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eValet set to jump into personal services pool

If good help is hard to find, e-Valet.net and other online personal service firms stand to make a lot of money.

If good help is hard to find, e-Valet.net and other online personal service firms stand to make a lot of money.

Promising to find seasoned professionals to perform a range of chores for customers, e-Valet is launching operations in five cities on Monday, including New York, Chicago and San Francisco. From crucial services such as car maintenance, to mundane tasks such as walking dogs or cleaning the house, e-Valet said it intends to link customers to local service providers.

"We want to be a matchmaker between the companies and consumers," said e-Valet's chief executive Heather Petersen.

San Francisco-based e-Valet follows hard on the heels of Seattle-based firms Mylackey.com and ServiceStop.com, which also dispatch representatives to fulfill chores. These firms, as well as online grocer Webvan and Net convenience store Kozmo.com, which deliver goods to customers' homes, are hoping to stand out by offering unique convenience.

Analysts have said that while some service providers have carved out niche markets in certain areas, many will struggle to grow. Unlike online merchants that can deliver products via the postal service, service providers must establish a physical presence in each new market, analysts say.

The companies say that the margins for providing services are higher than selling products over the Net.

But, depending on the type of business, building out for service providers could mean big bucks. For instance, Webvan ordered a dozen automated warehouses last year at a cost of $1 billion as part of the online supermarket's expansion plans.

Kozmo, which filed for a $150 million public offering in March, said in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had accumulated a $27 million deficit.

Investors have turned against business-to-consumer and business-to-business firms. Many firms saw their stocks plummet since the holidays and financing has dried up. Mylackey.com announced earlier this month it had received less than $6.5 million in its latest round of financing, far less than most e-tailers attracted only a year ago.

Consumers have shown they want convenience but the question remains whether they will pay to get it.