[IMGCAP(1)]For tax preparers who aren’t interested in extending their tax business beyond the end of April, but who would like to keep themselves and their staff employed in some meaningful activity, accountant Craig Comer has a suggestion: go into another seasonal business.
Comer, the owner of five Liberty Tax Service locations, decided to switch gears entirely after April 15 and go into the mosquito control business. Since he had success with Liberty as a franchisee, he decided to continue with a franchise—Mosquito Joe—to gain the entry know-how and expertise to establish his business.
When he first decided to go into business for himself, he was working well into the evening hours.
“I was working at Deloitte at the time, and even put in a 20-hour charge day,” he said. “I didn’t go home that night. One of my friends decided to go out on his own. He struggled at first, but after he got into the franchise system he did very well. So I gave my two weeks’ notice, and opened my first tax prep location on Christmas Eve 2002. I ran a tax school, got some employees, and broke even the first year.”
“In year two I made a profit, and soon built up my business to five locations,” Comer said. “Last year I wanted to get into a seasonal business that I could concentrate on after tax season. I wanted to keep some key employees, and so I looked for a concept that would complement that.”
“I chose Mosquito Joe because it has a different clientele and an opposite season,” he said. “Most of my tax clients have household income below $50,000, while my mosquito control clients are over $75,000.”
[IMGCAP(2)]One of the benefits of having another seasonal business—retaining key employees from his tax prep business—has met with success. “My top tax preparer at Liberty is working for Mosquito Joe, and I have a Mosquito Joe employee who will be taking a tax class in September to work at tax prep,” said Comer. “In fact, I’ve offered all of my Mosquito Joe employees the chance to work at Liberty.”
Are tax prep skills transferable to killing mosquitoes?
“Not exactly,” said Comer. “It’s mainly a good work ethic and attitude. If they have those, I can train them to do the job. We’re not doing particularly complex returns. I can train anyone in 10 weeks during the fall to be able to do 95 percent of our returns.”
Comer bought the mosquito control franchise last August and started operating May 1 in the Detroit suburbs. “We built it up to 1,800 clients for this mosquito season,” he said. While his employees have to be certified by the state, it’s a much less arduous process than if they were seeking certification on the whole range of extermination procedures. “There are only two or three components in which they have to be certified.”
“That’s one of our competitive advantages,” he observed. “National exterminating companies market for all kinds of pests, but when homeowners think of mosquitoes, they think of us.”
Although he prefers not to market his service based on fear, the recent publicity surrounding mosquito-borne diseases hasn’t hurt.
“The husband of one of our early customers contracted West Nile disease last summer, and he’s still using a walker,” said Comer. “She recruited her entire street, and wants us to accompany her when she speaks to groups about the dangers of West Nile.”
Likewise, the Chikungunya is continuing to spread across the country, afflicting more than 500 people in 35 states up to now, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And Comer’s business also treats lawns for fleas and ticks, which protects against other diseases, including Lyme disease.
“We don’t market for that, but if a customer tells us they have a problem, we have a treatment,” he said.
While Comer’s mosquito season begins in May, the season is longer in more southern parts of the country.
“I have a friend in Texas, who is also a tax preparer-mosquito control expert, whose mosquito season begins in February,” he said. “A lot of the top 100 franchisee tax preparers in our system have diversified in the off-season into other areas that complement their tax business. Many have gone into real estate, insurance or franchises such as Haagen-Dazs. And a number of them have gone, like I have, into mosquito control.”