If you're having a tough time arranging the financing on an acquisition, here's one way to approach the deal with a minimum of outside financing. The idea: lease the business from the seller until you're able to finance it more conventionally. That's what Jack Dean is doing with Dean Custom Foods, a fruit-juice processor in North East, Pa., and the tactic could work in lots of settings.

Dean, the founder and retired CEO of Erie Creative Coatings (a onetime Inc. 500 company), had attempted to buy the new business last January. But when his partner dropped out, the purchase financing unraveled. Dean went to five different banks, but all wanted significant amounts of collateral. That was when his attorney suggested a "master lease."

Under the master lease, Dean doesn't own the property on which the business sits or the equipment that makes it run, but in many ways, he says, it's hard to tell the difference. He has a five-year lease on the property and the equipment, and pays monthly rent of about $15,000. (The amount, Dean says, provides the lessor with an annual return of around 10% on his assets.) Beyond that, Dean is responsible for maintenance, utilities, and part of the insurance. Built into his lease is the right to buy the real estate and equipment for a predetermined price before January of 1994 (at which time the price will jump up).

So far, he's been able to more than double annual revenues to about $1 million and generate a "pretty healthy" profit. If that growth continues, he hopes to use the equity he builds toward purchasing the business. -- Bruce G. Posner