Web opportunist cuts out middlemen

How can you avoid the expense of third-party brokers? Throw up a website and pretend to be one yourself.

By Paul Sloan, Business 2.0 Magazine, editor-at-large

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- David Carter has a knack for discovering more offbeat approaches to making money. When I wrote about him for this column last year ("The Startup Facade," October 2006), he had just stumbled into the decidedly pre-Internet business of surveying buildings for asbestos. How? He had set up a simple website and within weeks amassed so many clients wanting surveys that he took the next step: he enrolled in a two-day course in surveying and started taking orders. This past year, Carter, 48, earned $250,000 as an eight-hour-per-week surveyor.

Now he's at it again - using the Web to create another false front that pads his bank account. His strategy now, though, revolves around saving money. The gist: squeeze out the middlemen in home remodeling by using the Web to masquerade as one.

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The angle: use a false storefront on the Web to save real money.

It all began when Carter started renovating his 1930s four-bedroom house on the outskirts of Birmingham, England. He wanted to install floor-to-ceiling glass doors in the back of the house, and after some research he settled on handmade doors built by a German company (which I agreed not to name). When he called the firm to get in touch with a local supplier, Carter was told there were none in the area and to choose a window installer who could place the order on his behalf.

That was the lightbulb moment. "It was time to bring out the smoke and mirrors," Carter says with a chuckle. He took a domain name he'd already bought (new-windows.co.uk), tossed up a quick-and-dirty website, and - poof - instantly became a "unique window brokerage service."

He listed a phone number manned by a vendor that, for $1.50 a pop, answers calls for "New Windows UK" and sends him a text message to call back. Carter fired off a note to the German manufacturer, requesting the wholesale price for the doors he wanted. After two attempts, a quote came back with a 45 percent discount. His total savings: $7,250. "The house is sucking up all my money at the moment," he says. "Wherever I can save, that's what I'll do." The doors are en route.

Isn't it all a bit sleazy? Carter doesn't think so. "Who am I hurting?" he asks. He has a point: why should a window broker earn $7,250 for doing nothing but placing an order? The manufacturer makes the same money regardless. Moreover, Carter's website says he will charge a flat fee of $500 to measure and choose windows. So far, no one has taken him up on it - but "if someone asks, will you help me with my windows for 250 quid, I'd be a fool to say no," he says. "I've got a tape measure."

Of course, applying Carter's methods to other services may not always work. Manufacturers often insist on some form of verification. So what's next? "I need a new roof," he says. "Whether I can pull that off, I don't know." Just in case, he's already got the domain: uk-roofing.com. Top of page

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.