Not long ago, Scott Adler, a 35-year-old electrical engineer, stood in a long line in a U.S. Post Office in Camarillo, Calif. As the number of clerks waiting on customers mysteriously dwindled from three to one, Adler decided that "the public deserves better."

Adler took a leave of absence from his job, and last November, with $60,000 in savings, opened what is now the World Mail Center in Camarillo. The business doesn't deliver mail to addressees; rather, it accepts letters and packages for mailing, then turns them over to either the U.S. Postal Service or three private shippers -- Federal Express, United Parcel Service, or Trans-Box. Customers also may mail registered, certified, insured, or express letters, rent mailboxes, or buy stamps. While Adler charges no more for stamps than the Post Office, he does add a fee of $1 to $5 for the other services. Customers spend, on average, less than 30 seconds in his "post office," he says.

Within three months of its founding, the center was making a profit. It handled 20,000 pieces of mail during the six-week Christmas season alone. Recently Adler obtained financing to open three more centers in California. He also signed a contract with Sears, Roebuck & Co. to locate branches in their stores across the country. And this fall Adler expects to offer four different pilot models of the World Mail Center for national franchising. New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta will be among the first sites.

In the future, says Adler, "the centers will offer a whole range of courier services" by computer. The computer will shop around for the customer, picking the quickest route at the lowest price.

Unlike most post offices, Adler's centers are colorful and cheerful, with modern graphics and soft background music. A profit-sharing plan, according to Adler, encourages employees to be friendly and accommodating. "We're more like Saks Fifth Avenue," he says, "very plush and very nice."