service we offer.”
He adds that you don’t want to do it on humid days because the moisture particles will stay suspended in the air.
The slow grow.
If you’re adding mosquito spraying as a way to build your revenue quickly, Kerns warns you to think again.
“It’s not something we expected was going to break production records for our company,” he says. The company has a three-step program in June, July and August, and first started advertising in early spring. “We got a little bit of traction in June, a little bit better in July, but by the time the third and final treatment rolled around, we actually had a pretty good response.”
Tuff Turf Molebusters also saw a slow increase in service after the company started offering mosquito control to customers. “It took us a long time to build up a good mosquito route,” Zylstra says. “We were doing it for seven years and only had 35 clients that got mosquito control.”
Then, five or six years ago, that part of Michigan saw a 100-year flood, with some yards seeing weeks of standing water.
When the water finally receded, some of the lawns were still wet and became a perfect habitat for mosquitoes.
“After three weeks, the mosquitoes were so bad, we literally went from 35 accounts to 305 within a 10-day window,” he says. “I had five price increases. We were selling 100 percent of the phone calls coming in.”
The company raised prices until they only sold about 75 to 80 percent of the calls.
Since then, Zylstra says his company has had an 85 percent retention rate.
“We thought it would be one year and you’re done, but they stayed with us,” he says. “It comes and goes. Every year is different.
At the end of the day, location should be an important factor when determining whether it’s a good idea for your company to add mosquito spraying as an add-on.
“Look at the area of the country you reside and make a determination from there,” Kerns says.
While he understands southern states will have more of a demand – sometimes resulting in companies that just offer mosquito spraying – he adds that states like Pennsylvania may not make as much sense, depending on companies in your area already offering it.
Still, he says to take the time and do a bit of research on what’s out there for your location.
“It can be extremely lucrative,” he says. “It can be very much in demand.”