Americans are spending lavishly on their images, whether they want to dye their hair a brighter color or to cast their companies in a better light. Restaurants and gas stations are still the most common establishments, but beauty parlors and public relations firms are the fastest-growing categories among the top 20 small businesses, according to Dun & Bradstreet figures.

The do-it-yourself ethos exemplified by the hardware store seems to be ebbing. In its place is a get-somebody-else-to-do-it attitude and a boom in service businesses -- everything from plumbers and electrical contractors to local truckers and auto repair shops. Consumers seem too busy even to mix their own drinks -- from 1979 to 1984 the number of bars grew one third faster than the number of liquor stores.

What follows are the rates of growth and contraction among the most common businesses with annual sales of less than $1 million. Take it away, Mom and Pop.

1984 1979-84

Rank Business Number % growth

1. Eating establishments 174,876 16.5

2. Gasoline service stations 100,213 -0.3

3. Drinking establishments 95,246 34.9

4. Grocery stores 95,127 9.3

5. Plumbing/heating/air-conditioning 84,721 57.5

6. General auto repair shops 62,949 59.4

7. Gift/novelty shops 59,762 12.8

8. Electrical work 55,948 66.2

9. Sporting goods/bicycle stores 47,952 9.2

10. Automotive home supply stores 47,645 7.6

11. Local trucking without storage 46,129 76.8

12. Management/public relations 44,697 181.9

13. Furniture stores 44,336 -3.0

14. Women's ready-to-wear 44,274 -1.5

15. Liquor stores 41,639 22.0

16. Hotels/motels/tourist cottages 37,948 65.7

17. Beauty shops 37,310 153.2

18. Hardware stores 34,017 -3.4

19. Engineering/architectural services 33,859 110.8

20. Auto equipment (wholesale) 33,177 -2.2

Source: The Dun & Bradstreet Corp., Dun's Census of American Business

CORRECTION-DATE: August, 1985

CORRECTION:

The photographer's credit in "Scorecard" (Insider, June, page 22) should have read Steven Stone.