An app developed by an Edmonton company that links building contractors with prospective customers "makes it easy to put out multiple estimates quickly," says one contractor.
"It saves you from showing up to do an estimate where you are unlikely to make a deal, such as when what you offer and what the customer wants don't align," says Bryan Bazinet of SRB Construction, a general contractor that specializes in residential renovations and new construction.
Bazinet is referring to TradePros, an app up and running in Edmonton since last June.
"What happens is a consumer will select a category or type of work required and follow our process to post a job right to their phone (app), explains TradePros co-founder Drew Currah. "The job specs are sent to contractor members which includes location and, if relevant, photos of the job."
Currah says TradePros has witnessed steady growth and earlier this year had 600 contractor members and about 600 jobs posted.
Jobs listed on the app range from small home repairs to complete kitchen makeovers.
There is no fee to become a member. TradePros charges $10 to $30 to contractors only when they land meetings with prospective customers, says Currah.
"According to a lot of our users (contractors), they like the idea because they only pay when they are likely to get a job as opposed to paying for membership or for providing quotes," he says.
Bill Toma, a contractor and member of TradePros, who is also the owner of Sherwood Flooring in Edmonton, says when times are tight and money is in short supply, an app like TradePros that lets a contractor advertise for free is good for business.
Currah says the contractor decides whether to do an on-site assessment, chat with the customer through the app or submit a bid "with one tap of their phone."
"It simplifies the initial connection with companies that we believe deserve to be recognized for their skills and credentials," he points out.
Bazinet says by the time a contractor meets with a customer all the legwork has been done and getting the job is a likely outcome.
Currah adds through a traditional search consumers don't always get a clear picture of a contractor, including their reputation, skills and availability, until they hire them.
"We want to simplify that for people," he says.
He adds in these recessionary times it can be difficult for consumers to sort out the legitimate contractors from fly-by-night businesses looking to make a quick buck.
"We try to screen those people out," he adds.
That screening process includes research into a contractor's social media profile, says Currah. Contractors without an online presence must provide references.
If a contractor has any outstanding issues with a previous customer those issues must be resolved before they qualify for membership.
He adds member contractors only get reviews published in their profiles on TradePros once they have completed a job.
To qualify for membership, contractors must have liability insurance and an iOS or Android-enabled smartphone.
Recommended but not necessary are a business licence and workers compensation certification, adds Currah.
"It serves as a badge in their profiles to give consumers more confidence in them," he says.
The service is the first of its kind in Canada that Currah knows of and while TradePros has competition in the U.S., the apps there are not geared strictly to construction trades, nor are the links between customers and service providers similar to TradePros.
Currah says TradePros hopes to expand its service this year to Calgary, Vancouver and eventually move into the Toronto market and "test the waters" in a few U.S. cities.
While the prime focus is small residential now, Currah sees a market for multi-family residential and other sectors.
"Building managers and people with rental properties are a future market," he says. "We just want to make sure it is value added for these people."
The idea for the app came to Currah a few years ago while working in Southeast Asia where it was difficult to find maintenance help. He was guided by some of the principles of the early days of companies like Uber and Airbnb.