Convenience is the marketing imperative for professionals in the 1980s. Lawyers are putting up storefront offices with weekend and evening hours. Doctors are opening walk-in clinics. Now a management consultant has jumped into the trend with a "business center" set up to dish out consultation on demand.

The Proudfoot Business Center is part of a plan by Alexander Proudfoot Co. of Chicago to attract small-business clients that can't afford to take time for out-of-town consultants. The first center opened in Clearwater, Fla., in June, but the firm hopes to open centers in many major cities, allowing chief executives to run down the block for a quick sales-strategy chat during lunch and be back before their secretaries know they have been gone. Proudfoot offers the new center's services on a retainer or flat-fee-per-service basis, rather than man-week fees, which are standard when consultants fly in for week-long huddles with clients.

"When you're on a man-week basis," says Russell Banks the business center's president, "the client must be available and involved very intensely for several days. Small businesses can't take that kind of time out. They're not set up that way. The center is set up so that our consultants are available on an ongoing basis to handle things that occur spasmodically, as they often do in a growing company."