Candace Rey, First Union Securities, Burlington, N.C.

When Candace Rey was in Hawaii with First Union Securities' Chairman's Circle this past year, she ran into some co-workers from her former employer. To say the least, they were stunned.

"They were wondering how in the world I went from 300,000 dollars in production to the Chairman's Circle," Rey says.

It turns out that leaving the old stomping grounds gave her the chance to make some needed improvements in her client service.

In 1997, as Rey languished near the bottom of her old firm's producer ranks, she pulled out a notebook and began jotting down reasons why she hadn't cracked the million-dollar club.

"Inadequate support was No. 1 on the list," she says. "There were not enough sales assistants. And the office wasn't professional enough for me, either. It was keeping big clients away."

When Rey resigned a few days later, she told the branch manager, "To get to the next level, I have to leave."

Just 2-1/2 years later, Rey has tripled her production.

"Being with the right firm," she says, "is imperative. I had to set up the office a particular way to get the big dollars I envisioned. I needed total autonomy."

Since much of Rey's clientele is elderly, she hired a 76-year-old sales assistant, Margaret Whitesell, who greets clients, fixes them coffee and chats with them "about the good ol' days."

"By hiring Margaret, older people were saying, 'You've validated our worth,'" Rey says.

Before Whitesell was hired, 50 percent of Rey's clients were elderly. Now it's 70 percent.

Another important player in business growth is Rey's daughter and assistant, Kim Hinsdale. "Kim makes sure all the clients are serviced properly," Rey says. "All I have to do is sell, which is what I do best."

Rey holds several client appreciation events, including picnics with more than 600 people, workshops for women at a luxurious country club and a golf clinic for men.

One night a year, Rey treats clients who provide the most referrals to a limousine ride and dinner. "You can't believe how popular [the event] is," Rey says. "People talk about it all year long, saying 'I'm going to make sure I'm in that limo this year.'"