Call him Bug Papi
Cumberland man launches mosquito control business with son and daughter
Cumberland resident Bob Larence and his family were tired of dousing themselves in insect repellant whenever they wanted to go outside on a relaxing summer evening.
“We want to make it so folks can enjoy their property and their recreation time,” he said in an interview with The Times on Wednesday. “Summer’s short and we want people to maximize their opportunities.”
To cure those woes, Larence now is the owner and operator of Mosquito Joe’s Rhode Island franchises. He bought into the company last autumn after he and his 20-year-old son Brian visited their Virginia Beach campus.
Based in Virginia, Mosquito Joe provides mosquito control treatment to residential and commercial customers around the country. Each Mosquito Joe is an independently-owned franchise that offers customers service backed by a national network of technical expertise.
Larence and his son “met the whole team and they were very professional. They knew where they were going, they had a plan, all the franchisees had done really well and had a lot of support from corporate.”
Larence said he had looked at several different franchise models and non-franchise opportunities but after
meeting with the people at Mosquito Joe, he felt that “this opportunity kept coming up as a really good opportunity. Once we met with them, we knew we wanted to go forward.”
“This model kept coming up as a newer service that has a lot of demand. It’s a growing service that could use some awareness,” Larence said. “With ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, there’s an opportunity in a growing sector. It’s a seasonal business with room to expand.”
Mosquito Joe started in 2009 with four individuals, all of whom with young families, who had the goal to get rid of mosquitoes in their backyard so their children could enjoy their time outside. Current CEO Kevin Wilson and a group of investors liked what they saw and they bought the company in 2012 and turned it into a franchise model, rebranding the company with the tagline, “outside is fun again.” Mosquito Joe began franchising in January 2013 with 13 locations by the end of the year. This year, Wilson said, they have 230 locations in 30 states.
Wilson said that what helped spur the growth of Mosquito Joe was a combination of public awareness regarding the dangerous diseases carried by mosquitoes and ticks and the simple idea that mosquitoes are a nuisance to outdoor enjoyment.
“Most people call us just because mosquitoes are non-beneficial and a total nuisance,” Wilson said. “If there’s a way to get rid of them, people will do it.”
Larence had worked in financial services for 21 years but after some transitions including a consolidation and job elimination, he decided to move away from the corporate world. In 2009, he was part of a group of four partners that purchased the Dennis M. Lynch Arena in Pawtucket.
“We did a nice job turning it around and cleaning it up,” he said of his time at the arena. “It needed some maintenance and we took care of a lot of those issues. We did a lot of improvements.”
They sold the arena in 2015 but during the time of owning the rink, Larence said it gave him small business experience and also continued his belief that he’d rather be out of the corporate arena but still in the business world.
Larence’s franchise has the market cornered in northern and southern Rhode Island, he said, noting that as a lifelong resident of Cumberland, he wanted to start in the market he’s lived in with an eye toward covering all of Rhode Island. His northern franchise covers all of Providence County with the exception of Cranston, although he says “we could service pretty much anywhere in Rhode Island.” The franchise is licensed in Rhode Island.
Wilson said that Mosquito Joe relies heavily on light-heared humor for its branding, with mailers reading such snappy phrases as: “Are you tired of donating blood on the way to the mailbox?”
“They’re funny and make people smile,” he said. “If you can create that memory, when they have that bite or itch, they’ll remember that smile and remember to call us.”
The plan is to start spraying in late April or early May, saying that in their territory, corporate will send out marketing fliers and try to get involved in the communtiy to build awareness of the new business. Larence said that he will look to work within the community, saying that one example could be sponsoring youth athletics.
“Our big focus is on customer service, we want to make sure our customers are happy, we will eliminate a problem for them,” he said. “The trademark is making it fun to go outdoors. It’s an added bonus to eliminate insects and minimize the risk of the diseases which are prevalent, the ticks and lime disease up here, the mosquitoes carry a lot.”
One of the biggest selling points for a Mosquito Joe franchise, Larence said, was the opportunity to grow a business with his family. His son Brian and 22-year-old daughter Christa are Community College of Rhode Island students who’ll be working with their father in his new venture. Brian, a former goaltender at Mount Saint Charles Academy, is also an entrepreneur, as he started his own business selling hockey sticks and uniforms.
“It’s great to keep it in the family,” Christa said. “When he was working, we didn’t see him quite as much as we do now. It’ll be special to work together.” Brian, meanwhile, added “it’ll be good to work together again,” as he previously worked as a rink attendant when his father was part of the Lynch Arena group.
Larence and his wife Donna also have a third child, 25-year-old daughter Erica, who is a lawyer but is not part of the Mosquito Joe team.
Wilson said that Mosquito Joe loves working with families like the Larences.
“They owned a hockey rink, they know their community very well,” he said. “When they announce we’ve got a new business, they’re going to get an enormous amount of support and spread the word well. We think they’re going to be great partners.”
The mission for the future of Mosquito Joe is to have 500 locations open over the next three to four years. Wilson says that he wants their brand to be “the largest and best in the country.”
“I humbly think we are the best right now, I think our customers tell us that, and very shortly we’ll be the largest,” he said.
Larence said that they would like to establish a good customer base and for referrals to grow.
“This year is about getting established with a focus on customer service and growth,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to add staff and service technicians as we grow and we’d like to add another vehicle by the end of this season.”
The hope is to have 500 customers by the end of this season and continue to grow, he added.
Bob Larence, center, with his daughter, Christa, left, and son, Brian, have started a ‘Mosquito Joe’ bug spraying service based in Cumberland.
Bob Larence, right, with his son, Brian, and daughter, Christa, are launching a new bug control business in Cumberland.