Leon has dreams of building a retail empire, but sadly they haven't come to fruition just yet. But he is getting there, gradually; his online business selling quirky and retro clothes has been growing apace, and he hopes to markedly expand his range and to attract significantly more customers in the coming months. However, in order for this to happen, he's going to have to make some progress in managing data for both his stock and his customers.

Leon is aware that keeping those customers, and attracting more, depends not just upon the clothes he has available (delightful and reasonably-priced though they are) but upon the experience customers have from his business. He wants to provide a personalised and distinctive service that encourages the public to shop with his company, to spend more time browsing the website and hopefully appreciating the fine quality garments he has for sale.

To solve this problem, Leon needs to build a database. He wants to have records for every customer who shops with his site coupled with details of everything that they've bought. From this data, he intends to extract information that will help develop that all-important customer experience - he's hoping to make recommendations to existing customers, pointing them in the direction of items they may like based on what they've bought before; he's looking to build a clearer understanding of which products are most popular with which categories of customers; and he wants to be able to email customers directly with individually tailored offers.

Such a process, however, can seem to be more easily said than done - and Leon's is a small business, without the funds to hire database management expertise. Leon needs to find a way to do it himself, and he can with Microsoft Access. Access provides all the tools he needs to make these improvements, but without requiring any previous experience.

To start with, he can create his database from a range of pre-built templates, available to suit any situation. Once he's filled it with the desired information - and it's easy to carry data over from other any other Office programs that he may have used for previous transactions, such as Excel - Access provides a wide selection of tools with which to analyse and assess his data.

The software makes defining queries and expressions simple - so Leon can identify how often purchasers of one item tend to buy another, and from this, he can create those much needed recommendations.

Access also allows him to analyse the data, with easy to understand visual results; for instance, by conditionally formatting his data he can see at a glance - through colours, small charts or symbols. For example, if a certain line is underperforming amongst a particular category of customer, Leon will be able to see this immediately and make whatever adjustments are necessary to compensate. For a more thorough understanding, Access can compile detailed reports on any aspect of his data, so he can always be confident that his company is focusing on the most profitable lines, and aiming the marketing of these lines at those who are most likely to buy them.

Having used Access to clearly identify which products ought to be targeted at which audience, Leon can further develop his company's relationship with his customers. Information in Access databases is easily accessible, so it's not at all difficult for him to extract email addresses for customers and send out emails featuring deals and offers on just the lines that individual customers could be expected to appreciate. In this way, Leon can ensure that his customers see him working with them on a personal basis, instead of only presenting items for sale and hoping that visitors will take a fancy to them.

Leon has built his business on high-quality, original products, but Access can help the organisation to progress to a new level. What's more, it allows Leon to manage information without the need for bringing in outside expertise; a short training course will help him to get to grips with the tools and techniques that Access offers, and with that there's nothing to stop him from getting every possible advantage from his data, and every possible advantage for his business.