German Craftsmen Bid for Work Online | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 17.12.2003
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German Craftsmen Bid for Work Online

A German Internet trading portal has turned the eBay auction concept on its head. UnderBay connects potential customers with with service providers who bid for the work by offering the lowest tenders.


UnderBay offers a new platform for finding German craftsmen.

Imagine the scenario: as winter sets in, the central heating system decides that this is the time for it to depart from the world of functioning utilities, leaving a rapidly descending temperature to bite at your fingers as you call around for help.

Each phone call to a potential savior is greeted by the sound of air being drawn over the teeth at the other end of the line followed by the phrase, “That’s going to cost you.” As the search for the best deal continues, frostbite becomes a distinct possibility. What you need is “UnderBay.”

The Dortmund based UnderBay trading platform could be described as the antithesis of the hugely popular online auction site eBay. While its American cousin sells anything and everything to the highest bidder, UnderBay, offers services at the lowest prices.

"EBay sells articles, UnderBay sells orders," Thomas Grochowalski, the brains behind the German website, told the DDP news agency.

UnderBay is a platform for potential -- and desperate -- customers searching for that elusive bargain service provider at the click of a mouse. The customer-to-be just has to enter in the order, or plea for help, and a gamut of eager craftsmen will begin to throw lifelines at them in the form of tenders for the job. And, as is the nature of the topsy-turvy world of UnderBay, the winner will often be the service provider offering the lowest fee for the work.

The sky's the limit

"You can build a whole airport from UnderBay," Martin Michalak, the sites programmer and administrator, told DDP. "Or order a pig on a spit for the New Year's Eve party." It seems that any service is available on the site, from construction work and electronic maintenance to automobile repair and translations.

Zimmermann Demonstration

Whatever is offered, the format remains the same: the customer puts the order on the net. The registered craftsmen offer their tenders. The cheapest gets the job.

Price ranges, of course, change depending on the size of the job required. To repair a broken photocopier will cost as little as €35 while a major demolition job in the Ruhr Valley area around Dortmund will go online for around €40,000. The site itself keeps going by taking a percentage of the agreed fee.

For those with reservations about potentially dodgy workers making already problematic domestic situations worse, UnderBay insists that there is no section heading for “Cowboys” on its site. Just as eBay offers colored stars and symbols to gauge the reliability and service of those buying and selling, UnderBay also makes sure that all those offering services are registered and approved.

Quality assured

Those companies obtaining the “G” seal have all had the quality of their service graded and their work permits approved. And again, as on eBay, those satisfied or dissatisfied with the service can pass judgment so it’s in the interests of all those registered companies to provide their best work or face losing out to the more scrupulous members.

However, the platform is not only a potential God-send for the customer, but also for small businesses wanting to find jobs in competitive industries. UnderBay’s unique service has been praised by Dortmund’s chamber of trade which is eager to support the project. "For small companies, it is a big chance," said Dietmar Barfuss, the acting chairman of the chamber.

And orders are booming. While most of the deals completed have taken place in the North Rhine-Westphalia region where Dortmund is situated, there are plans for the platform to spread with potential customers already showing interest in Munich and Switzerland. Grochowalski and his team of UnderBay-ers are hoping that the trade in orders by mouse click will soon go Germany-wide.

And with the German service industry in such a dire situation, UnderBay knows that the customer is in the driving seat.

"With the number of unemployed craftsmen around at the moment, we know that many accept orders which do not cover their full costs,” said Grochowalski. “But many are just happy to be working again and earning some money.”

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