When you're competing in a sea of upscale remodelers for homeowners already numbed by unsolicited mail, you might be tempted to save your money for another marketing medium. Bruce Wentworth opted instead to make a splash — an oversized one.

Recent mailings from Classic Remodeling & Construction (far left).  The Levine Group (two center items), and Wentworth Inc. (far right).
George Brown Recent mailings from Classic Remodeling & Construction (far left). The Levine Group (two center items), and Wentworth Inc. (far right).

Wentworth's self-named design/build company does high-end projects in and around Washington, D.C., specializing in older homes. “Living Design,” the company's tabloid-sized, four-color, eight-page testimony to fine home remodeling, debuted in the mailboxes of some 5,000 of these homes this fall.

Though it's considered a newsletter, “Living Design” looks and reads more like a stylish shelter magazine.

The cover sets the mood: a full-page, professionally shot photo of a Wentworth entry addition. The door is slightly open, beckoning the reader into the warmly lit house and the editorial and graphics within. At once informative, fun, and subtly persuasive, the articles seem to anticipate readers' questions — about the projects Wentworth does, the design/build advantage, the architectural styles he knows best, and the experience of working with his company. The cover photo's crisp geometric lines carry through each page in a playful grid framing colorful photos, sketches, screen shots, and messages.

As marketing pieces go, “Living Design” is stunning. As an expression of Wentworth's eye for detail and quality, it's pitch-perfect. But does it work? Wentworth says that it will be a while before he can measure the newsletter's results against his investment in it, which he says was more than $10,000, not counting his time. In the meantime, he has heard anecdotally that it is “getting passed around” within the neighborhoods he likes.

Another good sign: With each wave of newsletter mailings, traffic on www.wentworthstudio.com spikes a bit, evidence that readers want to learn more about the company.

Classic Remodeling & Construction is striking a contemporary pose with its re-branding effort. Several postcards will culminate in this 10-page, fold-out brochure, mailed to about 5,000 homes in gated and waterfront communities.
George Brown Classic Remodeling & Construction is striking a contemporary pose with its re-branding effort. Several postcards will culminate in this 10-page, fold-out brochure, mailed to about 5,000 homes in gated and waterfront communities.

But what really makes Wentworth optimistic is his sense that the newsletter, which he plans to send twice a year, “is setting a tone for the business I'm providing. We know how older houses are put together, and this newsletter is evidence that we're fully committed to the architect-build business.” “Living Design,” combined with Wentworth's Web site, advertisements, and the other mailings he periodically sends, is keeping his company “top of mind” among the types of people who can appreciate and afford his work.

And that's the essential reason why upscale remodelers should make direct mail a part of their marketing effort. “You don't always know when someone is thinking of starting a project,” says Amy Perry, whose graphic design company Smizer Perry (www.smizer perry.com) has created marketing materials for DeCiantis Construction, Stonington, Conn. High-end remodeling projects aren't impulse buys, and a single mail piece isn't going to unleash a flurry of business. “But timing is very important. You want to keep your name out there on a continuous basis,” Perry says, so that when your ideal clients are ready to remodel, they immediately think of you.

Getting Started U.S. households receive at least 4 million tons of so-called “junk mail” each year, and nearly half of it is never even opened. More often than not, affluent homeowners get the most mail, yet have the least time to sift through it. “The question is,” posits Jerry Levine, another Washington remodeler (and Wentworth's former business partner), “how do you get something in a person's hand that they won't pitch after looking at it for three seconds?”

First, unless your company has a sophisticated marketing department, don't try it alone. “You need a variety of people to make it all happen,” Wentworth says. He hired a graphic design company called Fathom Creative (www.fathomcreative.com) to design and produce his newsletter, but he has also used independent creative consultants, including photographers, writers, and graphic designers, for his other marketing materials.