When Mark Scott of Mark IV builders, Bethesda, Md., wanted to improve his nearly $5 million design/build remodeling business, he decided to take a road trip. “Rather than reinvent the wheel,” he says, “I set out in search of the perfect company to model.” A year ago this month, Scott spent two weeks visiting six companies in three cities — Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco — those doing $8 million to $10 million in volume and almost exclusively involved in design/build remodeling and additions.

The “Remodeling Owner's Tour,” as Scott calls it, was “everything I expected and nothing like what I had expected.” He brought with him “charts and graphs of lead generation, subcontract forms, pounds of marketing materials, and project photos galore.” Sharing his company information helped other owners open up.

He gathered many ideas. One L.A. remodeler shared a wall-sized graph of every client he has ever had and their interconnections; it starts off with just three clients. “It showed the value of referrals and how important they are,” Scott says. He saw highly systematized companies and others that had charismatic owners and less developed systems yet were still successful.

Another L.A. company, which he eventually decided to use as his model, he says, “blew me away with how positive a corporate culture can be.” He spent two days there. “They were incredibly generous with their time and knowledge.”

Scott was impressed with the collegial atmosphere, how effectively and efficiently the company ran 40 employees, and its culture of “interdependence, the way they all depend on each other to improve the system. People were being accountable to each other and not to their bosses.”

Scott recommends taking a trip like this, but he says you have to go at the right stage of your life and your business. “I wouldn't have gotten anywhere near as much out of it if I'd gone any earlier,” he says. Since his return he has been working on employee interdependence, and, he says, “after an impressive number of years avoiding building a formal business plan,” he has hired a consultant to run a business development session with his entire company.