The phones ring off the hook for about two weeks every fall at Phase II, says Rick Hjelm, president of the Lakewood, Wash., design/build company. What instigates all that ringing — which last year brought $1.6 million in signed contracts — is a weekend-long Tour of Remodeled Homes into which the company sinks its entire annual marketing budget.

“I'd rather spend all my marketing money on one big event than several little ones,” Hjelm says. That investment can total $15,000, but it makes a positive, lasting impression on the 800 or so people who take the tour each year. Here's how:

From file "050_RMs" entitled "Sales+Market3.qxd" page 01
From file "050_RMs" entitled "Sales+Market3.qxd" page 01
Phase II whetted interest in its tour projects through an ad featuring one of its remodeled kitchens.

  • Tour selectively. Hjelm's tour (sponsored by the NAHB's Remodelors Council) is somewhat self-selecting, as projects tend to be high-end and ticket proceeds go to charity. Phase II also shows only top-notch projects — no owner-supplied paint jobs, for instance.
  • Show multiples. Hjelm puts at least two homes on the tour. A second beautifully executed project “says ‘wow' and solidifies their sense that we do really nice work,” he says.
  • Plan ahead. Hjelm knows when a project might be tour-worthy and gets clients to agree in writing to participate. To sweeten the deal, “we tell them what we're going to do for them.” To that end …
  • Get sponsors. In exchange for publicity during the tour, Hjelm gets discounts from appliance manufacturers and trade contractors. Clients can save thousands of dollars, he says.
  • Establish the brand. Hjelm advertises his featured projects in the tour magazine. This year's four-page ad (one page is shown) used minimal text and good-looking actors to unveil the year's theme: “A Finishing Touch.”
  • Engage the senses. “We hit all five,” Hjelm says, including smell and taste. Dacor “donated” a chef who filled the home with delicious aromas, such as bacon, fresh cookies, and, for the returning homeowners, a roast.
  • Interact. At the door, attendees were given a fancy mint (as in “on the pillow” — the ultimate finishing touch) and asked to sign in. Throughout the home, Phase II staff (in new company shirts) and subs and suppliers pointed out features and distributed follow-up forms to attendees who seemed serious.
  • After the tour, Hjelm typically gets more strong leads than he can pursue. About 10% of attendees are actively planning a remodel, he says, with more calling him months or years later. —What's your home tour strategy? Please send a short summary to