My hometown is pretty tiny. Main Street connects the east side of town to the west side, and Route 85 runs north to south. That’s it. So when the only go-around side street is closed for construction, everything comes to a standstill. A Monday morning sign that reads, “Please seek alternative route remainder of week”? That’s not going to happen in this town — we’re on the alternative route.

While I was busy fuming about the traffic situation, the local coffee shop was cashing in. By Tuesday morning it had placed a bright pink card-stock sign 100 feet from the entrance to its parking lot, which read: “Next right, coffee and a muffin. Pull in. We’ll bring it to your car!”

Doesn’t owning a remodeling company sometimes feel like a constant traffic jam without an alternative route? And so I envied the clarity that this business had to capitalize on a ready-made customer base. It got me wondering about my own ready-made customer base. What should my pink card-stock sign say?

Rich Harshaw, a speaker at the 2011 Remodeling Leadership Conference this past May, talks about a similar concept: Market to the people who didn’t hire you. Talk about sitting ducks! They are already open to the idea of remodeling, they have placed you on a short list, and they have a deeper understanding of how you work from your recent presentation. They are possibly going to go through a terrible experience with your competition — and they are, most likely, going to do some kind of project again in the future.

Up until I heard Mr. Harshaw offer this idea, I had completely ignored this subset of the market. I had assumed that if I didn’t make it past the first date, there was no reason to believe love would follow. But why not take a cue from the coffee shop and wave them a sign every now and again? Send a newsletter or a brochure.

Be present. Be “the alternative route.” For starters, I’ve decided to draft a personal follow-up letter to send to these clients. Nothing too pushy, just a genuine reminder that we are still here and have no hard feelings, and to let them know they can call anytime.

Though there’s no worse time-suck than sitting in traffic, I’m grateful for the coffee shop lesson. It reminded me to take advantage of a seemingly negative situation and make it work to my advantage. It reminded me that there are customers just waiting for me to send them a sign. Now if I could just get coffee delivered to my car each morning … —Allison Iantosca is a partner at F.H. Perry Builder, a Boston-area custom builder focused on building trust, dreams, and relationships. [email protected]