Who says nice folks finish last? Iris Harrell, based in Menlo Park, Calif., would say that's nonsense: Being thoughtful indirectly accounted for 72% of her $3.5-million remodeling company's revenues last year, most of which came from previous customers and referrals. Harrell spends 70% of her marketing on low-cost goodwill efforts that encourage repeat business and generate referrals. For example, two-thirds of the way into kitchen-remodeling projects, Harrell sends customers a handwritten note apologizing for the inconvenience, along with a gift certificate for dinner at a local restaurant. She budgets approximately $1,500 per year for these gift certificates.

Harrell is also smart to remember the potential inconvenience to neighbors. "It's really about creating a positive presence in the community," she says. "Pardon our dust" letters are sent to every resident living near one of her construction sites. The letter asks neighbors to call if noise, trash, or parking problems persist during construction.

Recently, three homeowners who lived on the same street did call. Instead of complaining, they asked Harrell to bid on their own remodeling projects. All three had been referred to her by their neighbors--four past customers of Harrell's.

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing