We're running a series based on Mary Meeker's Internet Trends report mid-year, in which she listed 50+ industries that are being "reimagined" by social and mobile technologies. One of her slides was about the home improvement information industry, which up till recently revolved around broadcast media like magazines and TV. Meeker pointed to a new generation of home improvement services, like Houzz and One Kings Lane, that is making this industry much more two-way... and useful!
Houzz describes itself as "the leading online platform for home remodeling and design." The company told us it has five million unique users per month and has had over two million downloads of its iPad and iPhone apps.
The previous generation of home improvement information services is typified by Better Homes and Gardens, a magazine boasting the fourth highest circulation in the United States. Better Homes and Gardens is owned by The Meredith Corporation and has been around since 1922. It has a website at bhg.com which, at first glance, appears similar to Houzz. But let's look more closely...
Houzz (House + Buzz, Geddit?)
As well as offering a Pinterest-like catalog of colorful home designs for users to browse, Houzz has hundreds of articles and community discussions. However, the real killer feature of Houzz is that it connects homeowners with designers and home improvement professionals.
Houzz helps you organize a home improvement project, with a concept it calls "Ideabook." I'm currently looking to buy a dining table, so I created a new Ideabook for that. I then entered the search term "dining table" into Houzz. The homepage has photos as its default search type and that brought up 7,124 "dining table" home design photos. I added a few to my new Ideabook.
The thing is, I'm no interior design expert. I need a little help here. Happily, at the bottom of the photo results page for "dining table", there was a link to an article entitled Discover Your Dining Table Style. The article gave some handy tips, encouraging me to add styles I liked into my dining table Ideabook.
Houzz follows the Pinterest model even further, by offering an "Add to Ideabook" bookmarklet - so you can save images from external websites into your Ideabooks (privately, if you don't want the whole world to see).
There's a good discussion area in Houzz, where you can ask a question to the community or browse existing questions. You can also follow people on Houzz, whether it's professionals or other homeowners. Overall, the site has very strong community features.
Finally, it's worth noting that Houzz has well-designed iPad and iPhone apps.
The one area which Houzz could improve on is e-commerce. Houzz isn't a full e-commerce operation, it simply links to external sites. To hire a professional Interior Designer or purchase a dining table, I'd need to go to the provider's external website or call them up. It would make a lot of sense if I could order a new dining room table - or even a second-hand one - from within Houzz. Or order the services of an Interior Designer who has good ratings.
How Does Better Homes and Gardens Compare?
I tested the BHG website with the same search for a dining table. It turned up 33 articles, 2 videos and 115 slideshows (although a quick browse through the slideshows revealed that many were about more than just dining tables).
BHG does have some good articles on dining tables, such as one gradly titled Ultimate Guide to Dining Room Tables. But overall, the BHG user experience is inferior to Houzz. There is no way for me to organize projects, a la Houzz's Ideabooks, and there isn't much community on BHG. The site also has tech glitches - I had trouble with the signup process and the Pinterest link led me to its Twitter page.
Mary Meeker described the reimagined home improvement website as a "Communication Platform for Designers & Consumers [featuring] Share / Discover & Click-And-Buy." Houzz has excellent discovery and sharing features, as well as a large and active community. It has a massive database of products - over 7,000 photos of dining room tables, for example. The one thing it doesn't have, as noted above, is click-and-buy. But (as with Pinterest) this is surely the next step for Houzz.
As for BHG, right now they remain the 4th most popular magazine in the US according to circulation. But with its current website, which is limited and not very functional compared to Houzz, it's hard to see how it can continue to remain the leader in the home improvement information market. Especially with the financial backing Houzz has - at the end of last year, Houzz received $11.6 million in a Series B round led by Sequoia Capital.
I'm curious to check back in 5 years time and see how the two products compare then. It seems to me that Houzz has a massive opportunity to bring a reimagined home improvement service to a mainstream user base.