Lowe’s Teams Up with Porch.com

February 02, 2014

Lowe's partners with Porch.com

The Web is nearly bursting with sites that promise to help you find a contractor or plumber or any number of other construction professionals for your home. Recently, a new player, Porch.com came on the scene. Instead of just blending in, Porch has the competitive advantage of having a very high-profile partner — the Lowe’s home improvement chain.

Porch makes some eye-catching promises — that it can connect you with home improvement pros who have done work in your neighborhood or even worked on a house that’s very much like your own.

It claims to have culled public records of building permits and professional licensing databases, conducted interviews and generally put out the call that it’s looking for everything it can find about local pros. Its listings claim to have the goods on 1.5 million such companies and to have records of one kind or another for 90 million projects.

Among these so-called referral sites, Porch may be able to distinguish itself by helping to solve a business problem for Lowe’s: what to do when a consumer wanders up to one of its employees and says: “I think this repair is beyond my skills — do you know anybody I could hire to do it for me?”

Lowe’s is field-testing Porch in 139 stores in North Carolina, South Carolina and Washington state that aim to do just that: The Lowe’s employee pulls up the site on a mobile device (or at an in-store kiosk), gathers information about the consumer’s project, house and other details, and provides a list of contractors it thinks would be a good match, according to the retailer.

The consumers may even be able to see photos of the work the contractor has done for a homeowner nearby.

Lowe’s and Porch don’t endorse individual contractor businesses, according to Porch’s founder, Matt Ehrlichman, a tech entrepreneur in Seattle who said he got the idea for the business when he was building a home for his family and became convinced that the pertinent information he needed was dispersed too far and wide across the Internet.

“(The search) became personal,” he said. “I became aware of just how little transparency there is, and how it’s just too challenging to know where to begin and how much it’s going to cost and which professional is going to be the right one.”

His company claims to know, potentially, a fair amount about your neighbors’ homes, or your own, largely from public records.

“We know the size, the materials, how long the homeowner has lived in the home,” Ehrlichman said.

The idea, he explained, is not only to give you a feeling of comfort that a contractor has a track record with your neighbors (without identifying the neighbors specifically), but that the contractor’s projects also would be appropriate for your home.

Contractors participate on Porch.com (and in the Lowe’s test project) for free but may also pay a monthly subscription fee that Ehrlichman said highlights their projects.

Though referral sites in general are notorious for pay-to-play structures that push the fee-paying businesses to the top of the list, he said this isn’t the case with Porch, though that line may be a fine one.

He said, instead, that Porch might boost those businesses through subsequent emails that the company would send out about newly completed projects in the neighborhood (although the consumer can opt out of receiving such messages, he said).

“There are different ways that we can create exposure for them so they get more business without boosting them in the search results,” he said. “(In a search, though) Porch is going to surface the best professionals for your home, based on the data and on who your neighbors refer.”

This post was originally published on the ChicagoTribune.com on Jan. 31, 2014.

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