Losing sales because of lousy service by shelf-stocking companies is a risk. Big retailer chains avert this risk by contracting "retail-detail" companies, which send people out to stores to make sure products are in stock and promotional displays are properly staged.

The service was too costly for Headbone Interactive, a children's multimedia publisher, located in Seattle. Walter Euyang, the operations manager, bootstrapped a solution: He enlisted friends and family of company employees to check on displays of Headbone products in retail outlets and touch base with the store managers.

Says Euyang, "We figured they'd work harder for us since they want to see our company succeed." The homegrown team was also much less expensive than hiring a professional firm to do the job. Overall, Euyang estimates the company cut its costs by nearly 40%. During the busy holiday season, Headbone's dedicated team performed as well as the pros. When one bookstore was all out of a hot seller, one detailer sent word of the shortage to headquarters. Inventory was shipped directly to the store, bypassing the normal distribution warehouse. "That's the type of service we couldn't depend upon from a professional firm," says Euyang.

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing