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Beggar's Market

This business got some fast cash the old-fashioned way: The owners begged for it.

Chris Staros and Brett Warnock were in dire straits. Their Marietta, Georgia, comic book publishing company, Top Shelf Productions Inc., was going to have to cease publication entirely in April 2002 when their distributor went bankrupt. Because they had been expecting a hefty $100,000 payment from the doomed distributor when it went under, Staros, 39, and Warnock, 36, needed a big cash infusion--fast.

Their solution was to send an e-mail to their friends and customers detailing the situation and asking anyone interested in purchasing comic books to do so (and quickly). "It was sort of an act of desperation," says Staros. "[We wanted] to tell them honestly what happened."

The response was overwhelming. Customers forwarded the e-mail to other comic book lovers, and 24 hours later, Top Shelf was working overtime to fill the 1,000 orders received. Says Staros, "Everybody rallied behind our cause."

Though the situation ended well, could this sort of begging approach be a turnoff to a company's customers? "In more cases than not, [this type of plea has come off as] more positive than negative," says Gary C. Glenn, a business consultant with NewsWire One Inc. But in order for the begging strategy to work, Glenn notes, a company needs to know its clients very well. "Be strategic about what you're asking," he says. "And don't cry wolf-don't use [this method] as an easy way out."

Staros and Warnock didn't have to be told that--they sent an e-mail that evening spreading the good news to the tight-knit comic book community. Says Staros, "We didn't milk it."

This story appears in the February 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »