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Products for professionals-whether tools for carpenters or equipment for restaurants and food outlets-are emerging as hot markets among consumer trend setters.

Business-to-business marketers need to be very subtle when they try to rope in the trend setters, however. They can't take a page out of what the sports marketing community does and use professional athletes to hawk golf balls.

It's quite a tightrope to walk. Business marketers who want to start selling their professional products to trend-setting consumers must act as if they aren't trying to reach them. Trend setters wouldn't want them if they thought the unwashed masses had access to them, too.

This revelation about the significance of consumer crossover marketers came to me as I was lolling around Cape Cod this summer. My wife Merrilee and daughter Heather learned about a professional cook supply store in Hyannis and a paper and provisions warehouse outlet. Neither store advertised to consumers, but they wouldn't be turned away.

Merrilee and Heather had a great time shopping there because they could buy authentic restaurant stuff they couldn't buy anywhere else. So they stocked up on such "authentic" merchandise as red plastic deli baskets with paper liners, ketchup and mustard squirt bottles.

At the paper place, Heather bought cardboard holders for hot dogs, ice cream cartons, Coca-Cola plastic drink cups with lids, individual size little cups for ketchup, giant rolls of cellophane (which she'll use for Easter baskets) and hamburger paper wrappers. Said housewife Heather: "Efficiency is my life, and organization above all else. Restaurants seem to have that down pat. If I could model my own kitchen after a full-service diner, I'd be a happy camper.

"Most of the tools we buy are very limited, but restaurants seem to have anything you could ever want. So, meals are now easier on moms because I've got more efficient stuff [like reusable cups with lids] and it's more fun for kids. Kids get a kick out of getting their hamburgers wrapped just like at McDonald's."

Restaurant marketers must be salivating over this potential bonanza, but they have to be careful. While it's fun to be the first kid on your block to serve hamburgers wrapped the way they do it at McDonald's, the novelty could wear off pretty fast if every kid's mom served them the same way.

More importantly, I'm not sure how the fast-food boys would take to the restaurant supplier encouraging Moms to create the excitement of McDonald's or Burger King in the comfort of their own homes. Even kindly Dave Thomas of Wendy's might not shrug that off.

Let my wife Merrilee have the last word. (She always does.) "Sometimes little girls like to play kitchen. Well, sometimes housewives like to play restaurant." But, she warned, the equipment must look utilitarian. "It's got to look like we mean business in the kitchen."

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