In most American industries, the way to be successful is to develop a product or service that can be sold to customers repeatedly, over time. More than 60% of the top 500 companies in the United States consider themselves service-oriented businesses. Up until the past 10 to 15 years, the only segments of the remodeling or home improvement industry that emphasized the lifelong-customer concept were electrical, HVAC, and plumbing companies, since service calls are a major part of those businesses.

And there was good reason for this. Twenty or 30 years ago, homeowners stayed in their homes an average of seven years before moving. Many were blue-collar workers who performed their own maintenance and repairs. Houses were much simpler to care for and repair, and many problems didn't require a licensed contractor.

All that's changed. Today, blue-collar workers make up less than 12% of the population, and the skyrocketing cost of housing, combined with the rapid turnover of existing homes, has increased the use of home inspectors, who are quick to detect jackleg work done by the homeowner. That can result in a reduced price or the requirement that professional work be done prior to closing.

Will somebody please fix my house?

Today, homeowners take better care of their homes, and many are willing to spend money on expensive remodeling projects. When these same homeowners find themselves needing maintenance or repair work, whom do they call? Many contact the remodeling company that did one or more projects for them over the years.

What these clients are telling the contractor who's done work for them in the past is that they now want the company to be responsible for future work, as well, including handyman and maintenance projects. And they're relentless. Over and over, I hear they won't take no for an answer.

What to do? I suggest three options:

* Find a quality handyman company and develop a relationship with that company so that it handles the calls, with or without a finder's fee.

* Hire one or two handymen as company employees to handle the calls.

* Seize the opportunity and set up a separate division for maintenance and repair work. That way, not only can you handle past-customer calls, you can market and sell these services to a whole new customer base.

System for success

In the event you decide to hire one or more handymen to serve customers, here are some things to know. The handyman business is systems-oriented. The average handyman can handle $100,000 to $150,000 of volume per year on projects averaging $500 in size. Success at handyman requires a marketing, advertising, and sales approach.

A sure way to build steady sales is the maintenance contract. More and more companies are developing yearly contracts with homeowners, condo communities, rental-property owners, and especially second-home owners. This usually includes 10 to 15 different items that are handled quarterly or more often.

Consider also: There are more than 40 million disabled people in America. Studies show that more than 75% of widowed women older than 65 want to stay in their homes, and the percentage of single women with children at home is growing rapidly. These demographics will propel the growth of handyman and maintenance work in the future. With the right people and systems, your company could grow right along with this trend. --Walt Stoeppelwerth is a publisher of management and estimating information for professional remodelers. (800) 638-8292;;