Mosquito Squad mission turns personal in Kenya
Just outside Kenya’s capital of Nairobi are the 45 square miles of wide open grass plains and wildlife of Nairobi National Park. The city, with a population nearing 4 million, is also home to the first Mosquito Squad franchise in Kenya.
Fred Rariewa almost became a statistic. As a boy growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, Rariewa was infected with malaria and “I was very close to dying,” he says. Transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitoes, malaria kills nearly 300,000 African children every year and were it not for his family recognizing the severity of his fever, Rariewa could have easily joined that number.
Instead, a determined Rariewa is working to reduce those fatalities and educate Africans on preventative measures all while building a business.
The first international franchisee for tick and mosquito control franchise Mosquito Squad, Rariewa launched the brand in the capital city of Nairobi in February, with plans to expand in East Africa through an agreement that covers Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
“People don’t have to needlessly die of those diseases,” says Rariewa, noting in addition to malaria there have been increasing incidents of another potentially fatal mosquito-borne virus, chikungunya, in Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city.
Rariewa has the experience to back up his goals. The founder of Kenyan consumer marketing agency Pulse Experiential Group, Rariewa has focused on health education campaigns for more than 20 years, working with U.S. companies such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble to introduce and grow their product lines in Africa.
“It becomes about how to change behaviors,” says Rariewa, for example working with Huggies maker Kimberly-Clark to introduce disposable diapers and other hygiene products to several African regions. His work has mainly been targeted at low-income consumers, but with Mosquito Squad Rariewa sees an opportunity to impact all economic levels.
Fred Rariewa, far right, with relatives Cletus Karanja and Maureen Karanja, are bringing Mosquito Squad to Kenya. Chris Grandpre, second from right, is CEO of Outdoor Living Brands.
“These diseases affect everyone, from poor, middle to even high income,” he says. “With Mosquito Squad, we can bring in a sophisticated system with high level products. We want to build a sustainable presence in these communities, engage consumers and help them better understand their options.”
Insecticidal nets are the prevailing method of prevention, but the World Health Organization says indoor residual spraying is the most effective way to rapidly reduce malaria transmission. Because screens on windows aren’t common in Kenya and mosquitos are prevalent inside homes, Mosquito Squad developed some additional interior treatments to complement its barrier treatments, along with the larvicides and all-natural substances it uses to eliminate mosquitoes from outdoor spaces.
The challenge in some cities, explains Rariewa, is one of proximity.
In Nairobi, for example, “the houses are so much closer together, so barrier treatments are not as effective because the mosquitoes come from next door if the neighbor wasn’t treated,” he says. “So we want to enroll entire communities, whole neighborhoods to be effective.”
Marketing efforts are intensely focused on educating potential customers, both on Mosquito Squad services and simple steps people can take to reduce mosquito-breeding sites, such as removing standing water. Setting up display tents at malls and targeting chamas—local social welfare women’s groups—are among Rariewa’s tactics. Mosquito Squad also adjusted its tagline in Kenya to highlight the quality of life benefits of its services—and appeal to wealthier consumers who Rariewa says want the freedom of sleeping without nets and can afford frequent treatments. Instead of “No Bugs. No Bites. No Kidding.” it’s “No Bugs. No Bites. No Sleepless Nights.” Then, to better reflect its customer base, “We had to give Skeeter a tan,” adds Rariewa, referring to Dread Skeeter, the brand’s sprayer-wielding mascot shown at right.
For Mosquito Squad, a long-time financial supporter of nonprofit organization Malaria No More, having a presence in East Africa means being able to have an even greater impact, says Chris Grandpre, CEO of Outdoor Living Brands, parent company of Mosquito Squad.
“We thought, this is a very good market for us to plant a flag and it’s really fitting that our first major international market be in Africa,” says Grandpre. Rariewa, he continues, “is the perfect partner for us” because of his ability to create markets for products while understanding the public health benefits and cultural differences.
Mosquito Squad began to get serious about building its international pipeline about two years ago and engaged Edwards Global Services to help it develop a plan and identify where in the world to focus its efforts. There must first be a need—“What we call mosquito pressure,” says Grandpre—along with a suitable economic climate.
While in the U.S. the brand’s typical consumer is residential, Grandpre expects growth in East Africa to also be driven by commercial and governmental business. Franchising in general is growing in popularity in Kenya, according to the U.S. Commercial Service, and in urban areas such as Nairobi there are large numbers of well-educated English-speaking and multi-lingual professionals interested in U.S.-based services.
The legal landscape, regulatory environment for pest control, and supply chain are all important considerations as well, notes Grandpre, as Mosquito Squad also eyes expansion in Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Political stability—or lack thereof—in a region is yet another critical factor, as Mosquito Squad learned leading up to its debut in Kenya. The original timeline was for an October 2017 launch, but “our supreme court had just nullified the election and we had to have a repeat election,” says Rariewa of the controversy surrounding the country’s presidential election, in which the win by incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta was overturned.
“For a time, two candidates were declaring themselves president,” he continues. “It was a horrible situation. It caused havoc to the economy.”
Kenyatta eventually won the rerun election and his victory was upheld. Rariewa says Grandpre and Mosquito Squad were incredibly supportive and helped him manage the delay.
The experience also helped him and his operations team, including his brother, sister and brother-in-law, “develop our resilience.”
“We see ourselves now and in the next five years being a part of that change for malaria prevention,” says Rariewa.