For the less do-it-yourself inclined Lowe's shopper, the home improvement store has just added a very valuable resource to select retailers: In-store access to Porch.com. Starting today, 139 locations in North and South Carolina and the Seattle area will offer up the site's massive database of 1.9 million professionals to shoppers. "Throughout these stores, there will be signage, kiosks, and most importantly, the Lowe's employees are trained to use Porch," Porch CEO Matt Ehrlichman told Fast Company.
Previously, Lowe's customers in search for professional help on a project could only rely on Lowe's for certain services. Their in-house associates will install a new roof for a homeowner, but not repair one, for example. "They had customers coming into their store and looking at products and asking associates for help and they haven’t been able to help them," explained Ehrlichman. That presumably meant lost sales for the retailer, when over-excited shoppers realized they had no idea how to use all the stuff they were about to buy.
Porch, however, fills that costly hole, connecting its 1.5 million handymen, painters, and plumbers to those in need of their services. Much like TaskRabbit, qualified specialists post their portfolios on the site in an attempt to connect their niche skills to those in need of their expertise. But, unlike, say, Craigslist, Porch provides data and insights—previous work experience, prices, and neighbor reviews—to the homeowner. It's a searchable, slick experience that uses data to recommend the right people. "For the first time the homeowner can get that word-of-mouth referral and they can see who their neighbors have used," said Ehrlichman, who speaks to this problem from personal experience. He recently built a house for his family and dealt with the pains of a Porchless market.
Lowe's shoppers can now get that very useful service straight from the smartphone of a Lowe's employee. If people walk into the home-repair retailer and have a grand plan, they can (most likely) find someone to implement it. It's a win for Lowe's and a win for clueless homeowners.
But as valuable a resource this will be for overwhelmed shoppers, working with the home-repair giant could prove very lucrative for Porch. Lowe's has 1,825 stores nationwide and brought in $50.5 billion in revenue in 2012. Assuming this first batch of Porch-equipped Lowe's is successful, Ehrlichman suggested the program will expand to more locations. And that only means good things for Porch's bottom line.
The service's revenues come from an optional subscription for the handypeople. While Porch profiles are free, professionals looking to boost their image can pay $35 a month to have their projects highlighted in emails or on the site. (The elite status does not influence search rankings, however, which are based purely on data, like who your neighbors have used most often and who has been endorsed more consistently.) Putting the service in front of the 15 million people who walk through Lowe's on a weekly basis turns Porch into a place where professionals will start to feel like they have to have a presence. "If they want to have a free profile, that's great," said Ehrlichman. But people often want to get more exposure and pay for the premium account, he claims.
Ehrlichman wouldn’t say how often that happens, keeping mum on revenue numbers. But he did say the company was doing "exceptionally well." Just three and a half months after launching the company, Porch has not only landed in a major retailer, but has grown the staff from 30 to more than 80 employees.
With such quick success, Ehrlichman is optimistic about the coming year. "2014 is going to be a very fun year for Porch," he told Fast Company, suggesting that other partnerships are in the works.
[Image: Flickr user Sacks08]