Before big discounters such as Office Depot moved in, C. T. Brannon Office Interiors was a thriving retailer in Dallas. Owner Charley Brannon fought the superstores with catalog sales, updating his competitive prices by printing a new 250-page volume every quarter. But with print runs costing $4,000 each, he couldn't keep pace and closed shop in 1991.

But Brannon is back. Enticed by new software called Market/Net, he risked another $4,000 on one more catalog -- an electronic version. Within two months he was running essentially the same 100,000-item retail operation, using a PC instead of a store. "Buyers got tired of bulky catalogs and paperwork," he explains of the many former customers who have returned, "and most didn't want to talk to a salesperson. Nowadays, you need a computer that can take orders."

Brannon promotes an 800 number to inspire buyers "to get on their modems and play." The computer-to-computer service -- a database with retail-specific features -- displays pictures of products (using additional graphics software), lists prices, records orders, calculates discounts, generates invoices, takes electronic mail, and prints receipts at the customer's terminal. Not only is there little sales overhead, but revising prices takes mere minutes and costs nothing. And after that's done, revels Brannon, an avid fisherman, "I don't even have to be there."

Market/Net from Information Clearinghouse (800-537-7373) costs from $695 to $1,495; the accounting-integrated version is $2,695. It requires a 386 or higher computer with a modem. For an on-line demo, modem 310-763-0275.

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