By REMODELING Magazine Staff. Ken Spears, Ken Spears Construction, Shabbona, Ill., Big 50 1999

A full 85% to 90% of our work is referral, so we don't get too many bad prospects. When we do, I tell them we're not quite clicking, or we wouldn't make a good team. I say it in a nice way. I want them to walk away with a good feeling. I also refer them to one or two other contractors in our area, so they're not so disappointed.

Max Isley, Hampton Kitchens of Raleigh, Raleigh, N.C., Big 50 2000

The gut response is, "I'm sorry, I don't think we can do business together." And pack up your stuff and walk. The dilemma is that it doesn't always work that way. You're crossing a client. You're saying, "You're too difficult to work with." So, I couch it in the vein of, "Based on the parameters of your project, and the skills and specialties in which my company excels, I don't think this would be a good fit for either of us."

We've found our specialty, and it's somewhat narrow. So our explanation is reasonable and takes the sting out. I'm still looking for that residual referral.

Bruce Johnson, Lee Kimball Kitchens, Boston, Big 50 1998

We had that situation recently. We didn't say, "We choose not to take your project at this time." We just closed the door on it. But we did it nicely. We told them we appreciated their interest but decided not work with them. It was as simple as that. We did it early in the process. We had an appointment and there was a follow-up appointment scheduled, and in between we let them know.

Craig Durosko, Sun Design Remodeling Specialists, Burke, Va., Big 50 2002

Recently, we were qualifying a client. We read back through six e-mails he'd sent. He had issues with the wording of our preliminary design agreement and wanted to provide his own fixtures and tile. When we put it all together, I could see some red flags. So we sent him an e-mail that read, in part: "Your concern about our business documents and procedures, and your request to handle integral portions of the work and have the freedom to supply certain materials, leads us to believe the 'full service' design/build approach Sun Design takes is not the best 'fit' for you and your project. We feel there are other remodeling firms that would be better suited to your project needs. Consequently, we want to thank you for your interest in Sun Design but at this time decline to proceed further into a formal working relationship."

Ed Noonan, Noonan Construction, Edina, Minn., Big 50 1998

We work in a community of 46,000. It's a small world. I sit on three different boards here. So you want to be careful that all projects are a good fit. You've got to protect your name and your reputation. If I get bad vibes, I will tell them their budget is unrealistic -- that they're trying to cover a lot of ground with too little money. The time frame is also an exit. They usually want to start right away and we're booked three to five months out. At that point we will refer them back to NARI. It would be a mistake to drop the ball and not respond.

Michael Muscardini, Creative Spaces, Oakland, Calif., Big 50 1991

If it comes up as we're negotiating, or before we get hired on or are asked to put numbers together, and it's blatant, we just politely tell the client that the project doesn't work in our schedule. That's one we use a lot when we're busy. Our goal is to work with clients we can imagine going out to dinner with.