At the heart of every great remodeling company is a great workforce: productive, resourceful, accountable, and loyal. From what I'm hearing, it's the loyalty part that can be the hardest to nail down.

Why do employees leave? It's usually not the money: even companies with market-rate compensation packages — handsome salaries, benefits, titles — struggle to hold onto top-quality employees. Many workers leave because they don't feel valued for their contributions, or they don't feel a sense of belonging.

Building on last month's column, here are some more ways remodeling companies are appreciating and recognizing employees.

At Derrick Design and Remodeling, Huntsville, Ala., meetings used to be demoralizing. “It always seemed that all we heard about was what we did wrong,” says Sharon Bufkin, design development consultant. “Employees never heard, ‘Hey, great job!' on the things they did right,” even when they went the extra mile to do something.

Attitudes changed when the company produced “wooden nickels” bearing its logo. “We pass one on to fellow employees for a job well done or when they go out of their way to make things better on a job,” Bufkin says. Clients can hand out the nickels as well. The company tracks each employee's nickels, and, using an online awards program (, lets them redeem their accrued points toward the “purchase” of items of their choice. “We have had a good time with the new system,” Bufkin says. “It helps all of us to look toward the positive.”

Marrokal Construction Co., Lakeside, Calif., recognizes employees in a number of ways. For instance:

  • Client testimonial letters are read at weekly staff meetings. The superintendent of that project gets a $100 gift certificate for a hobby or favorite place. The letter is also sent to all trade contractors who worked on the job.
  • All employees vote for an “employee of the quarter” and “trade contractor of the quarter.” Winners are recognized before the company (and in the newsletter) with a commemorative award and a $250 gift selected just for them.
  • Each employee (26 in all!) receives an annual vacation for two valued at about $2,000. In recent years, trips to Hawaii and Mexico were options. “Sometimes we have to make them go,” says Lori Bryan, business manager. Employees always return rested and grateful.
  • Each department gets its own celebration when the company attains its annual goals. This year the production team chose a weekend in Vegas, the design team a weekend in Cabo San Lucas, and the admin team a night of theater and dining.
  • Employees, trade contractors, and families attend a rodeo. Marrokal purchased more than 500 tickets and hosted a barbecue this year. Also, every employee and a guest is treated to a first-class day at the horse races, with sky-box seating, a great lunch, and $100 per person for betting.
  • At Curb Appeal Renovations in Keller, Texas, Rob Matthews and Robin Burrill search for unique opportunities for spur-of-the-moment shows of appreciation. They've helped employees make vehicle repairs and settle into newly purchased homes. One employee was given a refrigerator, and another — a carpenter who had just relocated from Boston — received a set of tools. “He was so thrilled,” CEO Burrill says.

    “The only way we know how or when to do these things is because we talk to our employees,” Burrill adds. “I don't know if it's necessarily the gift that means the most, or if it's just the fact that we're paying attention to what is going on in their lives and helping them out when they need it the most.”

    How are you doing in attracting and retaining employees? A broader strategy might be to think of your company as a membership organization. Not just a job, where employees show up, work, and get paid, but as a club or a group where they have fun, are recognized for their contributions, and enjoy rewards that are meaningful to them. — Linda Case, CRA, is founder of Remodelers Advantage in Laurel, Md., a company providing business solutions through a network of experts and peers. 301.490.5620;;