If there were ever a time to offer mosquito control service, this is it.
Mosquitoes are the top-of-mind pest this summer mainly due to the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne illness that has grabbed headlines since January. The virus is a major reason why the number of American tourists expected to attend the Olympic Games in Brazil — the epicenter of the virus outbreak — has dropped by half, reported USA Today in June.
The fear is understandable. In Brazil, there have been 165,907 suspected and confirmed Zika virus disease cases. Nearly 1,749 cases of microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size and underdeveloped brains in infants, have been linked to the virus, reported the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) in July.
Debate rages on the long-term consequences of bringing so many world travelers into the infected area and whether this will expedite the virus’ spread in the United States and Canada. Local mosquito-borne transmission of Zika virus has been reported in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa; a total of 42 countries and territories so far, reported PAHO/WHO in July.
The primary vector of the virus, Aedes aegypti, is found in the southern U.S. But Aedes albopictus, found as far north as New England, also can transmit the disease, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Both are invasive species that have expanded their range in the last 21 years, stated researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Colorado State University. This potentially puts millions more people at risk should Zika virus become further established in the U.S.
And “there’s always that possibility” the virus could evolve and adapt to a native mosquito of the same genus, such as the Aedes vexans, said Dr. Alice Sinia, quality assurance manager of Orkin Canada. “Evolution is always taking place” and “when a virus goes to a new place it tries to evolve depending on the environment,” she said. (This takes time and the right circumstances, she noted.)
Globally, 20 different mosquito species are linked to the Zika virus, not just Aedes aegypti as is often reported, said Dr. Fiona Hunter of Brock University, St. Catharines, Ont., in a university news article.
Customers are concerned; they’re asking questions and buying mosquito control services, pest management professionals reported.
Mosquito control revenue was up 39 percent through early June at Terminix Service in Columbia, S.C., said President Scott Fortson. “I think the Zika media has certainly something to do with it,” he said. “We were gearing up before the season started knowing it was going to be on people’s minds.”
According to a recent PCT market survey, 90 percent of PMPs who provide mosquito control service think media coverage of the Zika virus will prompt more customers to seek professional mosquito control services from their company.
Customers were signing up for PestEx’s mosquito control program in March, even with snow still on the ground, said Dan Fleischer, president of the Boston-based company.
But even before Zika became headline news, PMPs were seeing increased interest in mosquito control service. It is the fastest growing business segment at Blasingame Pest Management in Atlanta and it “quite honestly sells itself,” said CEO Billy Blasingame. Nearly 60 percent of PMPs said their percentage of revenue from mosquito control services increased in the past three years, found the PCT survey.
The number of PMPs providing mosquito control also has increased: More than half (54 percent) now offer mosquito control, up from 49 percent in 2015 and 38 percent in 2014, PCT market surveys found.
Companies shared tips for successful mosquito control service:
SEEK OUT ADVICE. “Reach out to other people in the industry” to learn what works and how to adapt mosquito control to your market, said Marc Heflin, an owner of Legacy Termite & Pest Control in Little Rock, Ark. “Be as informed as you can” but also realize “you’re going to have some bumps until you figure it out,” he said. At first, sell the service in a small geographic area or to a certain percentage of customers, perhaps offering a reduced rate while you “work the bugs out,” said Heflin.
BECOME THE EXPERT. Decide what type of service you’re going to offer. Josh Erdman, owner of Erdye’s Pest Control in Green Bay, Wis., originally offered misting systems and seasonal service with a mist blower. He’s since dropped seasonal service as he believes misting systems provide a more effective service long term. “I don’t think you can straddle the fence,” Erdman said. “You need to go one way or the other and be the expert in your area.”
GET EVERYONE ON BOARD. To create employee buy-in and engagement, Terminix Service hosted a ‘mosquito tour’ for its branch offices. These regional meetings educated employees about the service, its value to customers and helped “pump everyone up” to sell it, said Fortson. Sales contests, fliers and customer email blasts put a renewed focus on the service, which the company had offered for years but never prioritized from a marketing standpoint.
INSPECT AND ELIMINATE. “This is not a spray-and-go” service, cautioned Rob Braden, pest control supervisor at Tomlinson Bomberger Lawn Care, Landscape & Pest Control in Lancaster, Pa. Know what to inspect and how to eliminate breeding sites: Apply larvacide to areas of standing water, like ponds and ditches (follow product labels and local regulations). Empty water from potted plants, tarps, toys and buckets. Counsel customers on trimming bushes where mosquitoes rest, fixing clogged gutters or regrading landscaping to prevent standing water. Technicians at Clark’s Termite & Pest Control in Columbia, S.C., document these conditions with photographs, which are shared by email, said Branch Manager Mike Gibson.
BUT THE BEST. “Invest in the best equipment and the best materials available and charge your customers what you need to charge them to cover those expenses,” said Braden. Eventually blowers will need repair so have backup units or access to someone who can fix them quickly, said Fortson. A regular maintenance schedule will help reduce equipment failures, which are embarrassing and cause lost production time.
CONSIDER ROUTING AS YOU GROW. To maximize routing and revenue per stop, many pest management companies perform mosquito control during quarterly service visits. But as route density for this service increases, you may want to rethink this strategy. Fortson said he eventually split off mosquito control into a separate route using seasonal employees. This made pest control technicians happy as they didn’t like performing the service. It also is “much more efficient” as the company can get more mosquito accounts done per day, he said.INCLUDE TICKS. Consider offering a combined tick-and-mosquito control program, especially if mosquitoes are not a huge problem in your market and ticks are. They harbor in similar areas and have similar treatment requirements, reminded Braden. His company has offered such a service for three years. “People are very concerned about Lyme disease;” targeting both pests is an “opportunity to grow additional revenue and to provide additional peace of mind to our customer base,” he said.
BE CAREFUL OF CLAIMS. You never want to give consumers the impression that if they buy your service they’ll never see another mosquito or they’ll be free from Zika virus. “Make sure you’re setting the proper expectations with your customers,” said Braden. Emphasize how service will “greatly reduce” populations on the property, not eliminate them, he said.
TELL THEM MORE THAN ONCE. Never assume that customers are aware of your mosquito service. “You think they would correlate mosquito control” with the other pest control services you provide but they don’t, said Fortson. Customers need to hear your mosquito control message more than one time for it to sink in, agreed Braden, who relies on email blasts to existing customers, leave-behind fliers and phone calling campaigns.
REALLY KNOW CUSTOMERS. Just because consumers can afford seasonal mosquito control service or misting systems, don’t assume this is your target market. Erdman made this mistake. He originally focused on homeowners in affluent subdivisions, but “I can’t give a system away to those people,” he said. Although they may spend $100,000 on a patio, they don’t spend any time outdoors using it, he explained. Instead, his clients are affluent owners of vacation homes and cottages. “If you’re going to camp, the last thing you want is to be attacked by mosquitoes while you’re out trying to enjoy it,” he said.
DON’T SELL FEAR. “We make a conscious effort not to sell any of our services on fear; I think that’s just good business,” said Braden. Most PMPs emphasize how mosquito control lets customers take back their yards. Train all employees how to answer questions about Zika virus and provide handouts. Erdman uses social media channels to share trusted information, like that from National Pest Management Association, to educate customers. This cuts down on customer phone calls, he said.
MAKE IT EASY TO ADD ON. The easiest way to sell mosquito control is to cross-sell existing customers. Tomlinson Bomberger Lawn Care, Landscape & Pest Control offers a 30 percent discount to existing customers; new customers who sign up for a multiple-service bundle also get a discounted rate. The BugMaster in Austin, Texas, charges a monthly fee for bundled service instead of billing per service visit, which can be higher on some months when both mosquito and quarterly pest control treatments are performed, said President Dauphin Ewart. The lower monthly rate appeals to new customers, he said.
At Legacy Termite & Pest Control, technicians mostly sell mosquito services; they’ll discuss the service with customers, especially if they get bit by mosquitoes doing perimeter service, said Heflin.
This year, Braden empowered technicians to leave behind pre-priced offers as they know the property and how much time and material it will take to treat it. “You want to do everything you can to make it as user friendly for your customer” as possible to sign up, he said.
LEVERAGE TO RETAIN CUSTOMERS. Mosquito control is “a tangible service,” said Blasingame. Customers have mosquitoes; after treatment they don’t. The immediate and dramatic reduction in pests, as well as seeing technicians more often (monthly versus quarterly), reinforces the value of the relationship. “Our retention rate with mosquito accounts has been really good, which is helping our pest control retention as well,” said Fortson.
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT magazine.