The owner of SPC Office Products , a chain of office supply stores, Reid has watched as self-service giants like Staples and Office Depot have come to dominate his industry.

But Reid, 47, is not concerned.

Judy George, founder of Norwood, Massachusetts-based Domain Home Fashions, a small chain of home furnishing shops in the Northeast, says she spends as much time as possible on the road chatting with her clients.

Candy Nichols, owner of a chain of children's clothing stores in New York City's suburbs, uses a similar tack: She sends personal shoppers to some customers' homes with racks of clothes so clients don't have to leave their houses to shop.

Operating their Web-based vintage records business from their home in Fair Oaks, California, the Turtons outsource tasks they know less about, like Web design, and spend nearly all their waking hours listening to records, writing commentaries about each LP, and personally communicating with customers by e-mail.

"Allow your employees to educate themselves about the business and make important decisions so they have a stake in the company," says Sanow.

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