Even your fingers barely have to do the walking anymore. Companies that put the world at your fingertips are only too happy to assist today's phone-crazy consumer.
Franchises are particularly drawn to the dial-a-product market. Dial-a-Tile, in Oakhurst, N.J., recently began selling franchises to those interested in peddling ceramic tiles -- "a billion-dollar market with no industry leaders," says founder Robert Ballack. Dial-a-Designated-Driver, in Peninsula, Ohio, provides personal chauffeurs who drive customers' cars for an average of $15 a ride. Home Services Alliance, in Marietta, Ga., has launched 20 home-improvement-and-repair-referral networks within the past nine months.
Several new electronic classifieds also cater to phone-o-philes. Vehicle Information Network (VIN), launched late last year in Westlake, Calif., will fax car shoppers at no charge a qualified list of used cars and trucks through its 800-CAR-SEARCH service. VIN charges individuals a onetime fee of $14.95 to list a car or truck (until it sells), and dealers $795 a month for an unlimited number of listings. Cofounder Mark Brenner projects the company will earn 1993 revenues in excess of $41 million.
Rent Line, in Reseda, Calif., enables customers to look for an apartment armed with nothing more than a touch-tone phone. The 24-hour-a-day service is free for callers; to list a vacancy costs $149 a month. Cofounders John Melideo and Jerry Feldman are taking the whole premise one step further and planning a "community-care line," which will help coordinate the services and funding efforts of community service organizations, shelters, and food banks nationwide.
-- Alessandra Bianchi