Approaching the Walt Whitman Bridge on the way to South Jersey, there's an ad for a website that seems so Philly.
Next to a giant unhappy face, these words: NastyClient.com.
Leave it to an incensed landscaper to create a digital place for contractors to dish about the customers who chiseled them.
One morning before sunrise in March, Matt Stachel of Feasterville strapped his cloth sign to an empty spot on a fence that faced outbound traffic, and since then, his website has become a gathering place for the aggrieved.
It's a Bizarro World AngiesList where it's the customer who is never right.
There's the Freebie, the client who keeps asking for little extras on the house.
Or the Negotiator, who agrees to the price, then starts shaving dollars after the contractor arrives with the contract.
On NastyClient.com, you can find the Hoverer, who watches and talks while you're trying to work, as though she doesn't trust you alone. Then there's the Tirekicker, who gets seven or 10 estimates, then never calls back to say he's no longer interested.
I was delighted to find I'm not in the database.
Actually, it was useful to see what strikes contractors as going too far. Because they do what they do every day, and we don't, I figured the advantage was theirs.
For $15.99 a year, members can browse clients by name. The contractors can stay anonymous.
As you'd expect, Stachel keeps his lawyer on speed dial.
The way the website works, you need to know the name of the person or business whose nastiness you want to discover. Periodically, 'top offenders' are selected for display. One such client, from Medford, wanted some trees moved after they'd been planted. That voided the warranty for the work. And when some of the trees died, the property owner threatened to take the landscaper to court and report him to the Better Business Bureau and Ripoffreport.com.
The landscaper replaced the trees, but took his revenge online, writing, "Now I have a place to complain about you!"
To cushion himself from liability, Stachel rewrites the complaints, taking out opinions, sticking to basic facts. He encourages contractors to share their reports with clients. And if a dispute is settled, he'll amend the reports. And take them off the site - eventually. He explains:
"If we took it off immediately, a client might just do the same thing to the next contractor."
We met last week at a Panera Bread in Willow Grove, a few blocks from where he grew up. He's 33, and as ripped as you'd expect of a guy who's done heavy lifting since he was 12. By high school graduation, he ran a small crew of grass cutters. Instead of going to college, he bought a second truck, a new Dodge Ram, and went to work as a landscaper.
The day we talked, he'd built a wall. Typically, he gets home at 6 in the evening then goes online for six hours, tending the website, which he's trying to build into a national destination.
To that end, he'll appear from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday in Center City at a shared office space at 1701 Walnut St. called Benjamin's Desk, where he hopes to network and will offer free annual memberships to those who drop by. He says he's approaching 5,000 users, most of them paid.
He says he started the site after growing frustrated seeing contractors hammered continually in the media. There are bad clients just as there are bad contractors, but one doesn't hear about them as much, he said.
"I didn't reinvent the wheel. I just gave it a bigger stage and a louder microphone."
I sensed his motivation when he read me his reply to a restaurant owner who'd sent him fan mail. "Nothing," Stachel wrote, "means more to me than changing the way people treat us."