John Murphy, president of Murphy Bros. Designers & Remodelers in Minneapolis, has been in business since 1981. During that time, he's learned the importance of having long-term employees.

So three years ago, he put in place a sales system designed to keep his top people with him year after year.

It works a little bit like a real estate agency. In effect, each sales rep sets up their own remodeling practice, using the systems, marketing, and production staff that the company already has in place. While each salesperson — or “remodeling consultant,” to use the company parlance — gets their fair share of “house” leads, they also build their own client list through referrals from past customers. They get first crack at these self-generated leads but can pass them on to colleagues if they find themselves too busy to handle them.

Salesperson and marketing manager aren't the only two hats these employees wear. They are the company's chief designers (working with Murphy, an in-house draftsman, or very rarely an outside architect only on the most complex design/build projects). They maintain a steady flow of communication with their clients throughout the project and are responsible for handling most of the change orders.

Murphy also encourages them to get further involved in the industry. One of his salespeople has earned NARI's CR designation; another has a National Kitchen and Bath Association certification. “We talk to them about personal marketing initiatives,” Murphy says. “They know that this stuff will add a little professionalism to their image.” Murphy Bros. covers half of the cost of any education program that goes beyond what is required in the employee's job description.

Murphy says he isn't worried about giving his employees so much responsibility that they get the idea that they can go into business for themselves. His salespeople do sign a non-compete agreement, but it's only enforceable for a finite period of time. Still, says Murphy, “they understand all the hassles that they don't have to deal with. I don't think anyone wants to go out on their own. In fact, I've got one guy who did have his own business before, but he sees this as a better deal.”