Dramatic rebounds come rarely to remodelers these days, but a happy exception is the case of Mills Builders, of Sacramento, Calif. The eight-year-old design/build firm's new campaign of homeowner seminars has proven “wildly successful,” says Jonathan Mills, president. “We would be in dire trouble had we not begun this program late last summer.”

Photo: courtesy Mills Builders The company mails 30,000 to 40,000 postcards (shown) every three weeks, encouraging targeted recipients to call or visit www.millsbuilders.com for dates, locations, and other details. Seminars are free to attend but require advance registration.

The real key, however, is the seminars' format: scripted and educational, elegant and friendly, and free of sales jargon or pressure.

Mills and his staff spent about three months preparing the program, setting out to clear up confusion about remodeling and “to give [homeowners] an absolute primer on how to be successful going forward,” he says.

Attendees enjoy a colorful 79-page PowerPoint presentation, a catered meal, and a 90-minute talk about a broad range of remodeling considerations.

The seminars aren't cheap to produce — the catered meals alone cost about $500 per seminar — but “we've dodged the current bullet,” Mills says. Specifically, as of early May, each of 10 seminars had attracted an average of 15 to 20 homeowners, about 15% of whom (so far) had signed design contracts worth more than $2 million. Actual construction projects have ranged from a $5,000 bathroom to a $1 million whole-house remodel.

For his $5 million company, Mills anticipates, “conservatively,” that seminars will generate half of sales this year.

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