By Joseph F. Schuler Jr.. Father & Son Construction of Troy, Mich., was one of our first Big 50 contractors in 1986. Then-owner Mat Vivona promoted the $10 million company on the side of a hot air balloon, as well as on refrigerator magnets and pizza boxes (he also owned pizzerias).

Vivona was killed in an automobile accident on April 15, 1995, at 57. His son, Mat Jr., who had worked in the business for about nine years, took the business over the next day, five days after his 25th birthday. "It would have been impossible without the staff," says Vivona. "My dad's love and passion for this place, and the other people around here, made the legacy want to continue. I would like to say he'd be proud," Vivona says. His efforts have kept the now $6 million, 28-employee company on an even keel. The company produces about 700 jobs a year, with 60 subcontracting crews, and jobs range from $2,000 gutter installations to additions close to $200,000.

Vivona learned well from his father when it comes to keeping the company name out there. His latest marketing effort is CD business cards. The pizzerias are gone, but field supervisor John Raya and his son, Shawn, still pilot the hot air balloon.

Photo: Compoa

Vivona has positioned the company as a pro-consumer organization, "one of the few construction companies out here that the media likes." He's done so by contracting Jerry Stanecki -- a local television personality known as a problem-solving consumer advocate -- for promotions and television commercials. When Father & Son couldn't get a major roofing manufacturer to resolve a warranty issue, Stanecki used his connections to instigate a television news spot on the problem, resulting in a $6,500 check from the manufacturer. That and other coverage prompted the Better Business Bureau to ask Vivona to serve on its board. Although more jobs now come from referrals than advertising, Vivona spends about 5% of revenues on marketing annually.