So far this year, 52% of Tom Poulin's volume has come from past clients or their referrals. The president of Poulin Design Remodeling, in Albuquerque, N.M., says that is typical for his company. And high on the list of reasons why? The two-year warranty Poulin offers on all the company's work.

Upon completion of their project, customers receive a warranty request form. Poulin's daughter and office operations manager, Stephanie (pictured), mails customers a reminder letter after 60 days, another after 11 months, and a third after 23 months. The gist of the letter is that service after the sale is just as important as the completion of the remodel, and it asks the homeowner to contact the company if anything needs servicing.

Why go out of the way to solicit warranty work, which, after all, consumes valuable man-hours and can cause scheduling issues? “When customers get the reminder letters, they're surprised we're initiating it,” Poulin admits. “But it's a big part of our marketing [to previous clients].”

Poulin's remodeling consultants (salespeople whose duties extend beyond selling) follow up the reminder letters with a low-key inquiry looking for a referral or additional work. “We're staying in front of them two years after we completed their project,” says Poulin, who won his Big50 award in 1989. He also downplays the amount of extra work his company does compared to what it would do if it offered a more standard warranty: “Most everything that will go wrong does in the first year, anyway.”

There are other benefits to offering the extended warranty. “It helps me close out jobs,” Poulin says, noting that customers are less likely to be nervous about making the final payment when they are reminded of the warranty policy. “They've heard it in the initial sale, but telling them again gives them confidence that we'll be here if something comes up,” he says. Poulin's 25 years in business provide further reassurance.

Of course, offering the warranty is one thing; backing it up is another. Poulin has a quality service manager who takes warranty calls from customers and schedules service work. The manager tries to arrange it so that lead carpenters are responsible for completing their own warranty work, but there is one lead carpenter who runs smaller jobs, and part of his duties includes taking care of stray service calls.