After three major remodeling projects for one couple, a flattering This Old House article about one of those projects, and several referrals through that couple, David Roberts did some math. The couple’s total investment in Roberts Architects and Construction, of Evanston, Ill.: $520,000.

That amount plus the cost of the projects that the couple has referred: at least $2.23 million — since 2005 alone.

Like many remodelers, Roberts often gets to know (and stay in touch with, to some degree) clients through happenstance. He met the $2.23 million couple through Cub Scouts and Little League, for example. But “our relationship with this and other clients is not accidental,” he says. “We have worked at it and cultivated it by establishing mutual trust and respect and by staying in touch with them after the work is done.”

This home generated $2.23 million through referrals even before its master bath appeared in This Old House.
This home generated $2.23 million through referrals even before its master bath appeared in This Old House.

Personal Effort

Roberts assumed that all remodelers did the same, until hearing several speakers at a recent conference emphasize the renewed importance of person-to-person outreach to past clients and the community. He analyzed his approach to maintaining client relationships, and encourages other remodelers to step up their game as well.

Frequency: Prior to 2008, Roberts called, sent a handwritten card to, or tried to “find a reason to stop by” repeat clients (and regular referrers) two to four times a year, and other clients at least annually. He now supplements those efforts with monthly e-letters and quarterly printed newsletters.

Unexpected surprises: Roberts strives to make the cards, phone calls, and visits feel personal, genuine, and impromptu, and distinctly not promotional. A note or call might compliment a client’s new landscaping or congratulate them for their child’s academic or athletic accomplishment, for example.

Subtle hints, honest thanks: Rather than asking clients for referrals, Roberts casually mentions that referrals from existing clients continue to keep his company busy. Every referral triggers a postcard, e-mail, and a friendly phone call. When a referral becomes a contract, the referrer receives a donation to a local charity and a flowering plant or tasty treat: more imaginative and memorable than a gift card, he says.

None of this is rocket science, of course, and that’s the real message Roberts wants to share with his peers. “‘One and done’ companies leave a trail of unfulfilled opportunities to build their business and expand on their client base,” he says.

—Leah Thayer, senior editor, REMODELING.