Value Added: Mosquito-control business scratches this entrepreneur’s itch


MCLEAN, VA - JUNE 7: Damien Sanchez, owner of the Washington region franchise for the Mosquito Squard directs Bryan Pennington, left, at the home of a client in McLean, VA. (Photo by Dayna Smith/for the Washington Post) (Dayna Smith/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

I am jealous of Damien Sanchez.

He has figured out how to hold down a full-time job while owning and running a business that he projects will net him—yes, net him—a $300,000 profit this year.

The 34-year-old full-time firefighter for a Virginia municipality (he asked me not to name the jurisdiction) owns the Washington area franchise of Mosquito Squad, which sprays yards to kill mosquitoes, ticks and other bugs. (I paid them $89 for a sample spray last week).

In just four years, his business has gone from a $4,000 loss on $68,000 in revenue to a projected $300,000 profit on $2 million in sales this year. He operates a fleet of 12 Ford F-150s — plastered with promotional images and information — that patrol the region with teams of uniformed exterminators. He said his company is the highest-grossing Mosquito Squad franchise out of about 100 across the United States.

How does he do it and still hold down his firefighter’s job?


MCLEAN, VA - JUNE 7: Damien Sanchez, owner of the Washington region franchise for the Mosquito Squard at the home of a client in McLean, VA. (Photo by Dayna Smith/for the Washington Post) (Dayna Smith/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

He summed it up in one word: commitment.

Sanchez credits two top managers: The director of operations makes sure the 12 trucks and teams are in the field every day. The director of administration ensures that clients are billed, employees get their checks and every supplier is paid on time.

When the company’s software failed last week, throwing off the all-important scheduling, some employees stayed until 2 a.m. to fix the problem.

“They work the job, not just the hours,” Sanchez said.

I’ve talked to hundreds of business owners, and the ones who succeed and grow often are the ones who find good managers.

Sanchez hired and fired a few managers after he launched his company in 2008. But within two years, he had found the key “No. 2s” that run the company day to day, allowing Sanchez to do his firefighter thing and concentrate on big-picture items.

He learned the hard way. Early on, he tried to handle all the telephone traffic with his cellphone. He lost calls and couldn’t keep up with phone messages, and the business suffered. He has since invested in a 24-hour answering system that ensures that a real person will answer the call.


MCLEAN, VA - JUNE 7: Damien Sanchez, r, owner of the Washington region franchise for the Mosquito Squad with field supervisor, Bryan Pennington, at the home of a client in McLean, VA. (Photo by Dayna Smith/for the Washington Post) (Dayna Smith/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Sanchez grew up in Southern California, and after graduating from high school in 1996, he was a wildland firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service. He studied business part time at the Master’s College in California.

Sanchez made a $110,000 profit when he sold his two-bedroom home in Lancaster, Calif., near the top of the housing market in June 2006. He took that windfall and put $50,000 in a checking account to fund any good business opportunity that might come along. He kept $35,000 for emergencies and put the rest in silver and gold, where he said he has made a handsome profit.

Then Sanchez and his wife headed east because he had doubts about the Golden State’s future. “Where we lived, it seemed the neighborhoods were on the decline,” he said. “Everything seemed to be getting dirtier.”

He got a job as a firefighter in the D.C. area and started nosing around for a business to buy so he could earn enough money to allow his pregnant wife to stay home and take care of their family.

Sanchez heard about Mosquito Squad from a friend, so he decided to investigate. After looking at census data and studying the mosquito and tick situation in the Washington area, Sanchez concluded that the business could work because of the region’s high household income, its long, hot summers and large, single-family housing market.

“I always heard people say you need a niche market,” he said.

He bought the franchise for $15,000 and went to work. He bought 100,000 postcards imprinted with an advertisement that Mosquito Squad helped create. He found someone through a friend who would distribute the cards to people’s homes inside the Capital Beltway for seven cents a card.

He saved on legal fees by consulting self-help publishing books at Nolo.com and created a limited liability corporation. A friend recommended a bookkeeper to help him get started. He recruited his first 11 clients at a booth he rented at a home and garden show in Chantilly in February 2008. He paid $11,900 for his first Ford pickup.

His first profit was in 2009, when he earned $4,000 on revenue of $190,000. The company grossed just under $500,000 in 2010, earning $50,000. The franchise grossed about $1 million last year and turned a profit of $250,000. Sanchez paid himself a base salary of $50,000 and took a $114,000 distribution. The rest was reinvested in the business.

Customers pay $400 to $900 a year, depending on property size. The company generally sprays a client’s property every three weeks between April through the end of September.

He is licensed to operate in Virginia, Maryland and the District. Richmond-based Mosquito Squad sends containers of pesticide to his Sterling headquarters, where his pickup trucks fill their 110-gallon containers. The technicians don gas-powered backpacks similar to the ones for leaf blowers.

The “product” — the franchisees refrain from using the term “pesticide” — paralyzes and kills the insects.

Usually when I get up in the morning, the birds are all over my front and back lawns, feeding on bugs and the millions of other things living in my neighborhood.

But on Friday, the day after Mosquito Squad sprayed, there wasn’t a bug in sight.

For previous Value Added columns, go to postbusiness.com.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade.
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