(Photo courtesy of Trouble Free Skylights)

One of the big guns in consumer software is targeting small and medium-sized construction firms for what it hopes will be its first lucrative vertical market.

Intuit Inc., maker of QuickBooks, realized more than 350,000 contractors use its small business accounting software, many in ways far beyond the scope for which it was intended. So Intuit queried more than 50 contracting firms about building an add-on to QuickBooks for contractors with revenue of up to $50 million. But this spring, Dan Smith, founder of Santa Rosa, Calif.-based OMware Inc., convinced Intuit to buy his company and product line that includes Master Builder accounting and business management software for contractors, instead. Smith now is vice president of construction business solutions for Intuit.
The question now is whether those targeted contractors will move to Master Builder or stay with QuickBooks. Master Builder, with its accounting, cost management, estimating and scheduling modules, costs $3,500 plus. QuickBooks Pro costs $280 for a single user.

One industry consultant, Karen Mitchell, founder of Online Accounting, Redwood City, Calif., doesn't think many will change. "Ninety percent of people are on QuickBooks for life," she says. "They're not ever going to outgrow it." The lack of data flow from QuickBooks to Master Builder is a barrier, she says.

Derrick Northcross, owner of Trouble Free Skylights, a Los Angeles-based specialty contractor, says he is a QuickBooks lifer. "It costs me $5,000 to $10,000 to learn a [software] program," he says. He finds QuickBooks easy to use and says it meets his needs, although he spent 40 hours last year redoing his chart of accounts so he can do better job-costing. "That's why QuickBooks took off, because it was at our level," he says.

What Northcross is more excited about is taking QuickBooks into the field via his Palm Pilot with Captra software from Symbol Technologies, Holtsville, N.Y. Captra brings QuickBooks functionality to PDAs and allows them to synchronize back in the office. "To me, taking it mobile is the revolution," he says.

Smith hopes that an increased level of customer service with Master Builder will help people decide to upgrade. Prior to the acquisition, OMware took a couple of hours to get back to people with questions about Master Builder. "Today the average wait time is 17 seconds," Smith says.