Personal contact with customers is a crucial element in the success of any new business ? and it's one of the most common casualties of growth. "As a company grows, the president tends to fade away into his office," observes Joseph Cherry, president of Cherry Tire Service, in Maybrook, N.Y. That can lead to a loss of leverage right at the point when a company is starting to take off and needs it most.

The danger is that the company can become just another faceless entity that a customer deals with every day. The danger is evengreater, Cherry realized, in an era when companies rely on computers to handle communications with customers. So heinstituted a simple policy of sending a personal thank-you note to each customer. Now, every evening he sits downand signs a stack of cards printed with "Thank you" on the front and, inside, a message reading, "Thank you very much forcalling Cherry Tire Service. We really appreciate your business."

"It's hard to keep up with, but it's worth it," says Cherry. "It's better than newspaper ads because each card goes right to theperson I want to reach. And customers don't forget it."