When Andy Bell opened his business in 1997, he just wanted to be a handyman, offering household repair and maintenance services to Denver, Colorado homeowners whose plumbing, carpentry, and other skills did not meet the challenges offered by their homes. Today, Handyman Matters is still a handyman company, but it operates quite a bit differently.
“We’re actually a technology company that delivers handyman services,” says CEO Collete Bell, who was interviewed for this story. If you haven’t guessed, she is also Andy’s wife. “What sets us apart from our competition in any market we operate in is how we use technology to deliver those services.”
The difference is even bigger than that: Handyman Matters is today a 22-person operation that franchises its technology and business model to handy entrepreneurs in 120 locations, across 37 states and three countries. “The basic model is like any other handyman company, because we have craftsmen who do handyman work” says Bell. “But the way our franchisees dispatch them and manage them is very different.”
Handyman Matters’ technology is based on a proprietary Web-based program designed to streamline the service-delivery process for a franchisee’s customers. When a customer calls a franchisee, the person answering the phone gets much of the customer information directly from the Caller ID system, but it may also be entered by hand.
The primary purpose of the call is for the franchisee to ascertain where the customer is located and what needs to be done. “People call a handyman service instead of a specialized contractor because they have many projects that need to be done,” says Bell. “It’s the proverbial honey-do list, and we get to be ‘Honey’.”
The Software Heart of the Hammer
Once the list is established, the heart of Handyman Matters’ software begins to kick in. It includes a database of 1,160 tasks, each with a number of associated questions. “The questions allow the franchisee to understand exactly what the problem is, and how it might be fixed,” says Bell. For example, a customer might report an electrical problem, but it’s one thing to fix a faulty switch that controls a ceiling fan and another to install a telephone-extension line.
The answers to those questions, along with the location of the customer, make the next little piece of software magic take off. “Given the items that are finally on the list, and the location of the customer, the software chooses the best possible craftsman to do the job,” says Bell.
This means that franchisees must carefully maintain a skills inventory on each affiliated craftsman who works with them. The system also knows the current state of each handyperson’s schedule and picks the right person to be dispatched to the customer.
That handyperson is then notified. “We use text messaging on the cellular network,” says Bell, “because it’s immediate. And if there’s a conflict, we’ll find out right away.” She says that most of the franchisee’s workers use smartphones. “That’s because the details are carried in the message, and you wouldn’t want to be reading that on a tiny little screen.”
The assigned craftsman is required to call the customer the night before a job, to confirm the time and place as well as the work to be done. Once the call is completed and the work done, the results are entered into the Handyman Matters database, where two things happen. First is the accounting, which takes in the number of hours worked and how much was paid, translates it, and sends it on to Intuit Quickbooks for bookkeeping and payroll.
Spreading the Word Through Technology
The second thing involves moving ideas and information into the Handyman Matters database. “This part of the process completes the feedback loop that helps the next person doing a similar chore do a better job, and helps our franchisees give a better estimate of how much time and money are involved,” says Bell.
Besides the database and the applications, Handyman Matters helps franchisees out with more traditional support. That includes the Handyman Matters Web page, and advertising material that can be used in local placements.
The company also tries to foster a culture of mutual respect and cooperation among its franchisees and employees, which is clearly spelled out on its Web page and, perhaps more important, in the way its Web-based software is used to help every craftsman and Handyman Matters franchise do their jobs better.
And there will be more coming from Andy Bell. “He’s the visionary here,” says Colette Bell. “And he’s always working on new ideas.”