It’s no con. Mosquito control can be a profitable service add-on. In a divided country where there seems to be little common ground, pretty much everyone can agree on one thing: mosquitoes are bad. That would seem to present a big business opportunity for anyone in the business of getting rid of mosquitoes. And lawn and landscape companies that have begun offering mosquito control services are taking advantage of that broad-based demand.
Entering the mosquito market
Goodall Landscaping in Maine began offering mosquito control services two years ago. “It seemed like a good add-on service to complement the tick control and lawn care services that we offer,” says company owner Ben Goodall.
Goodall began by cross-selling to his existing customer base, and then sent direct mail pieces to try to draw in new customers. Mosquito control is also featured prominently on the company website, and this year Goodall Landscaping is putting together a radio ad campaign that focuses on mosquito control. The overall message conveyed is that mosquitoes not only inflict painful bites, but also spread disease, and that controlling them allows property owners to spend more time outside without these worries.
At Ryan Lawn and Tree, which has six locations in Kansas and Missouri, the decision to get into mosquito control two years ago was the culmination of a relatively long process. “Our agronomist has been researching mosquito control for a number of years,” says company president Larry Ryan. “And we looked at what the industry was doing and asked, ‘Can we do it as well?’ Because we don’t want to do anything poorly — our whole company is built around doing things well — so that’s what we focused on.”
Motivated by both scientific and market research, the decision was made to try it. Ryan next made the decision to bring in a new employee who had experience in mosquito control to help get the company’s new program started. “The individual that we brought onboard was strong, and good people create their own solutions,” he explains, crediting that approach as one of the reasons that the new service was added so seamlessly to the company’s offerings. “We don’t like starting new things and having to learn them from the ground-up.”
Ryan Lawn and Tree began by simply letting its existing customer base know that this new service was being offered. But it is also happy to provide mosquito control services to neighbors or others who aren’t customers of the company’s other lawn and landscape services.
That’s similar to the approach taken by Citrus Park Lawn Care in Florida, a 10-year-old company that has always offered both indoor and outdoor pest control services, but just started offering mosquito control about one year ago. “We added it to our full package, and it took off pretty well,” says company president Denis Perry. “We already have a customer base that uses the multiple other services that we offer; we did some marketing to all of our current customers and a lot of them just jumped right on board with it, added it to their service package program, added it to their monthly bill, and we just created a new schedule in our scheduling system for it.”
Strategies for getting started
Perry says that, given his company’s past pest control expertise, adding mosquito control proved pretty easy. “We’ve got the technicians who do the lawn and ornamental services and the indoor pest control,” he explains.
Perry says he researched the best way to apply mosquito control treatments. While the company has large spray trucks, he made the decision to keep it simple and utilize STIHL backpack sprayers. “They work great,” he says, noting that the equipment cost is relatively low at roughly $600 to $700 per unit.
And there were no added costs for new personnel: “I trained our technicians who do our lawn and ornamental service. So the technician, when he’s there on a property every month doing fertilizer/L&O applications, just pulls out the backpack sprayer and does the mosquito application while he’s already there.”
Similarly, Ryan reports that mosquito control has been a relatively easy service to get off the ground: “We use a STIHL backpack blower and a pickup truck. All we need to carry is a container of water and some mix — that’s really just about all there was to it.”
At Ryan Lawn and Tree, the same technicians that handle mosquito control also apply mole control and house perimeter pest treatments. “We try to look at that as its own little department,” explains Ryan. These technicians typically work alone and focus only on these applications on their routes, and not on other turf and tree services that the company offers.
At Goodall Landscaping, the same technicians that handle lawn and tick treatments are performing mosquito control treatments. “Because it’s a similar application to other services that we’re providing, we use the same licensed technicians,” Goodall explains. (State licensing is typically required for mosquito control, just as it is for other pest control applications.)
Goodall Landscaping currently has six technicians on staff. Goodall’s preference, when possible, is to try to mix mosquito control into the existing lawn care and tick control routes. “It’s just adding an additional backpack mister, so if the truck is already going out there, we can usually add it in to the route, so there’s less travel time and we’re making more out of our stops,” he explains. Goodall’s goal is to keep routes “as tight as possible,” which isn’t always easy to do in a rural area with relatively low population density, so he says it’s all the more helpful to be able to provide multiple services at each stop in order to be as efficient as possible.
Goodall says there were no unexpected surprises encountered in offering mosquito control services: “It was pretty turn-key to roll it into our program offerings.”
Goodall has timed his mosquito control marketing campaigns to take place as soon as mosquitoes are present and become a nuisance. Unfortunately, it’s easier to get people to focus on the problem once they are actually experiencing the painful bites that mosquitoes inevitably bring about.
Mosquito control is a summer-long endeavor. For Goodall in the Northeast, that means roughly May to September.
As in most other states, mosquitoes are primarily a concern in the summer in Florida, but in that warm climate Perry with Citrus Park Lawn Care says that some customers opt to continue treatments all year long.
The company recommends monthly treatments; some customers opt for every other month; still others request just occasional treatments. “Some of our customers, if they’re having a big event, like a kid’s birthday party, might call us to come out to do an application a week or two before the party,” says Perry.
He emphasizes that, like any other service, fully understanding the costs of providing mosquito control is the essential first step toward setting a price that will be profitable. The chemical cost is pretty easy, but calculating the time required for the technician to do the application is a little trickier, and it’s not as simple as looking at the square-footage of the property, Perry explains.
“People think that you’re spraying the lawn, but you’re not; you’re spraying the shrubbery, the trees, the bushes, the landscaping — that’s where it all starts for the mosquitoes. So if you have a big yard with a lot of trees and a lot of landscaping and hedges and bushes, we price it accordingly.”
Other variables include examining whether there’s any standing water on the property, which needs to be treated with mosquito control packets, and items that can collect and hold water, such as kid’s toys or flower pots that need to be dumped out, Perry adds.
Citrus Park has a minimum charge of $45 to $60 to treat even small yards with little landscaping, and up to $125 to $150 for larger, more landscape-intensive properties.
Perry says that the well-publicized, mosquito-borne Zika virus threat last year drove an increase in business. “We were pretty busy with it last year, especially here in Florida,” he recounts. Citrus Park Lawn Care was even featured on a local news broadcast while doing a mosquito control treatment, which made the phone ring all the more, he says.
Ryan Lawn and Tree began offering mosquito services just about the time that Zika was being covered almost nonstop in the news. “That really helped us sell the service, there’s no question about that,” says Ryan. “It was almost like they were selling it for us.”
The company prices mosquito treatments on an individual basis; new customers who elect to sign up for five applications throughout the season [the product used has about a 30-day residual] are given the first application for free. “We don’t like discounting very much, and once we get a customer we discount very little. But to pick up that new customer, we will do it,” says Ryan.
The bottom line
“For a new start-up, it’s gone gangbusters. It’s doing very well,” says Ryan of his company’s new mosquito control service. “This is our second year and we just hired our third person in that department. It’s been nice to see that growth, because I really don’t like to do things that don’t grow. We don’t get into services that flatline; if they don’t continue to grow, we don’t want to be in those services.”
Ryan expects mosquito control to continue to grow as a source of revenue for the company for the foreseeable future, in part because “it works — people who were on the program last year told us that they literally had no mosquitoes. And their neighbors did.”
Ryan says that mosquito control has proven to be profitable: “The product costs are minimal; it’s mostly a labor cost, and even that is very doable,” he says.
One challenge, he adds, is that mosquito control in that part of the country is a five-month-a-year business, so a company wanting to offer the service would need to have a plan for what to do with those employees the rest of the year.
“We need help in other areas of our business, so they don’t sit around; if they sat around, or you had to hire people for just five months, it would be tough.”
As an add-on service “it is definitely profitable,” agrees Perry, but not so profitable that he would try to make it a standalone service.
“It’s not something that I would ever invest in a mass marketing campaign to get new customers to do just this service,” he states, noting that while “mosquito control” is now touted on Citrus Park Lawn Care’s marketing materials, website and trucks, “we don’t get a lot of calls for it outside of our existing customer base.” But, Perry adds, “to just piggyback this new service on [other services] just makes our existing program better.”
Goodall is using mosquito control as one way to bring in new business while remaining true to the company’s overall mission. “One of our priorities is to use the greenest products available to us for controls, so we’re using more organic and green-friendly [mosquito control] products,” he explains. “So we might be positioned a little higher in price because we choose to use these products, but we feel that the service we provide and the long-term value is there to justify it.”
Goodall also makes sure that his employees are ready to answer any customer questions about mosquito control prior to applications being made, and leave information about mosquitoes and the treatments made with customers afterward. “If we can do a good job with the mosquitoes, oftentimes they’ll look at us for our other services,” he concludes.