Carmen Pretopapa has sold all his jobs -- 1,000 over the past three years -- with no money down. It may sound dicey to most remodelers, but the exterior replacement contractor says the technique has helped him separate himself from competitors.

Because his company, NOVA Exteriors, Vienna, Va., reinvests profits back into the business, it doesn't depend on week-to-week receivables. That allows it to make no-down-payment closes. Pretopapa started offering no down payments as an option three years ago and decided if the company could offer it occasionally, it could offer it all the time. Sales immediately picked up after that policy was implemented, Pretopapa says. Prior to then, volume was under $1 million; this year, sales are expected to exceed $2.5 million.

With no money down, he says, he only has to sell the job once. When he had to revisit prospects for a down payment, he sometimes encountered resistance and had to sell again. Pretopapa notes that prepaid customers often feel contractors hold all the cards. "The biggest thing our approach does for customers is guarantee customer satisfaction up front," he says. "Everyone says they have the biggest and best products, they're phenomenal, and then they say, 'Please write me a check.' If they're so good, why are you paying up front?" Pretopapa says he and his four sales reps rely on the no-money-down close.

According to industry consultant Dave Yoho of Yoho Associates, as many as 70% of single-line remodelers offer no-money-down deals, but he doesn't recommend the practice for stable companies. It overlooks what it costs to carry marketing expenses and sales commissions, he says, which are paid before money is collected.

Pretopapa and his partner, Pete Vlantis, have operated the $2-million-a-year NOVA Exteriors for seven years. Pretopapa says he considers the company high-end on quality and mid-line on price. The company sells roofing, siding, windows, doors, and gutters.