With consumers reining in spending, leads are more valuable than ever. That has left many home improvement companies eager to try new ways to drum up business.

Among the most popular are direct marketing, i.e., canvassing, shows and events, and sell-furnish-install (SFI), though there is no universal recipe for low-cost leads. “We're doing events that you normally don't see home improvement contractors at,” says Paul Despenas, vice president of marketing at Midwest Construction and Supply, in Mason City, Iowa. That includes parades, kitchen and bath expos, and women's expos. The company also has contracted with the state fairgrounds to be able to market at any event there — from hot rod shows to pork expos.

EVENTS AND SPONSORSHIPS Events are where the people are. So, several years ago, after the national do-not-call registry went into effect, the Carolina Building Group, in Charlotte, started appearing at more of them. Now its calendar includes everything from small town Fourth of July festivals to big home-and-garden shows. “Sometimes we're at two or three a week,” says operations manager Paul Redman. The company also just got a canvassing program up and running.

Midwest Construction is trying a more adventurous tactic: sponsoring the semi-pro teams that play in Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. The contractor markets at arena concerts, too. A Billy Joel show, for instance, generated the majority of the year's sunroom leads, Despenas says. He figures that at least a million people a year are made aware of the company at the arena.

STAYING PUT One positive effect of the housing slump has been that homeowners who stay put rather than sell focus on home improvements. “People are looking for ways to increase value and to lower their heating and cooling costs,” says Kim Hanke, of Hanke Brothers Siding & Windows, in Little Rock, Ark.

Some companies are offering a broader array of products aimed, in part, at previous customers. Al Alfieri, vice president of American Vision Windows, in Simi Valley, Calif., credits the company's expanded assortment of products — home automation, closets, window coverings, and kitchen remodeling — with keeping sales on pace with last year. Hanke Brothers started installing insulated vinyl siding this spring and has done more than 300 homes.

Sticking with its advertising budget focus on radio, newspaper, and the Yellow Pages has worked so far for Sound Glass, in Tacoma, Wash. Management considered more home shows, says vice president Gvido Bars, but thinks the home show market is oversaturated. Whatever the lead source, Despenas says that people are taking longer to make a purchasing decision, so “you have to keep tickling them.” —Diane Kittower is a freelance writer in Rockville, Md.