Many home improvement companies grow at a rapid rate in the course of a few years, only to find they can't sustain that growth over time. Either their overhead balloons, an unsavory reputation catches up with them, or they become too unwieldy to adapt to changes in the market.

So it isn't size that makes HomeWorks — our contractor of the year — a company to watch, or for some, one to emulate. It is systems, style, planning, and a commitment to customer satisfaction, all of which have reaped this company rich rewards. “They're a machine,” notes Mark Tiffey, owner of A Cut Above Exteriors located in Portland, Ore., who has visited HomeWorks.

In fact, the $43 million HomeWorks has a reputation — in California and nationally among large home improvement companies — for efficient production, state-of-the-art marketing, and customer service of the handholding variety. Think of a home improvement company whose officers dare compare it with Nordstrom, the department store where every customer is treated like a prima donna, whether they actually are one or not.

All those components have come together to make HomeWorks a brand name in the Bay Area and all of them contribute to the impression, in the minds of consumers there, that HomeWorks is the company to call if you happen to be in the market for new windows (average sale $14,000) or a kitchen change-out (average cabinet re-facing job, $23,000).

Trial and Error HomeWorks began in 1986 as KitchenWorks (“Don't replace, re-face.”), launched by partners Ken Jenkins and Larry Prell, who were in the insulation business at the time.

The company has offered vinyl siding, roofing, exterior painting, custom kitchens, and HVAC at one time or another — all businesses that it exited to focus on cabinet re-facing and window and door replacements. Working with these various product lines “helped us understand the home as a whole,” says senior vice president Lance Schepps. In the '90s HomeWorks was installing its own branded vinyl window line, the HomeWorks Solutions series, and demand was such that, in time, the company closed its siding operation to focus its energies on window replacement. In 2000 HomeWorks became a Renewal by Andersen affiliate — this at a time when RBA had just 18 companies in its dealer network.

Live Marketing When HomeWorks marketed its own vinyl window, it did so primarily through mail and newspaper promotions. To pull off a brand switch and to drive the kind of volume envisioned by its new supplier, it became clear that HomeWorks would have to generate far more leads and become a more visible company. Unlike many large home improvement operations, HomeWorks did not, and still doesn't, have a showroom. “What [RBA] wanted to be assured of,” Schepps says, “is that we had the lead flow and sell-through appropriate to the market.”

For a company such as HomeWorks, whose market stretches 2.5 hours driving time from San Jose to Santa Rosa, the idea of a single centrally located showroom wasn't viable. Instead, the company set out to make itself a force in event marketing, setting up “virtual showrooms,” well-stocked with product, at home shows and other public venues. Today HomeWorks annually participates in more than 75 events, with an event department that does nothing but manage and coordinate its live marketing efforts. Newspaper advertising — “We are in all five newspaper groups every week with a full page, full color ad. You're going to see it,” Schepps says — and direct mail remain important lead sources, but the company's most significant lead source at the moment is the 32% of its business that comes in the form of repeat or referral from previous customers.

Whatever media it uses, the money that HomeWorks spends on marketing (about 15% of sales) advances an overall branding strategy — designed to reach out to future buyers and people currently shopping for kitchens or windows — that involves constantly keeping its name in front of Bay Area consumers. HomeWorks integrates multiple lead sources into a consistent, overall effort to build an image of the company as one that delivers high-value products with a focus on service, and therefore one that consumers — even contractor-wary consumers — can trust and rely on.

“It begins with the ad,” says founder and president Ken Jenkins. “When they read that ad, it tells them we're accountable. That we'll be there for them.” Buying a home improvement project costing $10,000 or more is “scary” for most people, Jenkins points out, and “all those ads, working together, return you to that brand equity, because people become subconsciously aware of your product and respond to it more favorably.”