Terry Sinclair, owner of Rocky's Construction in Aurora, Ore., thinks of his market as “my big outdoor showroom.” When deck prospects want to see what the company can do, Sinclair hands them a list of six past customers, with addresses and phone numbers.

One reason he can do that is because he knows the decks he's built in the past (the company is 15 years old) are in good shape. Rocky's Construction operates a maintenance service. For $1.25 a square foot, Sinclair sends a crew to the house to perform a three-step maintenance process. He says that because his company specializes in decking, “I try to cover every aspect of their needs.”

OFFER AND ADVISE Most deck builders prefer not to get involved in maintaining the decks they've built. “It's not our core competence,” says Phil Brown, owner of Archadeck of Central Connecticut, in Berlin. “We tell [clients] from the outset that every deck should be treated,” he says, “except ipe, which can be left alone and turns a nice silver.” Having pointed that out, Brown says he recommends a painter he describes as a “wood preservation specialist.” If clients express interest, he has the painter call them. “We're proactive about it. We'll call him and say, ‘Call so-and-so; they're expecting to hear from you.'” The painter, who specializes in preserving decks, then comes out for a moisture reading.

PASS IT ON Sinclair builds somewhere between 20 and 50 high-end — typically mahogany — decks a year. “It's nice to provide the full spectrum of service to customers,” Sinclair says. “And it's not a problem for me to put together a crew to go out and take care of deck maintenance.” He says he likes the margins on maintenance jobs. But, he says, marketing is the major reason to maintain decks. It gives him an opportunity to stay in touch with former clients. Rocky's Construction has built a database of several hundred clients. All are contacted annually by postcard, reminding them that the deck needs to be treated and offering the company's treatment service. Because he offers the maintenance service, when the subject of building a deck comes up, “my name is in the forefront, and [past customers] refer me to their friends.”

More than half of the decks he builds come through referrals.