Lisa and Steve Schliff
On the Beam Remodeling
Oakland, Calif.
Big50 2002

If the customer is looking for several bids, it indicates they are searching for low numbers, not quality. We are quality — not necessarily low numbers. So it's not a good fit.

If the customer calls anxiously demanding to know the exact cost to construct immediately after the initial meeting, we lose interest. Again, this person is shopping for low numbers or perhaps needs a third estimate for insurance purposes and is not sold on our company.

Certain neighborhoods and towns have consistently been a waste of time for pursuing leads. The budgets are unrealistically low and projects poorly thought out and insufficient for the house.

Paul Laroe
LaRoe Residential Remodeling
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Big50 1996

There are several key things I evaluate. First is location. We limit our geographic area to within a half-hour drive of our office. Second is type of job. We are a design/build company and very rarely work with a client who already has drawings prepared by others. We are not set up to do smaller projects or handyman work. Third is timing. If we cannot realistically meet their deadline, we decline. Fourth is budget. We toss out some numbers based on past projects. If our numbers are twice as much as they were expecting, we don't proceed any further. Fifth is past experience. If they have remodeled in the past with someone we know and respect, I ask why they are not working with that contractor again. How they respond often raises a red flag. Sixth is the age of the home. We like to work on homes built from 1950 to the present. Seventh is how long they have owned the home. Our ideal client has owned their home five to twelve years. These owners know what they want to change and have a lot of equity built up.

Dan Kerns
Kerns Construction
Littleton, Colo.
Big50 1997

The very first thing I ask prospects is where they got my name. If it was out of the phone book, I tell them I'm busy eight months out because all they are doing is shopping. All my work is 100% referral. Second, I ask them where they live. If it's an area that does not have high-end clientele, it is a red flag to me because it tells me they can't afford my services. I ask these first two questions on the initial call. When I visit their house, I ask for scope and budget. I give them a cost based on my past experience with that type of work.

Skeeter Coleman
Coleman Construction
Nolensville, Tenn.
Big50 1999

I use a client evaluation form where I grade 10 different questions worth a total of 100 points. The points are assigned based on the most profitable jobs in the past. Only those with a 70 or above are prospective jobs for us. The questions that are worth 15 points each are where they live, how they heard about us, the type of project, do they have drawings, and if they have contacted other contractors. The questions that are worth five points each are the budget, start date, end date, and if they have remodeled before. The last five points are at the discretion of my assistant, who asks them the questions.

Halsey Platt
Walter H. B. Platt Architect-Remodelers-Cabinetmakers
Groton, Mass.
Big50 2000

First, given the specifics of the job, can we make money at it? Second, is it in a prominent location? A job on a dead end street is less appealing than a job on a busy country road. We get a ton of work off of our jobsite signs. Third, does it fit our job-size sweet spot? If it does, we will travel farther and put up with some other issues. Fourth, does the client and the house have the potential for more work down the road? Fifth, how complicated is the job? We have done a $170,000 cabinet job on Nantucket Island, which is a two-hour drive, a two-hour ferry, and then another half-hour drive from our office. Sixth, is it in a town that we have worked in before? Do we know the inspectors, zoning boards, wetlands commissions, historic district commissions, etc.

Finally, does it fit in with our production schedule? We have in the past made the mistake of going for the bird in the bush when we already had two in each hand, and then the feathers start flying everywhere!