The five most effective ways to advertise mosquito control services are word of mouth (67 percent), online (32 percent), email marketing (22 percent), and radio and door hangers/cloverleafing (tied at 15 percent each), found the PCT 2017 State of the Mosquito Control Market survey, sponsored by MGK.
Last year, many PMPs ramped up preseason marketing efforts to existing customers due to the media focus on Zika virus. It was the first time NaturZone Pest Control really promoted its long-offered program, said President Doug Longfellow.
Loyal Termite & Pest Control held a contest to encourage sales to existing customers. Technicians were paired with salesmen so “they would work each other” and “give each other leads,” said President Nick Lupini. A picnic kicked off the incentive program; a party and awards presentation closed it. The resulting number of upsells was “absolutely fantastic,” recalled Lupini.
Companies also tweaked websites and mailed out invoice stuffers, said PMPs in follow-up interviews.
One thing Swat Pest Management didn’t do was play on customer fears. “We’re a company that does not push scare tactics on people,” said Shaun Waters.
It’s not a sustainable sales tactic, agreed Jackie Thornton, COO, Alvin Pest Control. He promoted the service as a way for customers to take back their backyards. “We’re giving them something they didn’t have back,” he explained.
Some customers don’t realize they need a service “until you advertise” it, reminded Shawn Van Gorp, owner, Menninga Pest Control.
The First: A PMP with Zika virus
Jackie Thornton has the dubious honor of likely being the only pest management professional infected with Zika virus.
The owner of Alvin Pest Control in greater Houston unknowingly acquired the disease while on a two-week mission trip to Dominica in the Windward Islands last summer. A week after arriving home in Brazoria County, Texas, he experienced some “pretty pronounced” symptoms, including headache, rash and joint pain, prompting him to seek medical attention.
No treatment exists for Zika virus. “You can’t get rid of it; you can only basically treat the symptoms,” said Thornton. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus can stay active in men up to six months (eight weeks for women) and approximately 80 percent of people infected with the virus do not have symptoms.
“That’s the scary part because if you don’t know you have it then you’re not going to take any precautions” to prevent passing it on, said Thornton.
Four of the seven people on his mission trip showed symptoms of the disease but he’s sure the other three contracted it as well as they all stayed in the same open-air-window home, often getting bit by mosquitoes at night while sleeping, said Thornton.
“The biggest thing I learned was how unprepared our medical community is” for a disease like Zika, he said. He called numerous clinics and hospitals and “nobody knew nothing; they couldn’t even tell me where to go to get a test.”
Once a blood test confirmed the disease, Thornton was put on the “red list” of two area health departments. “I guess they looked at me as kind of like a Typhoid Mary,” he recalled.
Still, no one directed him on how to prevent further transmission of Zika virus, such as by wearing mosquito repellent. “I just knew to,” he said. “I know now I’m a carrier and I don’t want a mosquito to bite me,” especially since the mosquitoes that transmit the disease — Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus — are prevalent in his market area.
Education & Training: Technicians Know Mosquitoes
When it comes to training, PMPs generally feel technicians have an excellent or very good understanding of mosquito biology (66 percent), behavior (67 percent), and control (82 percent), found the PCT 2017 State of the Mosquito Control Market survey, sponsored by MGK.
Stuart Aust, president of Mosquito Doctor, believes the industry continues to increase its knowledge in this area. He recalled attending a regional mosquito association trade show years ago and being the only structural pest management company in attendance. That’s likely not the case anymore, he said. Technicians at Loyal Termite & Pest Control, Henrico, Va., get classroom and hands-on training in the service. In February they had a full-day of field training to prepare for the upcoming season.
Swat Pest Management, Evansville, Ind., begins with online training then heads to the field for hands-on learning.
Zika virus and the disease-spreading potential of mosquitoes have heightened public awareness of the importance of mosquito control. Specialty Consultants estimates that governmental agencies treated nearly 80 million acres in the U.S. to control mosquitoes in 2016, primarily those spreading diseases such as West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis, as well as nuisance mosquitoes. More than 90 percent of the treated acres were sprayed with adulticides. Additionally, mosquito larvicides were applied to an estimated five million acres in 2016.
There are about 2,100 city, county and state government agencies, including 950 Mosquito Abatement Districts (MADs), providing mosquito abatement services in the U.S. according to the latest report, A Strategic Analysis of the U.S. Mosquito Control Industry, from Specialty Consultants, LLC. Many mosquito control programs were started with seed money from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the 1990s, when West Nile virus began to spread in the U.S.
More than one-third of the professional pest control industry, or an estimated 7,000 companies, offered mosquito control services. In the Southeast and South Central regions, about half of all companies offered a mosquito control service to their residential and commercial customers. Nationwide, pest control companies generated an estimated $157.7 million in service revenue, primarily (93.3%) from residential accounts.
More than 800 mosquito control franchise locations (e.g., Mosquito Authority, Mosquito Squad, etc.) were operating in the U.S. this past year. On average, they reported servicing more than 250 accounts per branch. About five percent of the lawn care companies (LCOs) surveyed provided mosquito control as part of their service. Respondents reported that on average, just over one percent of their total 2016 service revenue was from mosquito control services. “More than 4.6 million mosquito barrier treatments were performed by PCOs, LCOs and mosquito franchise operations this past year,” said Gary Curl, Specialty Consultants founder and president.
The study identified 17 manufacturers of 58 brands of mosquito control products. The leading suppliers, in terms of revenue, were Clarke, Valent and Zoëcon/Central Life Sciences.
There has been extraordinary attention paid to the emergence and spread of the Zika Virus by Aedes spp. mosquitoes. The news media and the government have raised questions about the characterization and capacity of the mosquito control industry.
The comprehensive market study also delves into critical details about the government agencies, pest control and lawn care firms offering control services, and the emerging mosquito control franchise chains. Specialty Consultants conducted in-depth interviews with more than 75 representatives of mosquito abatement districts, key state and county mosquito control agencies, contractors who provide control service to municipalities, departments of agriculture, the CDC, public health agencies, five state epidemiologists and more than 50 representatives of leading mosquito franchises, to assess the overall size and scope of these segments of the mosquito control market in the United States.
The interviews were supplemented by interviews with distributor management, university researchers, government officials and other industry experts to properly characterize the U.S. mosquito control market.
For the study, Specialty Consultants also conducted 1,675 structured surveys of professional pest control operators, lawn care professionals, golf course superintendents and sports turf facility managers. The surveys were conducted from late October 2016 through early February 2017.
To learn more or purchase a copy of the survey, contact Gary Curl, Specialty Consultants, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Would the thought of servicing upward of 15,000 snap traps each week send shivers through your technicians? It might for some but it doesn’t faze Josh Erdman and his team at Erdye’s Pest Control, Green Bay, Wis. Erdye’s has carved out a strong position in its multi-state service area, which includes Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and eastern Minnesota, taking care of residential customers’ mice problems.
“Our goal is not to set up a monthly service schedule for mice with a client, it is to solve their problem the first time,” says Erdman, who spent 20 years in the property management and construction industries before dedicating his time and resources to pest management in 2012.
Erdman says the biggest flaw with most mouse management programs is they don’t address the root of the problem. “Not sealing a house properly will ultimately lead to other control efforts failing,” says Erdman, who estimates 60 percent of his business is dedicated to mouse control.
Following thorough property inspection protocols, Erdye’s technicians identify access points and seal openings using construction grade materials. They also set good old-fashioned snap traps — in abundance — to knock down any existing mice population. Upsell opportunities are available for remediation work — removing damaged insulation in attics, basements, crawlspaces and wall voids, and sanitizing areas infested by mice.
“My construction background provides me with knowledge of where a home’s structural weak points are located that allow mice access,” says Erdman, who conducts hands-on training with his technicians on construction practices. “We train them on what to look for and act on it.”
Another area Erdye’s differs from the competition is that it isn’t afraid to charge the customer what it takes to fix their mouse problem over the long haul and not just in the short term. The company offers a set price for the initial trapping program set up, but fees vary for exclusion and cleanout work depending on the specific needs and unique aspects of the property.
“All rodent situations are different and need to be priced accordingly,” says Erdman. “We have learned through trial and error, but at the end of the day our customers pay us to fix the problem.”
Erdye’s extensive use of snap traps — each home they service averages 35 to 60 traps depending on the size — is another trademark.
“We do not use sticky traps and we do not use bait inside because we do not want to have rodents die in wall voids and other inaccessible areas and cause additional problems and expense for customers,” says Erdman, who does deploy bait stations on the exterior to knock down the population.
Because Erdye’s technicians need access to a home’s interior to check traps, their route scheduling may not be viewed as efficient, but that is fine with Erdman. “I wouldn’t change it because we will spend the extra time and fuel it takes to get there to take care of clients to our standards,” he said.
The company’s exclusion-first approach — complemented by the investment in traps and exterior bait stations — also is dictated by the Upper Midwest’s harsh winters and its impact on homes. “Homes can change structurally with the seasons and create new opportunities for mice to gain access,” Erdman said. “That is why we start with exclusion and the results have been good for us and our customers.”
Word-of-mouth marketing, referrals, a strong, consistent social media presence, and positive online reviews also have helped Erdye’s triple the size of its mouse control business over the last three years.
“Customers get what they pay for and the reason behind our growth — hands down — is because we fix their mouse problem from the start,” adds Erdman.
When asked if this model can be replicated, Erdman says yes, if a company is willing to invest time to train technicians about construction practices and deal with non-traditional routing practices.
The author is a PCT contributing writer and can be contacted at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted with permission from Techletter, a biweekly training letter for professional pest control technicians from Pinto & Associates.
Mouse control can be challenging for even the most seasoned pest management professional. However, service technicians can enhance their chances of success if they use expanded trigger snap traps with a much larger pedal (sometimes called a platform trap or professional trap).
What follows are 20 tips for controlling mice with snap traps, including helpful suggestions for proper placement, baiting and maintenance.
SNAP TRAP PLACEMENT TIPS. Expanded-trigger traps that are properly placed along mouse runways will catch mice even without any food bait. Other placement recommendations include:
- Place traps along mouse runways — next to walls and especially in dark, hidden areas such as behind the stove.
- Place traps where mice are feeding or where droppings or nest material have been seen.
- Use boxes or other large, movable objects to create a runway that will move mice along a pathway toward your traps.
- Place traps with the baited or trigger end of the trap against the wall and at a right angle to the wall.
- Don’t place traps too far away from each other along an active runway. Use more traps placed closer together, about 6 feet apart, but cluster traps in areas of high activity.
- To avoid mice jumping traps, use double sets with two traps placed side-by-side.
- To protect traps from view, dust, children, pets or equipment, place them inside a bait station. Place two or three traps inside at right angles to the long end so the mouse runs into the trigger end of the trap as soon as it enters the station.
- To set traps on pipe runways, screw a hose clamp onto the bottom of the trigger end of a wooden trap and use this to attach it to the pipe with the trigger end perpendicular to the pipe. Or, screw a cup hook onto each side of the trap and run a rubber band under the pipe and attach it to the hooks on each side. Initially, use lots of traps, about five times as many traps as you think there are mice.
SNAP TRAP BAITING TIPS. Snap traps don’t have to contain food bait to catch mice, but bait usually helps. Studies show that bait is stolen less often from expanded trigger traps than it is from standard snap traps.
- Use only a pea-sized amount of bait or a thin smear. Too much bait lets mice feed or steal it without ever touching the trigger.
- When first baiting multiple traps, try food baits like what the mice are feeding on in the account but also try some new foods that might provide a missing dietary nutrient. If you find a preferred food, use that in your traps.
- Some good food bait choices for house mice are peanut butter (avoid use in schools or where food allergies could be an issue), gumdrops, nut meats, bacon, caramel corn, hot dog slices or a dab of “kitty malt” (treats hair balls in cats; comes in a convenient tube).
- If mice keep removing bait without snapping the trap, try tying the bait onto the pedal with dental floss or melt a bait (chocolate, cheese or marshmallow) onto the trigger, or use a sticky bait such as peanut butter or molasses that can’t be carried off. Put a thin smear on both the top and bottom of the trigger.
- If food is plentiful but nest material is not, tie bits of yarn or soft string, or strips of cloth onto the trigger. Or, bait traps with both food and nest materials.
- Gain their trust by placing baited but unset snap traps for several nights until the mice are used to feeding from the traps. Then bait and set them.
SNAP TRAP MAINTENANCE TIPS. Once set, snap traps must be properly maintained by the PMP. Therefore, follow these recommendations:
- Wear gloves when setting and baiting snap traps and when handling a mouse or trap that has caught a mouse to protect yourself from disease.
- Check traps often, not only to remove catch and reset, but also to replace missing or rancid bait.
- Attract more mice by letting some mousy smells of urine and droppings remain on the traps. In other words, don’t wash your traps (scrape them clean if you need to), but don’t let them get so gummy that the action of the trigger is slowed down.
- If your food baits are getting wet, moldy or dusty in the account, place the baited traps inside rodent bait stations. Place two or three traps in each station.
- Be careful how you store your snap traps. Don’t store them near pesticides or other chemicals. To make traps more enticing to mice, store them in a plastic bag with some of your food bait. Precondition new traps by storing them with used, dirty traps.
The authors are well-known industry consultants and co-owners of Pinto & Associates.