Drew Nietzer (right), a CPA, bought his first home improvement business in North Carolina in the late '80s. In 1993, the company switched its focus exclusively to gutter protection. Today, LGH consists of operations in five cities -- Atlanta, Charlotte, Detroit, Philadelphia, and St. Louis -- installing LeafGuard systems at an average of $3,000 per job. The target demographic is broad: homeowners with houses valued at $200,000 and above. The company enters a market with a major advertising blitz.

Nietzer says the key to running this far-flung empire successfully is finding "the unique individual" to manage the location. "We struggled for a while until we found the right people," he says. What the company looks for is "a jack of all trades, not a desk jockey. They have to be familiar with installation and the sales process."

Last year LGH Corp. began offering an employee stock ownership program, based on payroll. Nietzer says the fruit of that idea is that instead of just cashing a paycheck, employees are "starting to act, think, and work like owners."