The Company and Industry Research Page
Prepared by Steven J. Bell, Director of Gutman Library
What's On This Page
Many SBA courses require students to complete assignments that require company and industry research, and depending on the course the amount of research required can be extensive. This page is designed to help SBA students to efficiently navigate and utilize the company and industry information resources provided by the Paul J. Gutman Library, and selected resources that are freely available on the internet. Here's what your'll find:
SWOT Analysis - What is it?
A more common assignment requires students, usually in groups, to conduct a SWOT analysis for a company. SWOT stands for: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. The goal is to thoroughly research a company - and the industry in which it operates - to identify and analyze all of the SWOT elements. Gutman Library's electronic business databases can provide access to the information needed for the SWOT analysis. You can examine a one-page guide to SWOT that includes information on the library databases that help with the analysis,
Before beginning any company research project it's advisable
to identify the nature of the company. It could be:
From the research perspective, the public company offers the best opportunity to gather information. Public companies must "disclose" meaning they must make available financial data and other information. That mean there are fewer barriers to gathering information for the SWOT analysis. Consider that a private company does not divulge its financial statements. Without financials, a SWOT analysis could be quite difficult.
To determine a company's status, do a search on the company name in our Hoover's Online (NOTE: Gutman Library subscribes to the premium version - this is better than the "Hoovers.com" which is the free version). Look at this screenshot that shows how to identify a public company in Hoovers.
SIC and NAICS - Matching a Company To An Industry
An SIC is a Standard Industrial Classification code and an NAICS is a North American Industry Classification System. The United States Dept. of Commerce uses these codes to classify every company into by industries and products. The SIC codes are no longer officially in use as the NAICS codes were created to both improve on and replace the SICs and to meet the requirements of NAFTA. However, in most business research databases you will likely see both SICs and NAICS in use. There are several library databases that can help you determine the SIC or NAICS for a particular company - to help better identify its industry, and these numbers can be used in databases to gather additional industry information. Keep in mind that many companies, particularly large conglomerates operate in multiple industries and therefore list many codes. Look at these examples of finding the codes from Hoovers and Business & Company Resource Center.
Almost any type of serious company analysis, and especially a SWOT Analysis will require obtaining company financials. Keep in mind that for U.S. companies, only a publicly held parent company will make its financial statements available. If you are researching a private firm or a subsidiary of a public company, you will not find financials for this company. It has become more common for public companies to provide their financials through the company web site. Many simply provide links to their SEC documents. You can find financials in several library databases, including Hoovers, Business & Company Resource Center, ValueLine Research Center, and Lexis/Nexis Academic Universe (in the Disclosure Report). If you want to obtain the actual SEC documents a recommended web site is EDGARSCAN. It makes the search and location of the documents easy, there are readily available segments of the documents available for download, and the site is easy to navigate. The most important documents are the 10-K - which is an annual report, and the 10-Q, the quarterly report that updates the annual report. If you are in need of financial ratios they can be found online in the Disclosure Reports (see Lexis/Nexis below), but the library also subscribes to the print versions of several common ratio books, including the RMA Annual Statement Studies (338.0973 R642a in the 1st Floor Reference Area) and the Dun & Bradstreet's Key Business Norms and Ratios (338.50973 D897iL in the 1st Floor Reference Area).
What about using the company's own web site as a source of information. There's no question that it can be a useful source to find out what is happening at the company, to learn about products, divisions, and other basic information. It is important to keep in mind that the company site is primarily a public relations document, designed to encourage investors to buy stock. Therefore you need to carefully evaluate information found on the web site, and keep in mind that the company isn't likely to offer any information that isn't positive. In other words, the company's own site has internal biases. Since you have access to so much other information about the company, it just makes sense to use more than the company web site.
Gutman Library's Company and Industry Information Resources.
The library already offers a web page that provides information about and links to all of the relevant databases that have something to do with electronically researching business information. Provided here is a brief summary of those databases that are most appropriate for company and industry research - and any specialized resources they contain.
Hoover's Online - Essentially a business directory with a variety of basic company information content. This includes, news stories, financials, corporate officers, competitor lists, information about competitors. Of particular value is the competitive landscape report. It compares your company to three top competitors, the overall industry and the market in one chart. Hoovers provides information on all types of companies, public, private, international, and subsidiary.
ValueLine Research Center - Designed for the investor, VRC contains detailed financial data on publicly held companies. It covers approximately 3,500 companies, so it may not have some data for some public companies. On the home page, the navigation shows the "look up company" and "look up industry" options. Those are the two areas used for this research. It is best to examine both the PDF and HTML versions of the VRC reports for a company or industry. They are not the same report. Be sure to examine the "commentary" sections of the report. There is one for the company and industry - they are found in the HTML version. The PDF version contains a one-page detailed financial analysis of the company.
Business & Company Resource Center - This is a "one stop" center for a variety of business information about all types of companies, industries, and products. It is easy to navigate, but offers an advanced search feature for customized searching. The easiest way to begin is to search by company name, identify the correct record for the company, and then proceed to gather information by selecting the tabs at the top of the page. The types of data (click links below to see examples) available are:
Here are some quick tips. First, when you search by a company
name it is always a good idea to change the search index from "default" to "CO
Company Entity". That helps to assure the articles are primarily about the
company. While BSP can be scrolled for articles, it is more efficient to explore
by result category. In the illustration below links to some of the categories
helpful to company and industry research are highlighted with red arrows. These
categories are typically available for public companies. They may not be
available for private firms, especially those that are small and without
national business interest (e.g., an architecture firm based in a Philadelphia
Note - to select any or all of the ABI databases, once connected to the ProQuest system (ProQuest is the name of the company that supplies ABI), click on the "select multiple databases" link and then choose from the menu.
Note - ABI/Inform is also Gutman Library's source for the full text of the Wall Street Journal. Anyone doing research on a public company cannot overlook articles from the Wall Street Journal. The good news is that it is integrated into ABI/Inform. As long as your search includes "newspapers" as a source (which is does by default) you will be searching the Wall Street Journal. If you want to limit your search to only articles from the Wall Street Journal or any other business publication, you can do that in ABI/Inform by searching by "publication" - click on that search tab - or use the "advanced search" to limit your search by a publication title (note - you must drop the index box to change the index to "publication title".
Special Tip for ABI: Consider a large company such as Sears. A basic search on the word "sears" can retrieve many thousands of articles - and many of them will not be strictly about Sears. For example, you could retrieve an article about Wal-Mart that mentions the work Sears anywhere, such as "Sears is far behind Wal-Mart is sales volume." The problem is that the article mentions the word Sears, but it is really all about Wal-Mart. Wading through these articles wastes lots of time. Instead, use the special "company name search" that ABI offers to enhance the search.
Start with a basic search on Sears:
This retrieves an enormous amount of articles which will take many hours to wade through. The goal in searching electronic databases is to reduce the search to the least number of articles where most of the articles are very specific to the company. Here is the result of the search:
The red arrow shows the search results - 38,891 (keep in mind this does go back to the 1970s).
The black arrow points to the "company name" search that is recommended by the database. The blue arrow indicates that you can also limit the search to a specific format of publication. Using the "Sears (company/org)" option will greatly reduce the articles retrieved and increase the quality of the articles retrieved.
All of the ABI databases allow for advanced searching to locate information that is specific to "sears" and "marketing". Search terms, using the advanced search, can also be limited to specific fields, such as article title or journal title. All ProQuest databases allow students to format their article citations according to standard formats such as APA, MLA, and Chicago.
Lexis/Nexis Academic Universe - Most students know Academic Universe (AU) as a good source for full-text articles from thousands of newspapers, magazines, press releases, and more. You can certainly use AU to get all sorts of stories about many companies. The MOST IMPORTANT piece of ADVICE is DO NOT use the QUICK NEWS SEARCH - unless you are just starting and want just a few quick articles. The quick search finds only 125 articles - no more - and you have no control over what the articles are about or where they are coming from. For a SWOT analysis you'll need to go into more depth. So, what else can you use in AU?
CAUTION: The most difficult challenge in using AU to find information on any large, public company is that there is far too much information. If you typically just search the name, you'll likely get a response that indicates your search will retrieve more than 1,000 articles - and the search won't work. You'll need to think of ways to combine your company name search with other terms or use some of the strategies mentioned below. If you are encountering difficulty in narrowing your search or finding good articles in AU, then speak to Steven Bell or another member of the library staff at Gutman Library for advice on how to use features such as "atleast" and "word count" limiting to improve search results.
As you can see, there is a good deal more to Lexis/Nexis AU than the Quick News Search. There is actually more than that mentioned here. It can be a good use of time to familiarize yourself with the different areas of Lexis/Nexis AU's business research category. If you need additional assistance with L/N AU for business research, please contact Steven Bell.
An important component of any company research project is to explore the industry in which that company operates. Is that industry booming or is it in decline? Who are the competitors within the industry? What is the outlook for the industry? Can you get composite sales or financial data for the industry?
The section above highlights Plunkett's Research Online as a premier source of industry information. But there are some other sources mentioned below, including some userful print resources found in the Library.
It is important to keep in mind the difference between an industry and a product. For the most success in researching an industry, consider that they are organized by the aggregation of large corporations. Examples are banking, airline, automotive, food and beverage, telecommunications, and so on. If you were researching frozen yogurt desserts, you could possibly find some information about it within the food and beverage industry, but don't expect to find industry reports on frozen yogurt desserts.
Most of the databases discussed above can also serve as excellent research tools for doing industry research. This section will provide a few tips on making the most of them for your research project.
In addition to these electronic resources, don't forget to use the Standard & Poor's Industry Surveys, which we still subscribe to in print format. They are found in the main reference area of Gutman Library.
Hoover's Online - they provide an industry overview report. See the screenshots to learn how to get access to the report.
ValueLine Research Center - in addition to the company reports, Valueline also provides an industry report. This contains a current assessment of the events in and outlook for that industry, advice for investors, and some aggregate financial data for the industry. See the screenshots to learn how to get access to the report.
Business & Company Resource Center - as mentioned above this database has a section devoted to industry information. There is an industry search tab as well that allows access to the database content by industry rather than by company name. Now that you know how to get the SIC or NAICS for a company, you can use it here to get more information about the industry. See the screenshots on how to get to a report on your industry from the Encyclopedia of American Industry.
ABI/Inform - you can easily construct a search to find articles about an industry. For example, a search could be formed by combining the terms "airline" and "competition or strategy". If you already have an NAICS code, ABI does have a feature that allows you to use it in a search to focus on industry information. See the screenshot that show how to do this.
Lexis/Nexis Academic Universe - Like ABI/Inform you can construct searches in AU to find articles more specific to industries. However, there is one area of AU that is particularly relevant to industry research. That is the Industry & Market search. To get to it, you need to enter the Business section of AU. The advantage of I&M searching, is the the articles being searched are more specific to industries and markets, so the search results are usually more accurate. The source option allows you to choose from about 30 different industries.
Last Updated 2/11
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