Plumbline Builders has worked its way into the hearts and minds of Minneapolis-area neighborhoods, with 70% of work coming from past clients and referrals. "One job sign has been in one neighborhood for four years," Jim Sale (right) says. "We've done four jobs there for one client. The joke is, that's the Vincent Avenue job sign -- it's always there."

One of Plumbline's marketing techniques is sending personal letters to homeowners in neighborhoods where the company's doing work. "We pepper those neighborhoods," Sale says. The company offers $50 restaurant gift certificates to homeowners who refer business.

Roger Sirany (left) handles finance and sales, with Sale in production. Sale's sister, Leslie, sells, designs, and markets the company. Plumbline is working with a Chicago consultant to redefine duties and processes. The consultancy is dissecting the business to the "nth detail," says Sale.

Of course Plumbline already has some excellent systems: The company's proposal package provides 20 pages of detail; Sale and Mirany have learned from customers to start punch lists sooner; and they're examining ways to drive retention.