With little fanfare, Dorothy Lane Market Inc. has become one of the most innovative grocers on the Web. Customers can go online to place orders, see the day's specials, and check the availability of goodies such as Asiago Cheese Bread and Prosciutto di Parma. The company answers e-mail within 12 hours--24 hours a day, seven days a week. One Boston couple e-mailed the market after-hours asking if the store could deliver food to their daughter, who was ill at college. It did. "Dorothy Lane has made the Net human," says Daniel R. Wegman, president of Wegmans Food Markets Inc. in Rochester, N.Y. "In our business, that's revolutionary."

Others agree. In August alone, grocery execs from Italy, New Zealand, and Australia visited the Dayton grocer to learn its Web secrets. There, they saw how the market runs its back-office operations over the Net. Todd Templin, who manages the beer and wine department, says the company's Web site has cut his paperwork in half. Still, nothing is more popular then Dorothy Lane's specialties, like its Heavenly Hams and Killer Brownies, which now sell around the globe. Now that's customer service.

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