3 small biz Davids vs. 3 big Goliaths

Here are 3 small businesses that have thrived in troubled times by focusing on quality and a few good niches.

Alpine Access vs. Convergys
Alpine Access vs. Convergys
The challenge: Keeping costs down and quality up as larger outsourcing rivals close in.

What they did: The Denver firm handles customer service calls for clients like Office Depot and Abercrombie & Fitch. Its edge? While larger competitors staff costly brick-and-mortar call centers, mainly with recent high school grads, Alpine relies on more experienced telecommuters, saving on real estate costs. Also, says CEO Christopher M. Carrington, his mature crew is more likely to empathize with frustrated callers. Meanwhile, rivals are getting into Alpine's territory, accommodating additional home-based workers. Carrington is counting on Alpine's rigorous training program and quality workforce -- it accepted only 1% of all applicants last year -- to help maintain an edge. How's business? Carrington says the company is profitable, and sales will rise to $110 million from $67.5 million last year.

This article is from the September 26, 2011 issue of Fortune.
By Elaine Pofeldt, contributor @FortuneMagazine - Last updated February 06 2012: 2:00 PM ET
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