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Business: A Guide to McFarlin Library Resources: Company Research Strategy

Company Research Strategies

This is a selected guide for research on Company Information in the McFarlin Library Collection.

 

 

Company Background

 

 

There are many tools available for doing company research.  Basic search strategies are needed for locating company background such as corporate structure, history, mission and objectives, services and products, and financial background.

The strategies will focus on researching public companies. Finding information on smaller private companies can be more difficult. Wherever possible, suggestions for finding information about private businesses will be included.


 The majority of  businesses in the U.S. are privately owned and are not legally required to disclose information to the public.  Since only publicly held corporations must disclose information to the public, only a very small percentage of American businesses can be readily researched.


Finding information about companies is basic to business research. Good background research allows informed decision-making for assessing competitors, analyzing companies for investment, and evaluating potential employers.

 

Consider the following outline for beginning company research:

 

 

Identify the company or companies
  • Publicly-held, traded on a stock exchange?
  • Subsidiary of a parent company?
  • Privately-held?
Mission and objectives of the company
  • Business involvement?
  • Products and services?
  • Goals and objectives?
Internal operations of the company
  • Company structure and management profiles?
  • Available resources?
  • Marketing and advertising?
External environment of the company
Identify the competition Competitive factors operating within the company Competitor profiles Environmental conditions
  • determine the industry
  • identify competitors
  • determine rankings and market share
  • buyers of the products or services
  • suppliers of raw materials and services

 

  • strengths of the competition
  • weaknesses of the competition
  • industry opportunities or threats
  • economic conditions
  • governmental regulation
  • technological development
  • societal issues

 


 

Finding Background Information

 

The following steps will help organize the research process:

  • develop an overview - use business directories
  • identify whether the company is public or private
  • look for company history
  • read financial disclosure reports
  • consider industry ratios, if relevant
  • establish corporate rankings, when relevant
  • browse periodical indexes to find articles
  • use newspaper indexes to find current articles
  • search Internet sources

 

To find information about company history, search the following online databases:

 

Business Source Complete via EBSCOhost

 

This is the world's definitive scholarly business database, providing the leading collection of bibliographic and full text content. As part of the comprehensive coverage offered by this database, indexing and abstracts for the most important scholarly business journals back as far as 1886 are included. In addition to the searchable cited references provided for more than 1,200 journals.  

 

Mergent Online 

 Mergent Online's enhanced features and functions include the ability to:

  • Research 15 years of detailed financial statements
  • Customize viewing and output to retrieve precisely the information you need
  • Export company reports and financials into software applications such as Microsoft® Word, Microsoft® Excel or Adobe® Acrobat® Reader®
  • Execute accurate cross-border searches using a variety of financial and text variables
  • Compare multiple companies' reports
  • Access site via user ID or IP authentication
  • View more than 115,000 images of company annual reports" -- Mergent website

 


 

Public Companies

 

Corporate financial reports (often called disclosure statements or filings) must be submitted to the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) by all publicly-traded companies. These disclosure statements provide the investing public with essential information about corporate activities.

This information is important for tracking company performance. The data are most useful when compared over a period of time. The reports are one of the first places to start company research.

There are several options for retrieving corporate financial filings.

  • You may request the documents directly from the company.  Telephone the company's headquarters and ask for the shareholders' relations office.

     

  • You may find many of the filings on Mergent Online in the McFarlin Databases.

     

  • SEC filings may be available in the EDGAR database on the Securities & Exchange CommissionWeb site, if the company has filed electronically.

     

  • Financial filings may also be available on a corporate Web site.

 

Financial Ratios

Financial ratios provide a method for comparing one company to another or to an industry average. They are a valuable tool for analyzing financial statements.  Ratios are used to provide meaningful relationships between values.  They are used to compare average ratios for a particular industry or by comparing them over a period of time.

Sources for locating financial ratios include:

Mergent Online

Mergent Online's enhanced features and functions include the ability to:

  • Research 15 years of detailed financial statements
  • Customize viewing and output to retrieve precisely the information you need
  • Export company reports and financials into software applications such as Microsoft® Word, Microsoft® Excel or Adobe® Acrobat® Reader®
  • Execute accurate cross-border searches using a variety of financial and text variables
  • Compare multiple companies' reports
  • Access site via user ID or IP authentication
  • View more than 115,000 images of company annual reports" -- Mergent website

 

Rankings

Rankings are useful when comparing companies. They can provide a broad measure of performance within an industry.  Most company rankings are based on financial factors.  Sometimes, companies may be ranked by other measures, for example, number of employees.

Sources for locating company rankings include:

Best Industry Rankings

 

Market Share

Market share is considered an important indication of competitive strength. It is expressed as the percentage of total sales of a given market held by each competitor.

If you don't find market share information in secondary sources such as databases and websites, you may calculate an estimated market share. Divide your company's sales (if your company has only one type of product) or your product's sales (if your company has multiple products) by industry revenue.

 

Business Source Complete

Industry reports have market shares for main players. Articles may have market shares for companies or brands.

Nexis Uni

Search for articles that may have mentioned market shares.

 

Private Companies

In the US, private companies are not required to release their financials. Therefore, most of the time you won't be able to get detailed financial statements on a private firm. Here are some strategies on researching a private company:

  • Company websites and social media channels: your company's vs. your competitors'
  • Shopping sites: why buy from them (price, quality, service)?
  • Company profile databases: find revenue data (self-reported or estimates) and other limited information (depending on the size of the private firm) from the sources suggested below.
  • Industry/market research reports: trends, competition, main players.
  • Use industry benchmarks as proxy (e.g., you probably won't be able to obtain financial statements on your competitors that are private firms, but industry benchmark data might shed some light). 
  • Consumer profiles: demographics and psychographics
  • Search for news stories on the company (using library databases or Google). This is especially important when the company is local and/or small. The company might have been covered in newspapers, trade publications, TV segments, or blogs.

 

Library of Congress Guide on Private Company Research

 

 

** Frequently, information on privately held companies can be obtained by contacting the company directly.

 

Outreach Librarian

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Rita Howell
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