The company featured on our cover this month is one of five businesses nominated by consultants and top contractors to be our Replacement Contractor of the Year. All five posted double-digit sales gains last year and over the course of the previous five years. Any of them would be worthy of a cover profile.

Here's what all five have in common. First, total dedication to customer service, with systems that ensure a satisfactory customer experience. Those systems involve multiple points of contact, especially with production staff.

Second, constant measuring of that satisfaction using customer surveys.

Third, a willingness to spend money on business and sales-training consultants — investments that have richly paid off. These company owners are always looking to learn.

Fourth, marketing that balances branding and lead generation, and that takes the company's proven service record and integrates it into the message. For example, the Texas siding company whose owner starts its radio commercials by apologizing for not being right all the time. Wouldn't that get your attention?

But, among these characteristics, it's customer service that allows the five nominees to produce double-digit sales increases in a time of curtailed consumer spending. Where many companies differentiate on price, these have made themselves unique by paying attention to what the customer wants beyond price.

Is that smart or what? Survey after survey shows that homeowners' main fear when it comes to contractors is that the contractor will overcharge them for a job that's shoddy anyway. The top replacement companies use their demonstrated record of customer satisfaction to sweep those fears — and a recessionary economy — aside.

Last, but most definitely not least, all these owners recognize the importance of finding the right people to fill key positions and of maintaining a company culture that lets those people know they're appreciated and respected. “You're not going to grow if you have to hire new people every year,” says one owner. In other words, they take the time to reward the dedication and loyalty they inspire in their employees.

Any one of these things — customer satisfaction, shrewd marketing, branding, a strong company culture — would make a huge difference to the success of a home improvement company. Looking at five of the best, it's clear that when you put all these together, the results are spectacular.

Jim Cory, Editor