Garden Way, the Troy, N.Y., manufacturer of high-end Troy-Bilt rototillers and other power equipment, reaps more than one-third of its sales from catalog and print-advertising orders. But some potential buyers who don't have a Troy-Bilt retailer nearby still want to test-drive the machines. They can. Garden Way will put them in touch with a volunteer neighbor who already owns one of the company's products.

Troy-Bilt owners, apparently a cultish lot, like to brag about their toys, according to Ned Van Woert, senior vice-president for strategic planning. The company recruits them, at the time of their purchase, into its so-called Good Neighbor program by offering them a special deal on their purchase. Garden Way then lists them in the directory of the Good Neighbor program.

Of course, neither Garden Way nor any other company can control what a customer is going to tell prospects about its products. So before you recruit customers as unofficial sales aides, you'd better make sure they're ecstatic over whatever you've sold them. -- Tom Richman