When Rick Bartelt and Rick Filo, owners of Bartelt/Filo Design Build Remodel in Milwaukee, were named Big 50 in 1998, the company had fewer than 15 employees and was generating about $2.5 million annually. Not bad for two ex-subcontractors who'd only been in business together for five years. But the big growth was yet to come.

Last year, sales exceeded $6 million. Bartelt points to many factors behind the company's expansion, but marketing -- they spent $260,000 in 2001 -- is a major one.

In 1998, Bartelt/Filo engaged the services of a marketing firm that had previously worked for a home builder. "They knew a lot of programs that could work for us, like co-op advertising," Bartelt says.

To get the company name out there, Bartelt and Filo put together a plan inviting vendors to contribute $8,000 to a co-op fund that would pay for extensive television and radio advertising in the Milwaukee area, as well as ads in a lifestyle magazine targeted to those with incomes in excess of $100,000. "That's our niche, and our clientele," Bartelt says. In its first year, six vendors participated. "This year, we had 12 guys standing at our door." The goal is 15. Bartelt/Filo pays about two-thirds of the cost of the advertising, with vendor monies making up the remainder.

Upscale clients became the company's niche in the late '90s, after Bartelt/Filo hired its first salesperson. "That's when things started moving," Bartelt says. The salesperson, who'd worked for one of their competitors, brought a level of professionalism that quickly translated to bigger projects. Six-figure jobs became the rule rather than the exception. "We were jeans, nice boots, a shirt with the company logo," Bartelt explains. "He was suit and tie and Cadillac."

Two years ago, dissatisfied with its electrical subcontractors, Bartelt/Filo created an electrical division, which now employs nine. Last year, "frustrated with the slipshod ethics of roofers," the company launched a roofing/gutters division and, as of this January, a custom home division, with three homes in progress and two more contracted for.

Today 44 people work for Bartelt/Filo. "We're constantly looking for new ways to do things," says Tama Sundstrom, designer/sales manager. "Everyone around here learns from everyone's expertise, and we never let anything rest. That's why it's a growing company."