When Patricia Gallup and David Hall launched PC Connection (PCC), in Marlow, N.H., the nation's first mail-order business devoted exclusively to the IBM personal computer, they formed a customer-support staff of two: themselves. They dispensed pre-, during-, and post-sale information freely to customers

Doling out intensive instruction about complex problems shrinks tight mail-order margins even further. Yet, it was standard policy at PCC that even if its customers bought the product from some guy with a pushcart, PCC would support it.

Didn't that mean PCC may have been hand-holding the buyer of a product that another reseller has already squeezed the profit out of? Sure, but how else could this start-up business build volume? The company grew 183% per year doing it. As far as customer-affairs director Peter Haas was concerned, the best call to PCC was one that began, "I bought this somewhere else, but..." And, with that phone call, PCC made itself a new customer.