Secrets of the Most Profitable Companies in the Bay Area

by Jim Stein

Today’s all-star company owners may know some things that you don’t. Why not use their secrets to increase your profits?


1. Margins
If you’re not willing or able to charge a price that provides your company with a solid profit, bad things can happen. Low or no margins can force companies out of business or create a downward spiral of quality/cost cutting. If you can’t get the price you need to generate truly profitable margins, you’ll be forced to cut costs.

Business Owner Insight: “The quality and craftsmanship we build into our work can cost more than hiring a company with less experience, but we provide honest, solid value and never cut corners. Industry competition is fierce, so we aim for the highest level of integrity with everything we do.”—Jeffrey Sheehan, Confidence Landscaping, Inc., Diamond Certified since September 2009

2. Rationale
You need to provide each prospective customer with a clear rationale for your company’s pricing. Don’t assume it’s obvious or that little explanation is needed because your price is in line with your competitors. Write a 2-6 sentence Pricing Rationale Paragraph to explain why your company’s products and services are priced the way they are. Include both logical and emotional reasons. Then sit down with members of your staff who answer pricing questions and discuss how to always present this rationale with your pricing.

Sample Pricing Rationale Paragraph (Painting Company)
Prior to painting, we’ll sand the exterior of your home three separate times to ensure the paint adheres properly. We want you to feel good about the end product, so we budget time to ensure we produce top-quality work. We know pricing is an important consideration for any painting project, so we keep our prices reasonable. This approach has produced consistent, quality performances and resulted in us earning the prestigious Diamond Certified award for five consecutive years.

3. Clarity
The company that communicates best wins. Your clarity will give prospective customers confidence that they won’t be surprised by extra charges and unforeseen issues.

Business Owner Insight: “We keep an open line of communication with our customers and provide them with the work they want. By asking the right questions, we can often steer them toward the true finished products of their dreams.”—Robert Kaljian, Kaljian Construction, Diamond Certified since April 2011


1. Define, Deliver and Confirm
By owning the quality position in the market, you’ll do better than your competitors. Demand for your industry’s services and products may drop in a recession, but if you define your company as quality-driven and solid, you’ll attract more quality buyers and out-compete others. The Diamond Certified award is one of the best examples of quality positioning, because it means your company has been independently rated Highest in Quality.

2. Demonstrate
Show your customers that you care more about quality than money. Seek out feedback from each customer after the job is complete to identify problems or opportunities for improvement. Your team’s attitude should be, “We really want to know how you feel about our performance.” You have to show that you care about quality even more than the customer does.

Business Owner Insight: “After carefully checking my team’s workmanship on a jobsite, I noticed that one section of wood siding was improperly installed. It would have worked fine and the homeowner would never know it wasn’t installed to our standards, but I had my team tear it out and reinstall it anyway. If we know something is wrong, we fix it.”—Peter Sutton, Marin County Sidewall Co., Diamond Certified since December 2004

3. Manage Expectations
Managing emotional and logical expectations is the key to achieving customer satisfaction, so it’s critical to assess every key business decision through the lens of your implicit and explicit customer promises and results. Ask yourself: How will this decision impact my company’s customer satisfaction?

Business Owner Insight: “Every person has a different idea of the perfect paint job, so we make sure to take our time and understand exactly what each client wants. We listen to what they’re saying and deliver on our promises.”—Soumil Amin, CertaPro Painters of Berkeley, Diamond Certified since November 2010


1. Who You Hire
Ultimately, the people you hire define your company in the eyes of your customers. Teachemployees your employees to focus on the customer in front of them and train them to identify the promises they’re actually making. That way, each customer feels like you care about them as an individual.

Business Owner Insight: “Everyone who works for us understands the importance of making our clients happy. We reward our crew members for following customers’ directions…they’re not merely cleaners; they’re professionals in their field.”—Stanley Costa, SonoMarin Cleaning Services, Inc.

2. Communications
Most customers understand they have to wait to reach an employee of your company, but once they do, they expect the employee to fully focus on dealing with their issues. If the communication is interrupted prior to resolution, customers feel like you don’t care about them. The secret is to make sure your employees over communicate—the more responsive and clear they are, the more they connect with customers on a personal level.

Business Owner Insight: “We always try to communicate effectively so we can achieve an understanding with our clients, instead of speaking in technical terms and causing more confusion.”—Paul Vacakis, Germany’s Best, Inc., Diamond Certified since April 2003

3. Ask Questions and See For Yourself
Listen to your employees’ concerns and get a sense of how they truly feel about the effectiveness of your management style. Figure out how to foster a strong sense of pride in each team member’s quality work, displays of strong work ethic, customer satisfaction focus and professional development. Start by recognizing, thanking and rewarding team members for specific accomplishments and moments of success. Expand from there.