COURTESY OF STOY HEDGES

PCT’s state of the small fly market report reveals that this sector is growing for some businesses. The key is to develop a partnership with the client and get to the root  of the issue so the service can be profitable.

Persistent little buggers — small flies are the ones in a buffet line that keep going back for more until the chafing dishes are scraped empty and there’s nothing left to eat. They can be low-profile characters, hanging out behind the scenes, hunkering down in low grout lines and deep inside drains, hiding out underneath kitchen equipment and inside broken pipes beneath the foundation.

It takes an investigator to identify the source of a small fly problem. And, doing so requires time, knowledge and tools. For these reasons, small flies can be some of the most frustrating pests to treat. “The key is customer education — there is no magic spray,” says Jeffery Preece, a board certified entomologist and technical director of ZipZap Termite & Pest Control in Pleasant Valley, Mo.

Most PMPs treat for small flies, with 77 percent of respondents to the 2020 PCT State of the Small Fly Market survey saying they offer the service. But, for most, small fly is a relatively modest part of their overall business. Twenty-six percent said the service represents 3 to 4 percent of their revenue, while 42 percent report that small fly control accounts for only 1 to 2 percent of their work.

In commercial kitchens, small flies are arguably the biggest pest headache.

“I have a handful of bars and restaurants I service, and small fly is why they contacted us for service,” says Carl Braun, president, Quality Pest Control, Omaha, Neb.

Braun sees small fly as a niche that could separate his business from competitors, though he’s not specifically marketing the service now. “I’m planning to grow the commercial side of the business and [small fly] is something I will train my sales team to sell,” he says, noting that health and safety creates urgency among commercial kitchen/food service clients. “There’s a potential to have your business shut down.”

TIME AND MONEY. For the most part, pest management professionals who offer small fly control say the service is flat, with 70 percent noting no change in revenue year over year. However, 27 percent saw an increase in the number of small fly jobs during that time.

“Small fly is definitely on my radar as an area I want to develop more,” says Josh Fleenor, president, Pest Pros Pest Solutions, Sacramento, Calif.

Fleenor says smally fly product costs are low compared to the cost of client education. “I have seen a lot of companies do the opposite where their method of control is more material, more material,” he relates. “It’s difficult to be profitable when you are dumping loads of material, and then you lose clients because you don’t get results.”

On the other hand, time can also eat away at profit. “I have mixed feelings about profitability,” says Joe Cantu, vice president and director of operations, The Bug Master, Austin, Texas. “I think the service can be very profitable as long as there is cooperation with the client.”

Cantu says newer restaurant and commercial locations tend to be more profitable accounts because aging infrastructure does not have to be addressed. “You can be very proactive,” he says.

Fleenor adds, “We’ve had restaurant chains where the same small fly issue happens in the same areas, so we can knock that out pretty quickly.”

SHUT DOWN AND CLEAN UP. If PMPs could shut down commercial facilities to thoroughly clean and treat the sites, small flies would be less of a problem. Basically, that’s what’s happened amid the COVID-19 outbreak, when so many non-essential businesses across the country were closed to the public.

“We’ve had some clients put service on hold, but a lot of people are taking advantage of this time to do some remodeling, which is huge for small fly control,” Fleenor says. “That can really help when you have outdated kitchens that are not built for equipment to be moved out for cleaning, there is old tile and low grout lines, and cracks and crevices that haven’t been cleaned in 30 years.”

MOTH FLY PHOTO ©FRANK29052515 | ADOBE STOCK
Moth fly

Especially in 24/7 facilities, businesses can use this downtime to address structural issues that feed into small fly problems. Because when the “always open” signs are back up, finding time to properly clean, treat drains and control small flies is a challenge. “Sometimes, we have asked a restaurant to lock up for an hour so we can get an issue under control,” Preece says, adding that small fly work tends to be a year-round job in these environments.

“We hope our customers are keeping some employees on and paying them to clean now,” Preece adds. “With small flies, the problem is usually sanitation.”

APPETITE FOR GROWTH. Overall, PCT’s Small Fly Survey results indicate that small fly as a commercial service is mostly steady and somewhat on the rise, depending on a PMP’s business mix and sales focus. For those expanding their commercial service and marketing to restaurants or commercial kitchens, small fly service is a foot in the door, with summer (43 percent) being the busiest season. Only 34 percent of respondents said the residential market delivered most of their small fly revenue — and the owners we spoke to indicated a much smaller amount of business in the homeowner sector.

Anthony DeLisio of Insector Inspector in Highland Heights, Ohio, reports that about 20 percent of his business is small fly, and 5 percent of that is residential.

Fleenor also says his residential small fly business is “very minimal.” Preece adds, “Our residential customers don’t deal with it too often.” And when they do, the issue is generally fungus gnats, an occasional fruit fly infestation or moth flies due to broken pipes under the floors.

Control methods are centered on customer education and sanitation—and when clients comply, the service can be profitable. And like other pest control services, small fly control requires an investigative eye beyond what a general pest visit might involve. “Like other aspects of the industry, you have to be someone who is willing to hunt and find the source of the problem to be successful,” says Kevin Lemasters, an associate certified entomologist and president of EnviroPest, with locations throughout Colorado.

From smart control strategies to fast facts about small flies, PCT’s State of the Small Fly Market report addresses the real-world issues pest management professionals are dealing with in regards to this service offering. Read on for exclusive data and market analysis.