Sunday, April 18, 2004

Look Who's Talking: Angie Hicks Bowman


Referrals on demand

[photo]
Angie Hicks Bowman's Angie's List has expanded into 17 major cities.
The Enquirer/JOSEPH FUQUA II
Angie Hicks Bowman, 31, describes her Angie's List referral service as a homeowner's grapevine.

And the word has spread to more than 130,000 subscribers in 17 major metropolitan areas, including Greater Cincinnati, since she founded the company in Columbus in 1995.

For a $41 annual fee, members can recommend and find referrals for service providers in more than 250 different categories, including tax preparers, private investigators - even clowns.

The company provides a specific list of service providers for each city by phone or at the company's Web site, (angieslist.com). And each company on Angie's List is graded for quality, cost, courtesy, care and promptness, among other things, by the homeowners who use them.

Bowman's Greater Cincinnati office was established in 2000 and now boasts nearly 3,000 members.

What separates your business from other referral services?

We not only list companies that are the biggest operators in town, we also list the handyman next door. Also, service companies can't pay to be on the list. Only members can add a business name to the list and grade their service.

You said you started with about 1,000 members in Columbus. Tell me how you've grown membership and expanded into new cities.

We're a referral service, and, appropriately, we get a lot of members through word-of-mouth referrals. If you refer a new member, you get a big bag of M&Ms and a $7 check. But I think the biggest reason for our success and growth is that more and more people are turning to services like ours because it's a much more mobile society. I'm a perfect example. I've lived in three cities in the past five years, so I can't go to my mom or somebody else I would trust to ask them whom to use if I need a plumber.

What are you focusing on now from a business perspective?

Right now, we're focused on opening more chapters. We want to open in another six or so markets by the end of the year. Our goal is to get in and become part of the community and understand the nuisances of the market.

What do you mean by that?

Each market is a little different. In Cleveland, for example, we learned that people on the east side of the city don't hire people from the west side because the commute is just too long. So we customize our list to group companies together from the same areas in the city.

And what's your advice to anyone who might want to follow in your footsteps?

If you want to start a business you have to be willing to take a chance. Also, you have to have a lot of perseverance. There are always going to be challenging times, especially in the beginning. But you have to pick an idea and stay focused to achieve your goals.

Randy Tucker




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