Despite the Zika scare, some South Florida companies are doing well: Those in the business of mosquito control have seen customer interest skyrocket.
Yoel Gutierrez is co-owner of a Miami-Dade Mosquito Joe franchise that opened in October 2014. Last spring, business began climbing. August was off the charts.
Without doing any Zika-themed marketing, he said his calls were up four-fold over last year. Many came from expectant mothers and families; some were from commercial customers such hotels and parking lots.
Although Mosquito Joe’s spraying service typically keeps the property protected for two to three weeks, depending on whether clients choose organic or synthetic methods, Gutierrez said he has been fielding requests from current customers for more frequent service along with potential new customers.
To meet the demand, in the past month he has doubled his employee count to eight, bought another truck and added an ATV sprayer to do larger properties. “And another truck is on the way,” said Gutierrez, who jumped from an IT career to owning the franchise.
Steve Jenkins has been in the mosquito control business for 15 years but had never seen an August as busy as last month.
“Calls were up three times over last August and we are booked out two to three weeks,” said Jenkins, noting that the majority of the calls came from Miami-Dade. “People are nervous.”
Jenkins’ company, SWAT Mosquito Systems, is addressing the mosquito-transmitted Zika with misting systems for South Florida homes and businesses.
As the company explains it, Pyrethrum, a solution derived from chrysanthemums that is deadly to mosquitoes, is misted for approximately 30-60 seconds, three or four times per day. The spray directly affects the nervous system of biting insects, which kills rather than just repelling.
The misting system, which can be operated through an app on a smartphone, typically costs about $4,000 to install and another $1,000 a year to operate.
Jenkins said he hadn’t considered doing Zika-related advertising, but he may reconsider because people are looking to do whatever they can to limit their chances of contracting the disease. “When we started doing this, our intent was to give you a way to enjoy your backyard,” said Jenkins, who employs about 25 people.
Bigger companies are gaining, too.
A spokesman for CVS said its South Florida pharmacies have seen an increase in sales of insect repellant but declined to name a specific number.
And Aileen Marty, a professor of infectious diseases at Florida International University, said she hoped the disease would stimulate research at healthcare companies in South Florida.