Forget the paperless office; here comes the personless office! Visone Corvette, the country's largest Corvette dealership, is about to open its sixth satellite showroom, which, like the others, will have no secretaries, no receptionists, and no bookkeepers. Visone's main office, in Saugus, Mass., will perform functions for every other showroom by phone.

The enabling linkage is a fairly new technology that essentially compacts voice and electronic messages into digital "packets," which are inserted into gaps between the other messages on an already-paid-for data line. The packets are uncompacted at the other end. That's achieved by using Micom Communications' relatively inexpensive ($3,000) Marathon Data/Voice Server. One server unit is attached at each end of a 56,000-baud line that's leased from the phone company. The two units parcel the dedicated line into seven channels, permitting six voice conversations, plus a fax or computer data exchange, all at once.

There are no long-distance charges. Using conventional phone service, a company in Boston that talks, say, with its sales office in Chicago every day for two hours and sends another hour's worth of fax and computer traffic would spend about $8,400 a year in tolls (at 18¢ a minute). But it could lease a line for about $4,800, install two compression units for about $6,000, and come out well ahead after a few years of use.

Indeed, affirms founder Tony Visone, "I couldn't run the company without the compression units." Given the volume of phone and fax use Visone's near-$70-million company engages in every business day (there are 25 telemarketers in the Saugus office alone), the toaster-size apparatus has been a godsend. Monthly telecommunications costs now total about $4,000. Visone says that using the phones as much as he does now but without the compression units would cost him $70,000 a month.

Visone's operations in Atlanta; Indianapolis; Los Angeles; Peabody, Mass.; and Pompano, Fla.; funnel into the original Saugus site, where they're tied into a central local-area network. A dealer from any showroom can simply call the Saugus office, where archived documents can be called up on a computer, obviating the need for separate office staffs. Inventories, customers' needs, bills of sale, and similar information from each location are shared countrywide. "It's made the company one," Visone says.

Recently, he added videoconferencing capabilities to the Marathon linkup he already had with his bank. The idea was to establish a companywide videoconferencing system (whose data signals Marathon also processes), so that when a shopper applies for financing at a given showroom, he or she is immediately introduced to a loan officer on-screen and is engaged in a tête-à-tête interview then and there. "A customer who sees the lender at inception causes fewer collection problems than one who never meets the lender," Visone notes. Another time and money saver: the 31-year-old founder now travels less, "inspecting" each showroom via television every morning.

* * *