Not long after starting his company, David Pekel (center, in jacket, with wife Ramona beside him) entered one of its historic renovation projects in a regional design competition. “I had a great desire to market” but little money to spend, says the former commercial construction executive. The entry won a gold award, triggering a rush of free public relations “that catapulted us to a whole new level of recognition in the public eye,” he says.

Positive PR has been a mainstay ever since. Besides being a perennial winner in design competitions, with an emphasis on historic homes, the company established its expertise early on when Pekel became marketing chair for his local chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. He thus became the go-to guy for media inquiries “on everything home improvement,” he says.

Today Pekel's company has a $50,000 marketing budget, but its impact is bigger. That's because Pekel is a one-man marketing machine. He sells all jobs, writes all copy, tracks all leads, and places all ads — avoiding agency commissions — in media from church bulletins to magazines to radio. He even does his own radio voice overs.

Pekel no longer swings a hammer, however. Thanks to increasingly large projects and a rising profile, he leaves production to a skilled crew whose ranks include former company owners.

- Leah Thayer