Wheatley Associates (Big50 1992) uses a team approach to growth. The company has become a full-service design/build business by using partners to provide specialized service for their clients. President Kathy Wheatley says her Monkton, Md., company went from 20% in-house design to 35% today -- and is still growing.

The growth stems from forming a team that includes a licensed architect, a certified interior designer, an accredited cabinet space planner, a certified kitchen and bath planner, and a registered landscape architect. "All of this is outsourced and used on an as-needed basis but is available if a client's needs warrant," Wheatley says.

Up until a few years ago, the company had mostly small and straightforward projects. The team approach has allowed them to sell larger, more-upscale jobs in the $200,000 range and helped them jump from a $530,000 sales volume in 1992 to almost $3 million this year.

"To differentiate ourselves from other contractors we had to put a 'wow' factor in our designs," Wheatley says. So she formed a partnership with a local architect. The firm signs a design and construction contract with the client and subcontracts the design. "We charge $110 per hour," she says, "Contractors who do the design work themselves charge about $75 per hour."

Wheatley also brought in a kitchen and bath planner to educate clients and guide them in selections. "We take our client to his showroom. He creates the design and as long as we buy cabinets from him, he doesn't charge for it," Wheatley says.

The only team member that contracts directly with clients is the interior designer. "We're not charging for her time, but we hope to get more referrals from her," Wheatley says.

She says expert opinions make for happier clients who don't say, "I wish I would have..." at the end of a project. It also allows the salesperson to spend more time on sales and less time helping customers choose paint colors or tile.