When leads are down and business is slow, it’s easy for a remodeling company to take on any project that comes its way, even if that means broadening the service menu or the distance you’ll travel for a job. But while some work is better than none, a young Seattle firm is working to help construction professionals get not just any lead, but qualified leads.

“We look at our company as a combination of eHarmony, The Knot, and Carfax,” explains Villette Nolon, owner of HomeSavvi, an online resource that helps both homeowners and professionals make the most of the remodeling process. The idea for the company came out of Nolon’s own extensive home remodel in 2005.

“It was the first time either my husband or I had ever taken on a project of this size and scope, and we were doing research like any other homeowners -- learning a lot about products and other house-related details,” she says. Though Nolon’s project went well, the research and management on her end as the homeowner became the impetus for creating HomeSavvi. “We realized that the Internet is a very fragmented place,” she says. “Not only that, but the homeowner has to become the uber project manager. Even if you have a general contractor, which we did, we’re still responsible for finding that person, securing the budget, deciding whether to build new, remodel, change the style of the house, and what that style will be -- that’s all up to the homeowner. Between all those decisions and the breadth of information on the Web, I decided I was going to start the company that would offer homeowners a little guidance through the process.”

Inspired by the wedding organization Web site The Knot.com, Nolon used her IT experience to develop HomeSavvi.com and compile lists of resources, articles, service provider directories, and more. The site is searchable by room of the house, and area of the country, and lets homeowners keep a virtual notebook of all the relevant information they gather.

As she develops additional features and expands the company to more areas of the country, Nolon is focusing on the eHarmony element of her business model: client/professional love connections.

“We’ve been talking to remodelers for two years getting to know what they need from their clients,” Nolon says. “First and foremost, HomeSavvi is a consumer-facing Web site, but we feel it’s the industry professionals that should be providing the education on our site. I only remodeled my house once. I don’t know all the ins and outs. We want to generate content for our site by taking information and expertise from individual remodelers and sharing it.”

Having articles generated by construction professionals allows the site’s homeowner users to get comfortable with the idea of working with a professional and develops a level of trust going into a remodel. Taking it a step further, Nolon has developed Savvi Speed Dating, putting those professionals and homeowners in a room together to see if there are any sparks.

“We know every homeowner is different, and what they need is different,” Nolon says. “When you meet the right remodeler for you, there’s a lot of chemistry. Ultimately, if you like them and trust them, you’ll give them the keys to your house.”

Savvi Speed Dating gives remodelers and homeowners a chance to meet face-to-face, discuss project ideas, and see if any chemistry erupts. So far, the company has held two Savvi Speed Dating sessions that Nolon calls highly successful. There are plans for additional events this month. As a young company just in the process of expanding, both past events were held in Seattle, but plans for Atlanta, San Francisco, and Portland, Ore. Speed Dating are in the works. An intimate group is assembled for each event.

“We didn’t want the events to be huge. We wanted it to be like a date night,” Nolon said. “We limit the homeowner attendees to 15 households, and we always try to have professionals from remodeling, design, and architecture available with a ratio of more homeowners than professionals.”

Nolon says she’s found that showrooms make great locations for Savvi Speed Dating, and she transforms the spaces into bistros with wine, cheese, music, and flowers. Though the HomeSavvi Web site is free to homeowners, potential remodeling clients attending Savvi Speed Dating are charged a small cover fee to offset the event’s food costs. “We want to make sure that they’ll come, so we charge about $15,” Nolon says. “If the event were free, there would always be the possibility that something else would come up and they’d choose not to come to Speed Dating. The fee lets us know that they’re buying into the idea and they’re serious about their project.”

For professionals, HomeSavvi charges a membership fee to participate in HomeSavvi, plus an additional charge to participate in Savvi Speed Dating. Only members are invited to participate in Speed Dating events, and Nolon says the membership fee is reasonable, averaging about $150 to meet four homeowners. 

“We’ve come to realize that remodelers are a unique breed,” Nolon says. “They’re small-business owners with a lot on their plates, so we want to offer a service that’s going to be valuable to them. Homeowners want to meet remodelers in safe environments, and remodelers want to meet potential clients face-to-face to share their expertise. And when those two things come together, the whole chemistry thing starts to happen.”

Nolon says she knows that at least three jobs came out of the first Savvi Speed Dating event held in February, and hopes to learn about more signed contracts as homeowners and remodelers sift through the leads they received during the March event.