Like many cash-poor catalog founders, Teresa Iglesias delegated order taking to an outside fulfillment house, so she could focus on the merchandising and design of NiÑos, her catalog of Spanish-English education products for children, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

One problem: she rarely talked to customers. Just getting a sales printout was a hassle. So last July she decided to bring everything in-house. The hard part was picking the software to manage it all, from order entry to billing.

She started with a list of 10 personal-computer titles, quickly narrowing the field to 6 and then to 2: the Mail Order Wizard (the Haven Corp., 800-676-0098), and Mail Order Manager, or MOM (Dydacomp Development, 800-858-3666).

After playing with $25 demos and talking to half a dozen users of the two programs, Iglesias and two employees chose MOM. But not without some hand-wringing. Here's a rundown of the factors Iglesias considered most important to her software selection -- and the trade-offs she made to meet her budget:

Customer base. Iglesias targeted Latino families for her offerings, but schools are a growing market segment. Thus the software had to be able to handle both consumer and institutional accounts. Also, since schools are notoriously late payers, the ability to generate invoices and receivables notices was a must. Another must-have: fields for "ship to" and "bill to," because they're often not the same. Both Wizard and MOM fit the company's dual needs, but entering purchase-order numbers, for example, was easier to do in MOM.

Operational needs. Iglesias put her priorities in this order: order entry, customer service and order fulfillment, inventory, and accounting (last because she decided she could still crunch numbers on her old Macintosh). She judged the basic MOM package comprehensive enough for her operation, which takes in 100 to 150 orders on a good day.

Training time. With only three weeks to train before the next catalog mailing, in September, the software had to be easy to learn. Both software finalists had pull-down menus and good documentation. However, "navigation through the screens was easier on MOM," says Iglesias.

Help!! MOM's devoted staff and year of free tech support made it easier to accept the inevitable glitches, like MOM's trouble parting with discontinued items. "We knew nothing would be perfect; we haven't been surprised," says Iglesias.

Cost. Though the costs for eight-user versions were close -- about $6,700 -- Iglesias wanted to start with a six-user package, which Wizard did not offer. MOM's six-user version, with four extra modules for tasks such as credit authorization, cost $5,500.

As for the payoff, Iglesias expected fourth-quarter savings of $5,000, and 20% savings on operations costs onward, because the automation should lower NiÑos' cost per order.

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In late October, a month after MOM was up and running, Iglesias reported in: she couldn't get the software to automatically enter free gifts for purchases of more than $60. "We have to type them in, and you wish the software would take care of that. But those are the bells and whistles you get in a $35,000 program."

The staff found creative ways around the snafus, and Iglesias retained some of her earlier euphoria. "We have much better control, and service to customers has improved by leaps and bounds." Does it feel as if she has a real business now? "Exactly."

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In her quest to automate her catalog operation, Teresa Iglesias got help from several sources.

Guide to Catalog Management Software (Industry Publications International, 215-396-0650; DOS/Macintosh edition, $95) gave her reviews of the 10 leading PC titles, plus an evaluation guideline. Once she had narrowed down her decision to two titles, Wizard and MOM, she talked to customers of both vendors about the programs. They summed up the pros and cons, and provided a benchmark for the time required to set up both systems. They also shared tactics for getting around MOM's limitations.

The bank gave her a three-year loan to purchase the software. She leased eight 486-based PCs on a Novell network.