Is imitation flattery or theft? If you’re manufacturing knockoffs of watches or tools, that’s theft. But what if you’re imitating best practices from successful remodeling companies? That sounds like flattery.

In fact, it sounds like human nature. Imitation is the main way we learn, beginning with our first steps and first words as children, and extending to all sorts of social — and antisocial — behavior as teenagers, then to morality, fashion, politics, and more as adults. Sometimes, it’s “monkey see, monkey do” — we just go through the motions, mimicking something because it works but without understanding why it works. In other cases, we imitate a behavior because somebody has found a better way to do something.

Either way, imitating successful practices is good business, which is what we had in mind when we put the imperative “Steal This Idea.” No need to filch (snatch quickly and surreptitiously) or smuggle (steal in a concealed way). We’ve presented dozens of concrete ideas that we fully expect you to pilfer (steal repeatedly in small amounts) and purloin (carry off for your own use).

In the haste to pinch the first good idea you see, don’t miss the bigger picture. Here are a few of the trends that I see emerging from all the creative new ways of working that have taken hold among remodelers.

  • Small is the new big. Jobs are smaller (thank you Captain Obvious), so you need more of them — and I mean lots more. If revenue was off 20% in each of the last three years, you’re down more than 50% from pre-2007 levels. Some companies have decided to stay there, but if you’re plotting your way back, you may take longer than you think.
  • Past is present (and future). Unlike many remodeling companies, most of your past customers are still out there. If they haven’t heard from you in a while, they may think you didn’t make it. Reconnecting with past clients is more critical than ever.
  • Public is personal. Traditional marketing still works for brand awareness, but what wins jobs these days are social networks and personal contacts. Getting everyone in the company into the act at marketing events is proving to be an effective approach.
  • From one, many. With fewer employees in the office and the field, the boundaries between job descriptions have softened. Now most owners and their employees are trained to do more than one job. It’s efficient and someone’s always got your back.
  • Open to close. Hardship often teaches us that we are stronger working together than working alone. Companies that have become more transparent to clients, and that share more information with employees and trade partners are reaping the benefits of better leads and more sales.
Mark Robert Halper Photography

It’s almost like stealing.

—Sal Alfano, editorial director, REMODELING.