A Marine, paramedic, and neonatal nurse before he became a remodeler full-time, Rob Mathews chalks up much of his company's success to his previous careers' exacting standards. “Systems are huge” at Curb Appeal Renovations, he says. “In the medical field, we called them algorithms,” and in medicine and the military, “there's often one way to do things. If you deviate left or right, someone is going to die.”

Mathews acknowledges that the stakes aren't as high in remodeling, yet he still obsesses with “the smallest details.” For instance, he and co-owner Robin Burrill, who is also his wife, created Premier Custom Cabinetry in response to problems with the quality and delivery times of subcontracted cabinetry. Designed using 3-D software, cabinets are customized to the inch and handmade using only solid wood and quality hardware.

“We educate our clients,” Mathews says. “We tell them right off the bat, ‘If you want something done inexpensively, using shortcuts, we're not the ones.'” A deliberate effort to increase job size has transformed Curb Appeal Renovations' revenue stream, from 265 smaller jobs in 2002 to 24 much bigger projects in 2006. This is helped by highly systematized marketing, including an 8,000-name database, drawn in part from public records, that fosters targeted marketing and careful screening using factors such as home values and location.