"Our goal is to be a full-service energy marketer while still remaining relatively small compared to our bigger competitors," Hazelrigg said.

And the keys to achieving that goal are forging strong relationships with the industry's biggest suppliers, and providing sophisticated, customized supply programs for Merrimac's end-user clients who aren't inclined to dedicate substantial resources to an in-house energy procurement operation.

"What we're really doing to a great extent is providing information on a personalized basis, from something of an insider's view of the customer's business," Hazelrigg explained.

And that entails endless hours on the phone and pouring over countless industry pricing sheets and supply information sources.

But maintaining profitability and a good reputation also entails knowing when to pass on certain potential opportunities.

"If someone else is truly more capable of handling something, we don't hesitate to tell the client and that helps cement the parts of the business where we excel," Hazelrigg said. "For instance, it would be difficult to supply ground fuels to people in Boston from here at least not at the level of service we feel we should be giving."

While Hazelrigg is reluctant to provide a list of corporate clients for fear of alerting competitors, she did identify one high-profile long-time customer Toyota Motor Sales USA in Torrance that appreciates Merrimac's reluctance to bite off more than it should.

"Mary and her people have been very competent and very responsive to our needs over the last eight years, starting as a local source (of gasoline) for a portion of our fleet vehicles," said Dale Carmichael, Toyota USA's National Cost Savings Manager. "But when we shared our national requirements with her, she was interested in expanding. But she was also realistic enough to tell us that she'd have difficulty (supplying) some areas of the country. So she passed."

Hazelrigg said the continuing deregulation of the electricity industry presents further opportunities for Merrimac.

"We're already doing some groundwork, working directly with customers to anticipate how we can save them more money. It could have a huge impact on us eventually, and I'm expecting (electricity deregulation) will have a positive effect on our revenues and profits in 1998."

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