Repair.com: How to Tackle “Local” in a Post-Yellow Pages Era

June 20, 2012

11:00 am

The thump of the yellow pages hitting your driveway may eventually become a thing of the past. In April, AT&T sold a majority stake in its yellow pages business for around $1 billion, and the new owner wants to explore digital distribution. According to one equity research firm, the nostalgic yellow directory is being threatened by the likes of Google, Yelp, and Groupon.

Tackling “local” is harder when anyone can now log online and search for the services they want, rather than thumbing through a huge book. But that’s exactly what Repair.com is doing, focused on connecting customers with local appliance repairmen. In early June, it managed to launch in 50 cities, all at once.

Repair.com is led by Chris Spanos, the former general manager of AOL Local (which includes its own yellow pages and city guide). At AOL Local and a subsequent startup, he spent time connecting local consumers with local business information. His startup got an acquisition offer from NEW – the lucky owner of the valuable domain name Repair.com – and Spanos was enticed by the chance to run this new website.

Repair.com lets you search and book appointments with local TV and appliance repairmen, so first it needed to make connections with them. Luckily, from its core business, NEW already had a rolodex of local service providers. Spanos and his team reached out to the top ones, and they were soon getting calls from others wanting to join.

To get in front of local customers, Repair.com is also exploring partnerships with local sites. For example, a DC news site could let you search and schedule repair appointments right from its homepage using a Repair.com widget.

After almost 5 years in the local space, Spanos has learned that local is hard: tons of sites are trying to crack it, and people don’t tend to pay for plain content. (Repair.com offers free tips for fixing appliances on its site now.)

But you can earn money, right at the point where people want to make a transaction with a local business. As the yellow pages has shown, those businesses will readily spend money on advertising, and customers will spend money on the service. “They’re more willing to buy something. They’re in action mode,” says Spanos.

It may not become a yellow-pages behemoth, but easy-to-remember Repair.com has a shot at being a household name.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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