By Lisa Lupo

Whether you are thinking about adding a mosquito control program to your existing offerings, or you’d like to improve the program you have in place, the advice and tips presented in the 2016 PestWorld session, Mosquito Business Models: What Works and What Doesn’t, can help your program take flight.

The session was presented by Donnie Blake, OPC Services, Louisville, Ky.; Dennis Jenkins, ABC Home and Commercial Services, Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; and Bryan Cooksey, McCall Service, Jacksonville, Fla. The trio discussed the similarities and differences regarding the sales and service practices of their respective programs.

A DIFFERENT SPECIES. The greatest change with mosquito control programs in many areas of the U.S. is the rise of the Aedes aegypti mosquito and its transmission of the Zika virus. This is primarily because the behavior of these mosquitoes differs from that of Culex mosquitoes, which had been the primary U.S. mosquito species. Aedes mosquitoes tend to be most active during the day — in contrast to the dusk-to-dawn activity of Culex, and they lay their eggs singly, rather than in the groupings of the Culex. That said, both species are attracted to and lay their eggs in standing water; can transmit disease to humans through their bites; tend to rest in shaded areas; and are most active, to varying geographic degrees, from spring to fall. Thus, some practices can help decrease the presence of both species, while others must specifically focus on one or the other.

As all the presenters agreed, a significant factor in the effectiveness of any mosquito program is customer education and cooperation. Customers have to understand where and why mosquitoes breed, and that they cannot be completely eliminated. Additionally, they must cooperate in the mosquito management effort by following technician recommendations and advice, such as reducing standing water, keeping lawns mowed, etc.

“You really have to get them to help you or they will cancel because they think what you do doesn’t work,” Jenkins said. “It’s not a magic bullet — they will still have mosquitoes.” As such, “we never guarantee the absence of anything,” Jenkins said. “We provide a warrantied service — if and when mosquitoes come back, we’ll come back.” But, he added, “You can reduce your cancellations by continually educating and setting expectations.”

SERVICE. Mosquito service provides a good opportunity for pest control companies because of its low capital cost. Both the backpack equipment and products are relatively inexpensive, and mosquito service can be bundled with regular service, adding only 15-20 minutes onto most calls. Following are some specific opportunities and challenges the companies have seen in their mosquito control programs:

Both Culex and Aedes mosquitoes are attracted to and lay their eggs in standing water.

The technician. One challenge OPC faces is its need for dedicated mosquito technicians because of the specialty nature of the work, the backpack equipment used, and the full protective clothing needed to guard against product irritation. “It’s highly inefficient, we get that, but our normal technicians who do our Four Seasons program — our normal pest control program — the majority wouldn’t be able to do this mosquito control work,” Blake said. It also can be more challenging in states that require specific licenses for this work. “So, our ability to grow our mosquito management program is completely related to being able to get the people who can and will and enjoy doing this type of work,” he said.

As a company located in Florida, McCall also faces issues of licensing, as well as mosquito service being deemed a public health activity. While the state handles night spraying, pest companies take responsibility for day service, Cooksey said. But if mosquito service is added on for a current customer, it can be done under the structural pest control rule; if it is for a new customer with no other service, it requires a public health certificate.

Not having such issues at ABC, Jenkins said, “We have technicians who want to do it, so ours are not just specialists. This also enables us to provide this service on a wider scale. Each of our pest control maintenance customers have the ability to add this service at any time, and scheduling is easier due to having the same technician perform both services.”

Inspection. Each of the three speakers noted inspection as a critical aspect of service, which must be conducted prior to any application. The inspection will not only reveal the mosquito species present — thus determining the application — but it will also identify any pollinator plants that must be avoided or treated when pollinators are not around.

Equipment. While backpack sprayers are available in different sizes, the majority opinion of those on the panel was that small backpacks, because of their lower weight and targeted application capabilities, are the equipment of choice.

Application. Another behavioral difference with Aedes mosquitoes that has a critical impact on service application is their tendency to live near a home. As Jenkins said, “The Aedes mosquito’s preferred food sources are you and me”; thus, the most effective application is low-flow up to the underside of plants around the home, beneath decks and porches, and under covered garages and sheds. He also recommended that briquettes be used in non-drainable standing water. However, technicians need to take care to avoid treating pollinator plants and to take weather into consideration.

Aedes tend to live near homes. As Dennis Jenkins said, “The Aedes mosquito’s preferred food sources are you and me”; thus, the most effective application is low-flow up to the underside of plants around the home, beneath decks and porches, and under covered garages and sheds.
© Dmitrri | Thinkstock.com

Callbacks. OPC will reschedule mosquito service if there is even the threat of rain, Blake said. This is primarily because customers will often request retreatment if a rain event follows service — even if they didn’t find the service to be ineffective. In Dallas/Fort Worth, however, ABC will treat if there is a threat of rain — then retreat if needed, because, Jenkins said, “There is always a threat of rain.” In addition, since the application is designed to treat the underside of plants, only heavy rains would affect the treatment. Thus, they simply tell customers, “If you have a problem, please let us come back and do a retreatment. That retreatment policy is critical to setting the expectation.” Similarly, at OPC, Jenkins said, “Retreatments are included — and expected.”

SALES. A key advantage of mosquito work is that it can be sold by phone — as is the case with the three companies. The cost is estimated according to the homeowner’s description and a look at the property on Zillow.com, then any differences can be determined once the technician arrives at the home — which is another reason the pre-service inspection is critical.

“The mosquito program is probably the one that we have the highest renewal rate,” Blake said. “Without question, everyone wants to renew. In fact, if they haven’t heard from us by (the Kentucky) Derby, they call us.”

For ABC, mosquitoes provide a highly repeatable service. In fact, Jenkins said, “I’m gonna call you in March and assume you’re keeping the service — just like I do all my services. I’ll keep coming until you tell me to go away.”

To increase sales, Cooksey recommended companies become the local expert, taking out ads, leaving brochures for customers, publishing blogs, giving talks, etc. “The best price move for us was being sponsor of mosquito alert on our local news weather report,” he said, adding, “Our playground with mosquitoes is changing. We need to become more of a public health company as well as an insect control company.”

While none of the presenters revealed specific pricing information, Jenkins did note that ABC uses a three-level pricing structure — small, medium and large — with no charge for callbacks.

Contact the author at llupo@gie.net.