The ways Phil Kelly gathered cost-free research about his industry could be used by almost any company, regardless of the business. Here are some of the people Kelly talked to:

* Accountants. "Do you know who The Limited uses to audit their books?" Kelly asks. "Arthur Andersen [a Big Eight accounting firm]. Do you know who we use? Arthur Andersen. Are they going to tell me any of the of The Limited's secrets? Of course not. But, based on their work with companies like The Limited, are they going to have a real good handle on the ratios you need to run a successful specialty retail shop? You bet."

* Suppliers. They have to know what the market wants, lest they be stuck with inventories that would sink the Queen Mary. In Kelly's case, manufacturers' surveys showed that while most specialty shops were trying to sell expensive suits, there was a huge market that wanted to spend just a bit less.

* Brokerage houses. There are stock analysts who cover every industry. It is even easy to figure out which ones are best. Every year, Institutional Investor magazine asks customers to rank the analysts' performances. All Kelly did was open brokerage accounts with the firms that had the best retail analysts, and then ask for their reports.

* Trade associations. How much to privately held specialty shops spend on advertising? What do they typically lay out for rent? How bad is the problem of shrinkage, or theft? The answers to these and other questions were available to Kelly through his association.