On Sept. 20, 250 or so friends of Criner Construction Co. will gather at an outdoor pig roast in Yorktown, Va., to eat, drink, catch up on the year, and pose for a group photo, as they have each year for the last two decades.

“It’s a personal reach-out and a way to introduce my staff,” says owner Robert Criner, whose home and office are on the 12-acre lot where the party is held. Though it consumes about a third of his annual marketing budget, the roast is so anticipated that clients, subs, vendors, and other past guests who haven’t gotten their invitation call to make sure they’re on the list.

Cause? “A thank-you for our supporters,” Criner says. Effect? Goodwill directly, and referrals and sales indirectly. “We track our leads and ask how people heard about us,” Criner says. “Their typical response is, ‘You were recommended.’ Well, we were probably recommended by someone who goes to the pig roast.”

Beyond the Pig

Criner isn’t the only long-time remodeler to discover that fun thank-you events can be powerful antidotes to the marketing barrage. In April, Thompson Remodeling invited clients and other network friends to a “shred event” at its office in Grand Rapids, Mich. For a total investment of $250, co-owner Ben Thompson provided lunch and a friend’s shredding truck for a two-hour gathering that shredded 2,400 pounds of documents.

Thompson describes the “buzz factor” as valuable, especially considering that most of his company’s clients are busy professionals who tend to be bogged down in old paperwork. And while he can’t attribute any direct sales to the shred event, personal networking has created $50,000 of work in his current pipeline and $500,000 in potential work.

Criner is partying beyond the pig as well. This spring, he hosted a fund-raiser for the American Red Cross. An employee’s band performed, and the event raised $1,700.

He also underwrote a party at a newly remodeled home by giving the client $1,000 (from his marketing budget) to assemble the guest list and menu. Dozens of people came, and “it was a blast,” Criner says. As it turned out, a guest at the party hired Criner’s company the following week.

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.