Dennis Allen

Allen Associates

Santa Barbara, Calif.

Big50 2001

Victoria Garden Mews is a green, multi-unit residential infill project we’re developing with HartmanBaldwin Design/Build (Devon Hartman and Bill Baldwin, Big50 1993). The project will consist of one single-family home that replicates the original 1887 Victorian-style home at the front of the property (we deconstructed the original home) and three condominiums behind it. All will exceed the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum for Homes designation.

It’s progressing at a mixed pace. The replacement home for the 1887 Victorian is about halfway built, with a projected completion date of the end of June 2009. A small anecdote: At the end of framing, we had three trash bins (not Dumpsters) of construction waste. Absolutely amazing. Part of the reason was that we used the iLevel ( job pack framing system, a computerized pre-cut framing package that essentially eliminated framing waste. Our goal was 10% or less. We were under 2%.

The three-story rear building with a full basement is still waiting for its permit, which I am hoping we will have soon. Delays in getting the permit have been frustrating. We thought we had the permit in September, when we were told as part of the final plan check revisions that SIPs (structurally insulated panels) are no longer being allowed in California. We had all of the engineering completed so had to go back to the drawing board. The issue is the three seismic zones in the state. We have already done seven or eight projects with SIPs in our area and love the system.

One interesting aspect of the project is that we are working with two marketing consultants who are soliciting donated or heavily discounted products for the project in exchange for allowing manufacturers to cross-promote this cutting-edge project in their marketing. The marketers’ compensation will be one-third of the value of the donations. We anticipate that the value of donations with be in the $200,000 to $500,000 range, with a reasonable probability that it will be around $400,000.

Sharon Rainey

Home Equity Builders

Great Falls, Va.

Big50 2004

I started in 2000 as a way for neighbors to share information about their community and refer outstanding local businesses to one another. I wanted it to be positive, to highlight the best of the best.

The network began in Great Falls and has since been expanded to individual communities throughout Fairfax County, Va., Loudoun County, Va., and Montgomery Country, Md. I started it on a volunteer basis, turned it into a business in 2003, and now operate it as a full-time job for one other person and me. My husband, Jeff, still runs our remodeling company.

We have grown from about 250 individual members to more than 5,000 total, and we have 9,000 referrals for various service providers, including many types of home improvement companies. Members pay a $65 annual fee, but a free four-month membership lets people really get the flavor of what we do and how we do it. Our renewal rate is 70%; about 10% of our members move out of the area each year.

Companies don’t have to advertise to be referred on our lists. But referrals must come from existing members, and referrals for companies that do not advertise with us expire after a few months unless the member renews the referral. The typical member is a married female homeowner with school-aged children, 50/50 work outside the home, with a college or higher degree. If companies choose to advertise with us, the referrals stay on the lists for a year and get moved to the top of the list. We also offer free four-month memberships to the advertisers’ past and present clients.

The network has really helped bring HEB work over the years. Not just with referrals, either. Each advertiser can e-mail a monthly announcement, and HEB uses this announcement to fill our handyman schedule.

We had an opening earlier this week, offered a 15% discount on labor, and filled the handyman schedule for the next two and a half weeks (for two guys in December, when no one wants you in their house!). So one e-mail fills us with more work, often from new clients! It’s a great way to get the word out about what we do and how we do it.

Each year since 2004, the network has accounted for between 6% and 17% of HEB’s total sales income and between 9% and 26% of HEB’s clients. Our conversion rate, from lead to job, ranges between 44% and 63%.

All referrals are positive, so no need to worry about what is being said about you — unlike Angie’s List and local homeowners’ associations. If we have a company that doesn’t do a good job for the member, we try to help each one out. But if the member is really unhappy and the contractor isn’t willing to try to make it right, they go off the lists for a period ranging from one to five years.

Since I understand the contractors’ side, it is easier to try to make it right for both sides. Sometimes, we have members who are very difficult with contractors. And sometimes, we side with the contractor and leave them on the lists. If a company gets on the list and turns out not to be licensed or insured, we remove them from the list.

Sometimes we remove established companies, too. We had an electrician on the list who has been in business in this area since the 1930s. But they didn’t do a hot tub to code and left exposed wires. And, they had no interest in fixing it. We have removed them from the lists permanently.

Since the economic turn, we have seen a strong increase in ad sales. Businesses are trying new things to get new clients. It’s a win-win situation. Companies get more business; we get happy members, happy advertisers, and more referrals.

Big picture: I think every community should have a! Eventually, we plan to expand nationwide. We just need site directors who love it as much as I do and are willing to give their heart and soul to their community. I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I love going to work every single day.

Erik Anderson

Anderson-Moore Builders 

Winston-Salem, N.C.

Big50 2006

Co-owner Tracy Moore and I own a separate limited liability company called AMB Holdings, which owns the Anderson-Moore office building, three houses, and another commercial building. We manage and maintain the buildings we own, but we don’t buy and flip; these are long-term investments that we both hope will build our retirement accounts. Real estate investment is a good business fit for a remodeling company, and we hope to buy more buildings as opportunities allow.

Brant Patton

Patton General Contracting 

Summerville, S.C.

Big50 1997

In 1992, while building a personal home, I installed solar water heating to save money and the environment. As the years went by, I did a job here and there for others by request.

By 2006, solar installations were booming, and I decided to spin off SolarTek Energy as a standalone company. It now operates in seven states and is one of the largest solar contracting companies in the country. Business will end the year up more than 100% over 2007, with revenue in excess of $10 million. The key component is tremendous lead generation at a reasonable cost. Closing ratios are higher than for my remodeling company, and there is also less attrition due to financing.

It is a very exciting time to be involved in the solar industry. I remember, years ago, speaking with my photovoltaic supplier in California. I let him know I wasn’t making any money doing this. He replied, ‘Neither am I, but one day I think we’re both going to be glad we’re in this.’

That day is here and now!

A version of this article appeared in print on page 40 of the January 2009 issue.