Angie's List may be famous (or infamous) in contracting circles, but its simplest idea was a good one: Provide a list of contractors so clients have an idea of where to go and whom to trust.
That's exactly how PMC Building Materials' latest venture started—just a list of contractors that were clients of the Georgia dealer.
"We actually started with a listing," recalls Larry Hazenfield, president of PMC. "We had a listing of deck builders, remodelers, and general contractors. (We don't do turnkey install.) But the list didn't really do anything for people who were looking online. Half of the info, the websites were invalid or the email addresses were no good. It was dead on arrival."
Thus the seeds were laid for PMCPros, an online, local listing of contractors, custom home builders, and remodelers, all managed and updated by PMC. Pros that join the site are given a webpage where they can show off recent projects, describe their specialties, and link to social media pages, and clients can contact them. PMC may control what goes on the website, but customers are encouraged to reach out to the contractor through any method. And there's no pay-to-play placement on the PMCPros site; contractors are listed alphabetically.
Pro dealer as a marketing service. There's a concept. The trust factor on both sides of the user-experience equation became critical. For such a service to provide authentic value for PMC, as well as for other players and suppliers, contractor pros had to know there was no funny-business in the listings, just basic metrics of contact data and reliability.
"We can track the leads that are going to the contractor, but we don't know how many phone calls he's getting," says Hazenfield. "We didn't want to manage these leads. we don't want to be a rating process. Just to promote it and let it go. No paid-for-upgrading or -boosting."
That doesn't mean, however, that PMC just lets anyone post to the site. All of the contractors listed have been in business for at least one year, are licensed, and maintain liability and workers' comp insurance minimums. Each contractor must also attend a class at PMC that explains the program and its benefits.
Apart from being listed on the website, enrolled contractors can also be featured at the PMCPros booth at home shows and have their projects featured on marketing materials.
"We do handouts that have info about the gateway," says Thomas Matula, vice president of IT and marketing at PMC. "We'll [show] contractor projects on the handouts. If they've just been used on a marketing venture we did, they go to the back of the queue. There's not any kind of bias."
And contractors aren't required to showcase projects with materials bought specifically at PMC. If they completed an impressive project before becoming a customer, that goes up on the site just like one completed with materials from PMC.
"The upside is much greater than the downside," Hazenfield says. "We feel like people are loyal to a lead. We allow our contractors to promote their business. We're promoting everything they want to promote. That's not specific to our product line."
Setting up and operating a website of this magnitude isn't a task that all dealers will be equipped for. While PMC has invested heavily in advertising and uses and outside company to manage online postings and search engine optimization, the bulk of the work was done in-house by Matula.
"The amount of time that goes into this is quite a bit," Hazenfield notes. "Tom is the VP of marketing and IT—a marketing pro who can write code. We're fortunate to have someone who has that ability on hand. To maintain it [externally] would probably be six figures."
Now, there's a waiting list to join PMCPros and Matula is working on improvements to the site. The company is in the process of acquiring a trademark, but, according to Hazenfield, the plan is to stay local and keep supporting the contractors that support PMC.
"If we can help our contractors grow their business, then our business will grow along with them."