Jack Mitchell starts his morning at 5 o'clock with a cup of coffee and the previous day's sales report. The clothing retailer lives for data. His company's custom-made software tracks what customers buy, as well as their golf handicaps, where they work, and whether they root for the Yankees or the Red Sox. "The technology," he says, "has helped us grow the business by getting closer to the customer."

Providing stitch-perfect service is exactly what Mitchell's dad, Ed, had in mind when he founded the business with his wife, Norma, back in 1958. He died last year, at 98, having passed ownership to his sons, Jack and Bill, in the early 1970s. They have since begun distributing stock to their seven children. Despite the changing of the guard -- and the fact that annual sales have grown to $65 million -- the company's reputation for superior service remains unblemished.

This hasn't happened by luck. CEO Jack and vice chairman Bill decided that their offspring could not join the company until they'd worked outside for five years. To be sure everyone stays on message, the family meets once a week. As for Jack, 66, he's preaching the Mitchells/Richards gospel to others via his book, Hug Your Customers (Hyperion, 2003) -- and darting around the stores, taking care of customers.

Donna Fenn

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