There I was, sitting in a hair salon in Rhode Island, thinking about investing. I wasn't thinking about Rhode Island companies because truth be told, the little state doesn't boast too many big names besides CVS Caremark (NYSE:CVS), Hasbro (NYSE:HAS), and Textron (NYSE:TXT).

My hairdresser and I started discussing the sorry state of the economy (Rhode Island's unemployment rate topped 10% recently), and she mentioned that her husband has been struggling. "What does he do?" I asked. It seems he works on machines in jewelry plants, repairing them, but that business has really been weak lately, and his hours have been cut back. I knew that for a long time Providence was the costume jewelry capital of America, but she explained that the main customer of the company he works for is ... Tiffany (NYSE:TIF)!

This was a great reminder to me of how we can tap some useful (and legal) inside information from people all around us. I've long been interested in adding Tiffany to my portfolio, as it has a great reputation for product quality and long-term stock performance. Over the past 20 years, it has grown at an annual average rate of nearly 11%, compared with 5% for the S&P 500, excluding dividends.

I then looked Tiffany up on our Motley Fool CAPS service and found that investors don't have the greatest confidence in it right now. That makes sense, as it's no secret that its sales are down. Its recently reported fourth-quarter profits were down more than 75%. Still, it will eventually recover, and now, instead of waiting for a press release to tell me about it, I might keep in better touch with my hairdresser.

Insights all around us
Meanwhile, after my skating lesson this week, I discussed head injuries with a fellow student who happens to be a nurse. I might have done better to ask her about companies that seem to be suffering or prospering in her hospital. Stericycle (NASDAQ:SRCL), for example, has racked up average annual gains of more than 30% over the past decade, while Stryker (NYSE:SYK) has averaged more than 11%, and someone like her might have given me a great introduction to these companies.

So, go ahead and be more social about your investments. In this environment of abundant bargains, you may profit from it in more ways than you could expect.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article. Stryker is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Hasbro is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Stryker. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.