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Industry Analysis: Once Is Not Enough

Refresher: These online resources will target your research energy.

Smart entrepreneurs carefully research their industries before launching a business. Yet smarter ones continue that analysis as their companies mature.

“You’ve got to understand the big picture to make sure you’re in an industry with opportunities for profitable, sustainable growth,” says Robin Lasher, a FastTrac facilitator at the Tarrant County College SBDC in Fort Worth, Texas.

Industry analysis begins by identifying SIC and NAICS codes (see “Cracking the Code” in our January 3, 2006 issue). These codes help business owners identify public companies that are industry leaders or potential competitors. Then, by using EDGAR Company Search, entrepreneurs can find documents from these companies, such as 10-K reports, which provide all sorts of industry information, from government regulations to market forecasts.

Lasher recommends three other free resources for industry analysis:

FRB Beige Book. Published eight times a year, the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) Beige Book provides information on current economic conditions of major industries in twelve districts, along with a national summary.

Granted, this is a high-level look; however, it shows how an industry fares both regionally and nationally. “Even if business is good in your district, you may identify other areas of the country where conditions provide opportunities for growth,” Lasher points out.

Occupational Outlook Quarterly Online. Every two years, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides a ten-year outlook for the country’s future employment conditions for more than 270 occupations. The report (pdf download) organizes jobs according to market sector, with a brief explanation of why growth should be up, down, or average. For example, sparked by a growing number of elderly and disabled people who require assistance with their daily activities, the home-health-care business is booming. Demand for personal and home-care aides is expected to increase 41 percent between 2004 and 2014.

“If growth is anticipated at your industry level, that’s reassuring,” Lasher says. “But if the industry is expected to decline, look for ways to reinvent yourself.”

More detailed information can be found in the BLS Career Guide to Industries and the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook.

The Encyclopedia of American Industry (EAI) provides reports on specific industries according to their SIC codes. The reports include an industry snapshot, organizational structure, history, current conditions, industry leaders, the workforce, and suggestions for further reading.

To look at the EAI 2006 data, you’ll have to visit a public or university library that subscribes to this database. But a 2004 version is available online.

 

Lasher likes the EAI because it shows related industries. That way, business owners can think about expanding into another market by either adding new products or services—or forming a strategic alliance with another company.

Some Final Words. When using these resources, look for current trends, projected growth, what industry leaders are up to, along with changes in demographics, consumer buying habits, government regulations, and technology.

Especially important, technology not only creates new goods and services, but also alters how products are manufactured, sold, and delivered. A company could be in an industry with little or no growth due to intense competition, but gain market share with the right technology.

“Take printing,” says Lasher. “Although lithographic printing processes have dominated U.S. industry in the past, new technologies, such as digital printing, will most likely account for a higher percentage of customer needs in the future.”

No industry is static, Lasher adds: “Even if you did comprehensive research when you launched your company, keep up the detective work so you can prepare for shifts and growth opportunities.”

Wrter: T.J. Becker

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