Here's a new argument for opening your company's books: It can be a hot customer-service tool. Unipower Corp., a Coral Springs, Fla., electronics manufacturer, has discovered just how advantageous it can be for a private corporation to publish its annual report.

The company's annual report details sales, number of employees, net income, and balance-sheet information. But the real meat, says marketing chief Ed Schneider, is a four-page section called "Understanding Unipower" that lists the company's markets, sales channels, competitors, and top 25 customers.

Why go to such lengths? "It tells our customers they're doing business with a real company," explains Schneider. "They can look at the sales history and say, 'My God, they're growing, and they have inventory under control." He adds, "We want to impress customers and intimidate our competition. Everyone is teaming up with a limited set of suppliers. You have to set yourself apart."

Careful to act as a public company would, Unipower's founders offer one caveat to the open-book strategy: be prepared to back up your claims. Since publishing its first report in 1991, the company has grown 933% over a five-year period.

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing