Describing new-home builders' marketing savvy, Neal Hendy, president of Neal's Design Remodel, says, “Builders have it down. But remodelers don't need marketing dollars to compete, they just need a marketing commitment.”

Hendy, who operates in the greater Cincinnati area, advises remodelers to partner with suppliers — who may have deeper advertising pockets — to get marketing mileage. For example, he says, if you work with a Corian supplier, co-op with them on an advertising campaign or work out a marketing strategy that hits the customers you both want to reach.

Hendy also advises underscoring what it is that remodelers do best. “Remodelers have surpassed builders on customer service. All of us do it well or we'd be out of business,” he says. That's good news for remodelers going after referral business.

“We're tapping them on the shoulder often,” Hendy says of his former clients. For example, when a local magazine did a special issue on the best medical practices in the area, Hendy noticed that he had done work for a significant number of them. “We sent out 40 letters congratulating [the doctors and nurses] for making the list,” he says.

“We're all too busy putting out fires, and we forget about [marketing] because it's Saturday night and we need a life,” Hendy says. “But you must take advantage of all situations. Does it take up time? Yes. Would I be where I am today if I didn't do it? No.”