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Researching Market Size, Competition

October 14, 1998|KAREN E. KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: I am starting a pool and spa cleaning and repair service and am putting together a business plan. I am stumped by the market analysis section and cannot seem to find any information about the pool market in the San Fernando Valley. How do I find out about market size and competitors?

--Michael Fowler, Bell Canyon

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Answer: Basically, you're going to have to do some detailed research on your industry. The more you know about what you're getting into, the better chance you'll have to make your business successful.

To find out about your market area, search out some demographic information for the region you plan to service. The Internet is a wonderful place to start. Do a search on the pool cleaning and repair industry. Or visit U.S. Industry Outlook On-line, which provides a detailed descriptive analysis of 350 industries, with forecasts for the current year and five-year projections. The U.S. Census Bureau (http://www.census.gov) allows you to search its database by ZIP Code or geographic region. Our Web page (http://www.marketingplan.com/public_html/resource.htm) walks you through the research process and provides links to various Web resources.

Call your newspaper and ask if it has demographic studies, including information on income levels, homes, pools and consumer buying habits, that it will sell to you. (Readers of The Times can call Times on Demand, [800] 788-8804.)

Another great source of information is the companies that supply your industry. Talk to the people who sell chemicals and equipment to pool services. They will undoubtedly have demographic information they've compiled to sell their products. If they sense that you're a potential customer, they'll probably be willing to fill you in on what they know about your area.

Industry trade publications can be found at the library, and they can give you detailed information on the pool industry as well as tell you whether there are public companies that sell swimming pools or service them in your area. If there is a public company operating in your area, you can obtain its investors' reports online from the EDGAR Database of Corporate Information at the Web site of the Securities and Exchange Commission (http://www.sec.gov).

While you're at the library, ask the research librarian to help you find out everything you can about the swimming pool industry. There is a wealth of information published about small businesses in various sectors, and it's all available at most large public libraries.

Find a trade organization for your industry, and attend its meetings or workshops. Talk to people there who are not going to be direct competitors of yours. They will probably be able to give you loads of good information based on experience.

You can research your competitors by simply calling a few of them and querying them on what they charge and what kinds of services they provide. Talk to people you know who have pools and find out which pool cleaning service they use, how much they pay and what they like and don't like about the company.

In some industries in which people are not fighting tooth-and-nail for customers, you sometimes find that even competitors are open to sharing information. I started a clock shop 20 years ago, and when we go to trade association meetings, we often share information with other shop owners who draw customers from the same area we do. There's enough business to go around, so everyone is pretty friendly.

--Linda Pinson

Business plan consultant

Out Of Your Mind . . .

and Into the Marketplace

Tustin

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If you have a question about how to start or operate a small business, mail it to Karen E. Klein at the Los Angeles Times, 1333 S. Mayflower Ave., Suite 100, Monrovia 91016 or e-mail it to kklein6349@aol.com. Include your name, address and telephone number. The column is designed to answer questions of general interest. It should not be construed as legal advice.

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