'ImproveNet' aims to improve hvac contractor's 'net'

June 1, 2000
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REDWOOD CITY, CA — Improving the bottom line, the “net” take home, is one of the goals of a national home improvement company. That’s why it’s taken to the Internet to promote the business and make its team of professionals accessible to all homeowners.

ImproveNet®, an independent service formed to help homeowners manage home improvement projects and find reliable remodeling professionals, is actively looking for hvac contractors who can work with its field representatives and offer services to a new generation of Internet users.

ImproveNet deploys a national network of professionals to serve as liaisons to member contractors, architects, and designers. Members, in turn, are put in touch with homeowners who have visited the Web site and filled out a questionnaire listing their home improvement needs.

ImproveNet offers homeowners “valuable features such as custom matching to an exclusive database of remodeling pros.” The company said it has processed nearly $3 billion in job submissions, and its website draws more than 1 million visitors per month — many seeking qualified, trustworthy contractors, designers, and architects in their areas.

“Homeowners are telling us exactly what they need when they answer questions [from the Web site],” said Jim Datka, professional services marketing vice president.

“This is not an emergency call site, like a no-heat call. People who want to make home improvements can log onto the Web site and talk to us.”

How contractors get involved

“Contractors can call us or visit our Web site if they are interested in becoming part of our team,” Datka said. “We check their credit and legal history and business/homeowner references.”

It takes about a week to process the paperwork. Contractors can then bid on remodeling work for homeowners in their area who have used the ImproveNet service. Each homeowner is given a profile of the contractor in their area who qualifies for the type of remodeling work they are looking for.

For contractors, there is a $90 application fee; $70 is refunded if the application is not accepted.

“After that, it is a pay-as-you-go fee,” Datka said. “There is a $10 lead fee for the first contractor who responds to the lead. If they land the job with a successful bid, the fees range from 2% to 10%.”

Target marketing

Why would a contractor pay a little extra for a customer with whom they might otherwise be making an initial contact? “Most of our contractors look at ImproveNet as a replacement for their marketing department,” Datka explained.

One Midwest contractor agreed. “When you are working with ImproveNet, every person who contacts you has a reason to do so — they have work for you,” said Stephen Oleszkowicz, owner of SGO Diversified, in Highland, MI.

“It is also the most effective marketing I have ever heard of because you are in complete control of the leads you pay for. There’s no wasting advertising dollars on people who don’t have work to do.”

Although ImproveNet has not finished working out the details of a questionnaire exclusive to hvac buyers, they do ask homeowners some basic questions.

“We ask square footage, the age of the home, etc.,” Datka said. “We rely on homeowners to give us their profile.”

In turn, ImproveNet can give homeowners a rough budget for a system based on costs per area, using zip codes. “Contractors said it is a pretty accurate measure,” Datka said.

According to the company, project opportunities are faxed to no more than the first four members who confirm their interest in putting in a bid to a homeowner. Members continue to deal directly with homeowners but if there are any questions, there are 54 area managers and nine regional managers throughout the U.S. who work directly with the contractors.

These managers provide local support, information, and troubleshooting. They are also responsible for recruiting additional remodeling professionals to take advantage of bid requests that are submitted each month to ImproveNet.

Datka said that the result is good business because homeowners are getting the best contractors available. “We are in a position to weed out the fly-by-nighters,” he said.

He added that his company goes to great lengths to promote itself to homeowners.

“We do a lot of marketing to bring people to our Web site,” he said. “These are often homeowners who want work done, but are faced with time constraints and a budget.”

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