There's a page in SharePoint that allows you to save a Site directly as a Site Template to the Site Templates Gallery. The URL is http://(sharepoint site)/_layouts/savetmpl.aspx
Apparently, there is no link in the settings page to this url in SharePoint.
With this, you can customise a site, and then save it as a template for future use. This serves as an alternative to using the stsadm backup and restore command.
Here's a screenshot of what the page looks like.