Steve Rennekamp has been noticing fewer contractor yard signs out there. “Whether it's because the homeowner doesn't want them there or because more people are going to contractors who aren't tied to a company,” Rennekamp says, he doesn't know.

Yard signs are typically a minor cost. Energy Swing Windows, Rennekamp's Murrysville, Pa., company, pays about $10 for each plastic sign, which has the company phone number on it and is mounted in a metal frame. Generally, the simpler the sign, the bigger the impact. Brothers That Just Do Gutters, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., opted to feature just its logo and a phone number. “We decided it was website or phone number,” co-owner Ryan Parsons says.

Used consistently, such signs generate steady lead flow for the companies that plant them — Parsons says that 10 jobs came from the company's yard signs last year. But it takes a system to make sure they get in the ground and stay there until after the job is done, even on a one-day window or gutter project.

Parsons says he is “amazed” that few contractors actually use yard signs, while Rennekamp says they're easily forgotten but are definitely a key part of building referrals. “A lot of times people don't even notice that the neighbors have new windows,” he says. Yard signs not only let them know that a job is going in, they often get a conversation started. Put out a lot, Rennekamp says, and “suddenly you've branded.”

GETTING CREATIVE Yard signs can feed into many of the other methods that companies use to generate leads. For instance, Energy Swing Windows pays homeowners $5 when they bring back one of its yard signs.

About 40% to 50% of customers return the signs to the company showroom. The point is not so much to recoup the cost of the sign as to draw people to the showroom, giving the company a chance to suggest additional work. That's also where Energy Swing's representatives can talk about the company's reward referral program.

Southwest Exteriors, in San Antonio, sets out yard signs — as many as 50 heavy-duty barricade-style signs — to help build a crowd for the company's neighborhood marketing campaigns, which center on a Saturday morning jobsite breakfast. The company posts signs in the yards of past customers a week before. Having that many signs directing people to the open house builds the sense of an event. “It's gotten to the point where we won't do a neighborhood breakfast without being able to put these signs out,” owner and general manager Scott Barr says.

KEY TO REPEAT & REFERRAL An abundance of yard signs in evidence produces a juggernaut effect, Parsons says. “People will say: ‘I see your signs everywhere, that's why I called you.' Or: ‘I saw two of your signs on the way to work.' It qualifies us as a good contractor by the time [the homeowner is] ready for gutters.”

Barr, who tracks both primary and secondary lead sources, says yard signs produce the best marketing return on investment of any lead source his company uses. Energy Swing also generates additional neighborhood business with a direct-mail program to neighbors calling attention to its yard signs.