Fred Fox Studios

After 42 years in the northwest Chicago suburb of Niles, Ill., LaPelusa Home Improvement (Big50 1992) could lay claim to any chunk of the sprawling Chicagoland market. But the company's target audience is within a two-mile radius of its office and showroom. “Here's my philosophy,” says Tony LaPelusa, who established the company in 1964 and runs it today with sons Tony Jr. and Brian. “We only have so much money to spend on advertising” (his marketing budget is 1.5% of revenue). “If you concentrate all your efforts in a small area, you're much more effective.” So, while he runs small ads in the Yellow Pages and has a presence at, he sinks most of his marketing dollars into extremely localized opportunities.

For instance, LaPelusa's ads run in the weekly bulletins of about eight churches, including his own, where they always appear on the back page. Some churches charge as little as $36 per month for weekly ads, he says.

Participating in local parades is also successful, LaPelusa says. “Take your best trucks, make sure they're sparkling clean, and you won't believe the attention you get.” His employees toss candy from the trucks, and “as they go down the street, people say, ‘LaPelusa! They did our house!'”

LaPelusa Home Improvement markets by mail on a highly targeted, first-class basis. At least twice a year, LaPelusa says, the company's 1,400 past customers (many of them repeats) receive “as much information as we can get into an envelope for 39 cents.” Every bounce-back triggers a letter to the new homeowners, “just to let them know we're the contractor who did such and such work on their house.” The company also does jobsite mailings within a two-block radius.

LaPelusa attributes his company's longevity to his love of the business. “I love meeting people, love producing the job … and you know you have to do it right.” To that end, in 2003 his company won the Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics from the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois. “This is my proudest award,” says LaPelusa, who has won quite a few.