If there’s any conversation topic that trumps even food in New Orleans these days, it’s where to find reliable, qualified contractors to help rebuild property damaged by Hurricane Katrina and its flood. Two years after the disaster, many residents are still desperate to find good people to hire and everyone seems to have heard horror stories about homeowners getting ripped off by unscrupulous or under-qualified operators.
That’s what makes the expansion of the consumer-rating service Angie’s List into the New Orleans market a particularly timely local debut. Principally an on-line service, based atwww.angieslist.com, the member-based firm is an outlet for consumers to post ratings and detailed reviews about hundreds of different types of service providers and a resource for others to check out potential businesses before hiring them. It also offers a call-in service for reviews over the phone.
“It’s a very localized service and we hope to get ratings for every single service provider in town, from the biggest company to the local handyman,” says Angie Hicks, namesake and co-founder of the company.
Fresh out of college in 1995, Hicks helped form the company in Columbus, Ohio, after some bad experiences with hiring contractors to renovate a ‘20s-vintage house.
“Columbus was around the 50th largest city in the country at that point, so we knew if it was difficult to find good people there, people had to be having the same problems in other cities,” she says.
Hicks initially went door-to-door to sign up new members and solicit their own reports. It turned out those first contributors had a lot to say and were eager to get their friends involved, too. Angie’s List added a new market each year through the 1990s and went on-line in ‘99. Since then, growth has continued to accelerate and Hicks says the company tripled its size in the last 18 months. It now has more than 500,000 members. Angie’s List staffers vet their reviews to ensure they come from actual consumers rather than companies hoping to promote themselves.
While home improvement is the biggest area of interest on Angie’s List, the site provides information on just about any type of service a consumer might grab the phone book to find, from landscaping to auto repairs to pet services.
No matter how many markets Angie’s List adds, though, Hicks says the service always relies on having members willing to share their experiences with the people they hire or patronize. Angie’s List reports approximately 1,000 members in the New Orleans area but to add more the company is offering local residents free one-year memberships.
– Ian McNulty