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Building in home improvement

A partnership that accredits trustworthy painters and decorators is just one aspect of the Internet strategy carefully formulated...

A partnership that accredits trustworthy painters and decorators is just one aspect of the Internet strategy carefully formulated by an offline business information giant

It was probably only a matter of time before someone decided that the home improvement business, which is worth an estimated £39bn, was ripe for an Internet-based business plan.

Indeed, perhaps a business that is characterised by consumers bewailing being ripped off or shoddy work has something in common with the Internet phenomenon - for which customer service is, er ... a challenge.

Now, though, there is a Net-based service that offers the consumer the prospect of an accredited contractor based on user experience. The service, Improveline.com (formerly E-commend), already has had £20m of venture capital ploughed into it and plans to float in October 2000.

Once a customer logs on and gives a description of the work needed, the system will offer a match within three days. When a contractor completes the work, Improveline receives a 2 per cent commission fee. In all, the system contains details of 90,000 contractors that have received accredited status. It also includes references from satisfied customers on individual contractors.

Improveline.com's non-executive chairman is the UK managing director of business information specialist Dun & Bradstreet, one of the business-to-business giants of the offline world for whom the Internet has become a magnet.

In fact, Improveline is just the latest of a string of "e-partners" for D&B, which is partnering new media companies to bring its information-based business into the Web world.

The company, best known for its "Duns No." - a number applied to companies as an identifier - sees credit and marketing information as crucial in helping to minimise transactional risk online trading. It aims to exploit the familiarity of its Duns No. for the identification of businesses during online transaction and registration.

D&B's Net strategy divides into three strands:

  • "DNB" Web-sites, including the company's ".co.uk" and ".com" sites, offering the company's traditional financial information-based services, as well as relevant vertical and horizontal markets.
  • "DNB Inside" - partnerships with new media players, such as the Improveline initiative, to establish D&B in business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets.
  • "e-Data Ventures" - tie-ups with venture capital and consultancies, using D&B's "trusted" brand to make money.
  • As well as Improveline, other tie-ups by D&B include:

  • mondus.co.uk, an online business-to-business marketplace procuring products for small and medium-sized businesses;
  • Askalex - a UK Internet business directory that integrates seamlessly with portals such as Freeserve. the DTI and regional newspaper groups;
  • Hi-revolution - a venture capital-funded start-up that matches home-owners with home-improvement professionals; and
  • OneSource - a business intelligence provider to sales, marketing, finance and management professionals in major corporations.
  • D&B's approach shows that devising a Net strategy requires analysis of the company's core business, using its constituent parts, and coming up with enough alternative strategies to give a chance of success. Other companies would probably do well to follow this approach.

    David Bicknell

    This was first published in March 2000

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