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8/14/2003

Skeeter beaters

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call
with The Associated Press

LONGMONT — Last year, sales of duct tape and plastic sheeting soared — prompted by the federal government’s suggestion that those items could help citizens arm themselves against the threat of terrorism.

This year, the enemy is no less real — West Nile virus already has claimed six lives in Colorado and officially infected more than 215 people.

High-tech tools are often the preferred defensive weapons of choice.

“It’s the most popular item out there,” Aaron Mascarenas, assistant manager at Budget Home Center, said of the “Mosquito Magnet.” “We just got a new shipment in, and we can’t keep them on the shelf.

“Last year, we tried to get them in, and (the company) couldn’t meet the demand, so we didn’t have any last year. This year, 90 to 95 percent of them are sold before they come in because people are putting save orders on them.”

Described on the company’s Web site as “fatal attraction for mosquitoes,” the Mosquito Magnet is made by Rhode Island-based American Biophysics Corp. The propane-powered device entices insects by emitting warm carbon dioxide gas, simulate the breath of a human or horse. When the little buggers get close, thinking they’re about to feast on blood, they’re sucked into a vacuum.

According to Roland Jackson, vice president of sales and marketing for American Biophysics, his company has sold $200,000 worth of the machines so far this year in the 32 Home Depot stores in the Denver/Colorado Springs areas.

“We shipped about $250,000 during the last two weeks,” Jackson said Wednesday.

At the same stores in all of 2002, Jackson said, the company sold about $52,000 worth of the Mosquito Magnets.

At Budget Home, prices for the machines range from $289 — for the “Defender” model — to more than $1,100.

“Consumer reports ranked them No. 1 of all the mosquito products that there is,” Mascarenas said.

The sales numbers that Jackson reported include only the company’s two consumer-oriented models — the “Defender” and the “Liberty” — and do not include the high-end model.

“It was actually developed by the military, but they’ve actually become cheap enough to where they can be sold at retail,” said Sean Gobel, store manager at Longmont’s Home Depot.

Another high-tech item proving popular with consumers is a wristwatch-like device that emits an ultrasonic sound meant to sound like a hungry dragonfly — a mosquito’s worst nightmare — to scare the ’skeeter away.

The manufacturer of this device stopped selling it, however, after being accused of making unsubstantiated advertising claims.

McGuckin Hardware in Boulder reported selling about 500 less expensive clip-on versions of the device.

“I’m telling you, they worked fantastic for me,” said clerk Ran Ransom, describing how the gadget kept him from being eaten as he enjoyed a meal of grilled salmon and wine on his deck.

Reaction seems to be mixed when it comes to low-tech mosquito solutions.

“We’re probably selling more of the Backwoods Off than we would be normally, but it’s something that we would always be selling this time of year anyway,” said Gobel.

Mascarenas said it’s the same at Budget Home Center: “Yep, we had a guy come in yesterday, and we had 11 bottles of it — and he bought ’em all,” he said.

Citronella candles, however, seem to have fallen out of favor this year.

“They’re not selling as well,” Mascarenas said. “Last year, they were selling very well; this year, it’s just moderate. I don’t know why they’re not selling as well this year — I really haven’t talked to anybody about why they’re not selling. I’m just concerned about trying to keep the Mosquito Magnets in. They’re a bunch more money, but again, there’s no price on life.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.