A Buzzing Business: How These Entrepreneurs Turned a Longtime Annoyance Into Successful Careers in Pest Control
Kurt and Melissa Godwin didn’t have much in common -- at least, not professionally. Kurt was an airline pilot, and Melissa had spent decades working for the state of Pennsylvania. But the married couple wanted to take control of their careers and spend more time with family. By running their own business, they figured, they’d be able to accomplish both. So they decided to focus on a subject they both had experience with: outdoor pests.
Melissa is a self-described “mosquito magnet” -- so much so that she avoids spending time outside on summer nights -- and Kurt’s oldest son battled Lyme disease twice as a child as the result of tick bites. In 2013, the two signed on as franchisees of Mosquito Joe, which provides outdoor mosquito, tick and flea treatment services. Today they own six territories throughout the Baltimore and Annapolis areas. In 2017 they were the company's Franchisee of the Year.
Congrats on being named Franchisee of the Year. What’s the key to your success?
Kurt: We’re all-in. When we decided to franchise, Melissa retired from her previous job and was all-in from day one. I still flew for a couple of years, just to pay the bills, but the minute I could be full-time at Mosquito Joe, I was.
Is it tough being “all-in” when you’re business partners as well as spouses?
Melissa: In the evening hours, we don’t just go home and do what normal families do. We’re constantly talking about Mosquito Joe and how we can grow. Since we’re always together, MoJo is always in the back of our heads. And even better when we break out a nice bottle of wine -- the ideas start to flow.
Do you also share ideas with other franchisees?
Melissa: We have really good relationships with a lot of the other Mosquito Joes. We’ll often talk with them, bounce ideas around and just gather as much information as we can to find inventive ways to continue to grow our business.
Kurt: We offer a prepaid program for customers. At the end of a season, if you sign up for next season, you get a discount. We always did this via email, and a franchisee down in Arkansas told us, “We send everything in snail mail so they can’t delete it. They have to at least open the envelope.” So now we combine our thank-you letter for the year and our prepay option for the next.
What are some unexpected hurdles that come with this business?
Kurt: We’re seasonal, and that presents some staffing challenges, because toward the end of the season, people start thinking, Oh, I’m going to be out of a job; I’d better get out of here. We used to have an issue keeping employees at the end of the season. So we created a virtual bank system where for every month a seasonal employee works for us, a small bonus goes into their virtual bank. At the end of the season, provided they’ve stayed with us, they get the money. It’s a good incentive and a good way for us to thank them -- and those employees who stuck around are usually the first ones offered jobs in the spring.
How else do you energize your team?
Kurt: We solicit input from our top managers as well as the guy who’s at the bottom of the totem pole as a new-hire technician. If they bring us a great idea, we will listen in the same way our franchisor does. We’re in the process of interviewing for a new routing assistant. That person is going to interact with all the top managers, and then we’ll come to a consensus and decide whom to hire. We’re empowering our team to help us pick people they’re going to get along with, not just people we think might do a good job.