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A matchmaker for improving your property

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Small businesses have a lot in common with private homeowners -- many large, well-known contractors perceive their jobs as too small to accept.

That leaves the next tier of contractors -- the smaller companies with
less widely known reputations. How does a small law or accounting office, or a solo dentist, or veterinarian guess which ones will do good work -- and show up when they promise?

Real estate agents looking a deadline in the face also need to know who
can do the fix-up or cleaning job right and do it fast.

Laura Cicholski found herself wondering who to call when she and her
husband moved to Holland. As she slowly learned about area contractors and service providers, she decided to set up a referral service for other homeowners and small-business owners. She launched Lakeshore Home Referrals this past spring.

Like any good matchmaker, Cicholski personally checked the companies she asked to join her network. She looked into business references as well as licenses, insurance coverage and Better Business Bureau reports.

Her network includes general contractors, handyman services, electricians, window installers, drywallers and painters, as well as service companies such as computer-repair companies, carpet cleaners, lawn-service companies and even a seamstress. They cover the lakeshore area from South Haven north to Grand Haven, and a few are based as far inland as Grand Rapids.

Lakeshore Home Referrals makes its money when network members get work. The network members pay what could be termed a finder's fee.

"We've been around 21 years, but when she called, it sounded like an
interesting way to go with a service and a good way to get more
referrals," said Mitch Van Den Berg, owner of Van Den Berg Pest Control in Holland. "Over the years, we've found by asking people why they're calling us, more and more (they) are telling us it was a referral from a neighbor or a friend. So we thought it was a good idea to go with a referral service."

Van Den Berg Pest Control doesn't deal ordinarily with squirrels, raccoons or rats, but mice and insects are typical reasons factories, restaurants and churches call the company, he said.

"We don't do big commercial clients," said Greg W., owner and job-site
manager for a 39-year-old construction company. "We found this beneficial because you've always got to have more work. It's always nice to open up yourself for new services for your clients."

Cicholski also doesn't simply refer people to her Web site,
westmicontractorconnection.com, but runs interference for customers when they can't connect with anything but voice mail at the business.

"I have their cell phone numbers," she said. "Lots of times customers
don't, so I can contact them for the customer."

She looks out for network members, too. When a real estate agent
complained that paint wasn't completely dry for a Saturday open house,
Cicholski pointed out the contractor had come in late Thursday, stripped the wallpaper, prepped the surface, painted and cleaned thoroughly -- all in just 48 hours.

End of article.

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