Sometimes you already have the tools on hand to set yourself apart: It wasn't until a client nominated Schloegel Design Remodel for an ethics award that Jake Schloegel seriously looked at formalizing the practices that his then-25-year-old company had made routine. “We declined the nomination because we didn't have an ethics program in place,” Schloegel says.

The award, given by the Society of Financial Service Professionals' Kansas City chapter, required, among other things, “clear communication of the company's ethical standards” and “a corporate code of ethics, credo, code of conduct, mission statement or philosophy that demonstrates the company's requirement for honesty, integrity and compliance with the law in all business dealings.” Schloegel and office manager Connie Young put together a written code of ethics and an ethics board made up of five people, three in the company and two from the outside, who meet twice a year. “All five are knowledgeable in business ethics and their purpose is to review our code of ethics and make sure it's current,” Schloegel says.

Based on the National Association of the Remodeling Industry's code of ethics as well as Rotary International's four-way filtering device to determine right from wrong, Schloegel Design Remodel's code “guides us as decisions come up in dealing with subs, vendors, clients, and fellow workers.”

Every new employee gets an ethics orientation, and the code is posted in the office. “At every all-company meeting,” says Schloegel, “we talk about ethics.” And employees walk the talk. “We had an insurance audit in our favor and we pursued it until it was corrected,” Schloegel says. “If a sub underbills us, the simple, right thing to do is to contact them.”

The year after the declined nomination, the client nominated them again. The company won the 2004 SFSP Kansas City Business Ethics award. In 2005 it won the national award for the small-business division.

“People hire us knowing about our ethics image. It's helped put us in the spotlight,” Schloegel says. But it makes him a bit nervous and he gets a little ribbing on the golf course as “Mr. Ethics.” “We're only human,” he says.