The genesis for Spalding Labs was the awful fly problem my mom had around her Arabian horses. This was 1976 and in the era following Rachel Carlson’s book Silent Spring that made everyone aware of the dangers of the “miracle” pesticides that we were using at the time. So my mom was in a quandary of what to do about the flies without harming us or her horses. At the time my younger brother was in college at UCLA and at a sister campus in Riverside, a researcher was studying “fly parasites” which appeared to be very promising in controlling flies without chemicals. My brother got a culture from him and began raising these “bugs” in his basement lab at school for a Masters project. After releasing the first batch around our horses about a month later our fly problem disappeared. That was the Eureka moment of “Hey, these things really work”.
No one was offering these commercially to horse owners, so my mom and brother decided to start a business selling them. That was the beginning of Spalding Labs and Fly Predators. It was the proverbial kitchen table business. We placed tiny little ads in a few horse magazines and shipped Fly Predators, our brand name for the mixture of fly parasites we offer, in a paper bag. At first many horse owners thought this was a very crazy idea, putting out an insect to get rid of an insect. The term “lunatic fringe” comes to mind to describe what some thought of us. We didn’t think about it then, but we were Green before Green was cool.
The Fly Predators worked great and the word slowly got around about these “amazing” little insects. Customers kept ordering more shipments after trying the first batch and their friends started asking “where did your flies go”? After which their friends would call mom and place an order too. Dr. Miller’s article in Western Horseman in 1981 tells his story about discovering Fly Predators while at a client’s barn in the summer which normally had lots of flies, but surprisingly, during this visit had none.
Perhaps the first article about Fly Predators was in Horse and Horseman in July 1977. When you read that article what’s notable is that the story about Fly Predators and how to control flies around horses hasn’t changed that much. You’ll also notice in our teeny little ad that the price for 5,000 Fly Predators was $12.00. Now 38 years later the price is just $19.95. Considering that gas in 1977 was selling for $.65 per gallon vs. $3.00 today, Fly Predators were and still are a remarkable bargain. Also significant is that the customer mentioned in the article, Bob Buell of B and B Stables, is still a customer today. That speaks to the results our “crazy idea” of putting out bugs to get rid of flies can deliver.
Today in our 40th year of business, Fly Predators have become the preferred method of fly control for all types of animal owners and others with an abundance of rotting organic matter that creates flies. We’ve served hundreds of thousands of customers and the majority of them use Fly Predators as long as they have their animals. Some other notable long term (30+ years) customers beside Dr. Miller and Bob Buell include Julie Goodnight and Pat Parelli to name just a few.
The other thing to notice today is that while we started with tiny ads and the chemical folks had big ones, today it’s the biological folks that do more marketing than the chemical folks. The world has changed a lot in 40 years. While we’ve grown tremendously and very high tech, our business principals and product value have not. We still offer the best product with the best service that’s even a better deal today in relative dollar cost than it was 40 years ago. And mom (now more than 90 years young and who switched from raising horses to miniature goats when she didn’t feel safe to ride) still works here every day. We’d be honored to serve you for the next 40 years.
- Tom Spalding, Chief Fly Guy
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