A WINCHESTER internet entrepreneur, who started his business from scratch, is celebrating record sales – and hitting the £1m annual turnover mark.
Localsurveyorsdirect, a price comparison site for property services, is the brainchild of JJ Heath-Caldwell, who began the enterprise with three business partners from his home in Sutton Scotney in 1995.
It has since become one of the country’s leading websites for professional property services with more than 3,000 suppliers – surveyors, solicitors, architects, engineers, energy assessors and electricians.
The free website is aimed at people looking to buy or sell their homes, tackle property problems, build an extension or a new dwelling.
“It gives people exactly what they want. A list of local companies that do the work, contact details and in most cases, an immediate initial estimate,” said Mr Heath-Caldwell, a chartered engineer.
The company boss added: “We started with just 100 surveyors in the first year. Back in those days, people were still relying on telephone directories to find local suppliers. The internet as a search engine was very new.
“During the first year, it was just me working for the company and I would spend all day on the phone, selling the website. Those were tough times.”
The turning point for the venture came when Mr Heath-Caldwell gave free trials to surveyors and was able to demonstrate how customer enquiries led to new business.
He and his partners each invested £500 in the start-up company. By the second month, the business was paying for itself. Today it employs 10 part-time people, including a sales team who all work from home.
Since it started nine years ago, the company has branched out into other areas – listing companies that provide everything from energy performance certificates to unblocking drains and from asbestos removal to architectural design.
Traders pay a small sum per sales lead generated.
Last year, the website matched up 130,000 customers with potential suppliers and in most cases provided an immediate, initial estimate.
The secret to Localsurveyorsdirect’s success, said Richard James, a structural engineer who has used the website for three years, is it works well from both sides.
Satisfied customers get speedy service at competitive prices while suppliers receive sales leads. Mr James said about 80 per cent of his business came via the website.