Using 1-800 numbers that spell out words, such as 1-800-TheRock can be a powerful marketing tool for fast growth start-up companies.

I remember a few years ago at the height of the summer cruising season, I decided that I wanted to book an Alaskan cruise. I called my local travel agent requesting she reserve two mid-priced cabins during a specific week. After doing some checking, she told me all the cruise ships were full.Then, I called a premium travel club affiliated with a credit card that advertises not to leave home without it. Even with the clout that this card company is supposed to have, I was told there was nothing they could do. All the Alaskan cruise ships were full.

Getting creative, I tried to come up with the name of a travel agency that might specialize in cruises. Almost at random, I dialed 1-800-Cruises.

A travel agency in Boca Raton, Fla., answered my phone call. They had snagged the 1-800-Cruises number some years ago. Now, they do nothing but book cruises and specialize nationwide utilizing their 1-800-Cruises number.

With their volume-buying clout, they had located for me, within two hours, two cabins to Alaska on a premium line.

So goes the power of 800 numbers that spell either the name of your company, product or service, or perhaps all three.

Are you ready for a little phone number test to see the strength of this marketing tool? OK, read the following out loud: "To order information on a Buick, dial 1-800-4ABuick or for a Mercury, dial 1-800-466-8888, or to buy a mutual fund, dial 1-800-Franklin or Strong Funds at 1-800-368-4965."

OK, shut the newspaper for just a moment and ask yourself what number to dial to get information on a car or mutual fund.

I bet more than 90 percent of you remembered how to reach Buick and Franklin, while less than 10 percent remembered the other two numbers as well.

You might want to ask Jim McCann, owner of the phone number 1-800-Flowers and a company with the same name, about the value of his 800 number. He is reported to have paid $9 million for a small 14-office chain of florist shops. McCann made the purchase primarily to snag the 800 number that helped him build a $300 million company, which has almost put the much older FTD flower service out of business. He fulfills about 9 million phone orders yearly from those who remember his number when they want to order flowers.

Or, talk to the owner of 1-800-Batteries. His lackluster company was trying to sell batteries nationwide by mail order. He got a huge break when a nice guy somewhere realized that he could help this struggling young battery salesman by giving, yes, giving him, the magic 1-800-Batteries phone number that really jumpstarted the battery mail-order business.

And, of course, there is our own Utah contact lens company that was scraping along with about $35,000 a month in sales in June 1995, utilizing an 800 phone number that spelled LensNow. With the research help of a private eye, the youthful Utah entrepreneur located the North Carolina man who had squirreled away what has got to be the best 800 number ever for building a nationwide mail-order contact lens company. That's right, 1-800-Contacts, which helped the Utah company double sales to $72,000 in one month without the help of a single ad.

Now, with the current 888 numbers and soon to be released 877 toll-free numbers, even small businesses have a chance at snagging high-value numbers that spell out words and company names. How about 1-888-LogHome or 1-888-Million or 1-888-4XFiles?