If you want to design your own computer program to help you with your retail sales, call in your local programmer for a quotation on writing the software. If possible, retain the copyright; the market is starved for this type of software. If you develop a program in cooperation with other stores in your area, you could reduce the costs to little more than pocket change -- particularly if you borrow a computer from a local store.

When shoppers walk into your store, they should be confronted with a flashy attraction. You could even connect a voice synthesizer to a doormat to greet customers. (Voice synthesizers are available from computer stores for around $250.) To customers, the computer is a free game, and the more gamelike you make it, the more popular it will be.

Mannington Mills is the only manufacturer with a computerized sales program already in operation for its retailers, although Ford Motor Co. and Atari Inc. have systems under development. Before you consider producing a system like this yourself, check to see if one of your manufacturers already has one on the drawing board.

"Your first decision is whether you need an objective or a subjective listing," points out Harold Goldring, the Fort Lee, N.J., design consultant who helped develop Compu-flor, as well as similar projects at STP and Helena Rubenstein Inc. An objective system simply tells you which products will fit your needs. It doesn't ask questions about taste and preference. For example, a roofing contractor who needs to patch a roof might be asked questions about pitch, base, season of application, etc., and the computer will determine the best adhesive for the project. "When developing a system like this," Goldring says, "ask yourself what questions customers ask, what questions they should ask, and what questions successful salespeople ask."

The objective system works best when customers want to match up a product they are currently using with a compatible brand you sell. Examples are auto parts, contractor supplies, and office supplies such as typewriter ribbons and diskettes.

The subjective system, such as the Compu-flor system, works best when the customer has to make a difficult choice from a range of expensive products, such as autos, recreational vehicles, or carpets.

Although there are a number of financial planning systems on the market, there are very few that, like Rice's, will perform a number of separate calculations simultaneously. And you tend to get what you pay for. Make sure any system you select is as comprehensive as you need.