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He tried 800, and he tried 888. But no matter how much he tried, Cal Deal couldn't get a memorable vanity toll-free number for his business.
So when new 877 numbers debuted in April 1998, Deal, president of The Graphic Witness Inc., a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based trial graphics firm, snatched up a prime number: 877-NETTER1. The number, which reflects Deal's standing as an authorized agent for one of the nation's top medical illustration companies, is definitely memorable to his customer base.
Deal is thrilled he snagged the right number. "The number has been well worth the cost because I get calls from all over the country from people who see my Web site," says Deal. He spends less than $10 each month to own the number (which rings right over his regular business line), plus the cost of toll calls.
Since toll-free numbers debuted almost 30 years ago, they've been considered powerful marketing tools. From major corporations to homebased businesses, toll-free numbers exude professionalism-as well as offer far-flung customers a free call on the company dime, helping spur sales and customer service calls.
It took almost 30 years to exhaust the almost 8 million 800 numbers available. The 16 million available through 888 and 877 exchanges were tapped in three years each. So on July 29, the latest exchange-866-went into service, says Joyce Smith, product manager for toll-free service with AT&T. The newest toll-free number, 855, will be available on November 18.
All toll-free numbers are stored in a common database, and customers with any long-distance carrier offering toll-free service-including Sprint and Worldcom-can call their carrier to request a vanity toll-free number.
The SMS/800 Number Administration Committee (SNAC), which manages and regulates toll-free number planning in North America, plans to issue at least three more toll-free exchanges-844, 833 and 822-in the coming years. But, Smith says, the current numbers should last customers at least through 2004.
Journalist and author Jeff Zbar has worked from home since the 1980s. He writes about home business, teleworking, marketing, communications and other SOHO issues.