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Strategies Roundup 07/08

Tips and trends to keep you and your business on the forefront.

This story appears in the July 2008 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

The PlayHousing Market

There's no slump here: Barbara Butler's company thrives by donating its fanciful houses.

By Francine Kizner

Giving away up to $55,000 a year in merchandise has become a tradition for Barbara Butler Artist-Builder Inc. The 21-year-old high-end play structure company--which boasts celebrity clients like Will Smith and expects to bring in $2.3 million in 2008--makes charitable donations in lieu of having an advertising budget. "We get a lot of publicity, and we try to raise the most money possible," says Barbara Butler, 51, who owns the 16-person business with her husband, Jeffrey Beal, 52, and her sister, Suzanne, 58.

Since 1999, the San Francisco company has donated playhouses, play accessories and gift certificates to schools and charitable organizations that enhance children's lives, such as the Bay Area Discovery Museum. By choosing charities related to its mission, the company frequently brings in new customers who want custom playhouses or buyers looking for a better deal by purchasing direct rather than outbidding somebody.

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