Tom Capizzi, owner of Capizzi Home Improvement, in Cotuit, Mass., was jogging on the beach in San Diego when he had an idea: His company would offer to clean gutters for past customers — for free. That was in December 2008, at a time when remodeling companies were scrambling to find leads for salespeople and work to keep field crews busy.

“My staff thought I was out of my mind,” Capizzi recalls. “But I was thinking about the time-share people,” he says. “They give you a free night in a hotel, and in return for that you sit through their presentation. If you didn’t know anything about their business model, you’d think they’d go broke. But it’s one of the most successful programs imaginable.”

The Deal

For the period of the promotion, Capizzi Home Improvement offers free gutter cleaning to the first 50 past customers who respond to its postcard mailer. In return, the homeowner agrees to hear a sales presentation.

In the first year, the promotion generated $300,000 of work, at a cost of about $4,000 for the postcard and the labor in the roughly two-hour gutter cleaning — a marketing cost of less than 1.5%. The company repeated the promotion at the end of 2010 and into this year. Jobs generated average $3,500 and range from repair and maintenance work to the occasional job in the $20,000 to $40,000 range.

Capizzi says that the key to the promotion’s success is leveling with prospects, which he does with “Reason Why” copy on the postcard, which explains “why it’s worth it for us to help you.” In addition, the owner set a time limit on the promotion. The company relaunches Free Gutter Cleaning whenever it needs additional leads. Two factors make for success: “You’ve got to have the back-end to support what you do, and you have to have the right people running the leads,” Capizzi says.

—REMODELING contributing editor Jim Cory is the editor of REMODELING's sister publication, REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR.