Home improvement companies seeking big growth have several options to choose from. They can hire additional salespeople, open a branch location, or take on an entirely new product line. An advantage of taking on a new line is that they now have something to sell to past customers. Provided, of course, they maintain a database.

For Brian Elias, the new product is gutter protection. In March, the president of Hanson's Windows and Siding, in Fraser, Mich., started a new division devoted to Gutter Grate, a black nylon product that caps gutters to prevent leaves and debris from clogging them.

“It made money from day one,” he says. With contracts averaging $1,470 apiece, Elias projects $2 million in sales for the first year (“and we are on target,” he says) and $4.5 million for next. That's small compared with the more than $39 million that Hanson's brings in from window and siding sales, but it's a start most home improvement company owners would envy. The division functions separately from the parent company, with 20 salespeople and nine other employees. Only one, a manager, was brought over from the window and siding side.

Repeat Customers Gutter Grate does, however, get a number of leads from Hanson's siding and window business — chiefly, Elias says, by phoning past customers to introduce the product to them, and by bringing it to the attention of anyone who requests a service call. Other leads come from direct-mail marketing, door-to-door canvassers, jobsite signs, and a toll-free phone number. During the first quarter of 2005, Elias plans to launch a direct mail campaign that will advertise Gutter Grate to a portion of the company's approximately 40,000 past customers.

Growing Market While there are a number of other gutter protection products out there competing for customers, Elias has confidence in his. He claims it doesn't affect the roof line or roof warranty and that it's easier to install than other gutter protection products.

In addition, Elias is confident that the market will continue to grow.

While some replacement contractors have moved into such areas as cabinet refacing and bathtub refinishing to round out their business, Elias expresses no interest. “Gutter protection is it right now,” he says.