When Judy Cockerton, co-owner of two Massachusetts toy stores (No Kidding!, in Brookline and Mattapoisett), runs out of stock, she goes to any lengths to replace it--even calling a competitor. She knows that her customers will remain loyal if she can produce the toy they're looking for, when they're looking for it.

Her company has formed a marketing alliance with other independent retailers in the area to battle a common enemy: big toy chains. Now, when Cockerton explains her shortage to one of her five partners, the other toy store takes the order over the phone at no extra charge. Though careful not to discuss pricing to avoid violating antitrust laws, the group cohosts promotional parties, holds joint raffles, offers a collective frequent-buyer card, and obtains bulk discounts. "When you're competing with all the specialty franchises and Toys 'R' Us, this seems to be the smartest way to do it," says Cockerton, who employs more than 20 staffers.

Copyright 1999 G+J USA Publishing