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Sizing up the competition

If you are a small business owner, it’s helpful to know what your competition is up to. A new tool called SizeUp can help you do that.

The U.S. Small Business Association hosts SizeUp on its website. The tool, licensed from the San Francisco-based GIS Planning, maps out information about businesses and research the best places to advertise, drawing on a range of sources, from phone directories to U.S. Census data.

Curious to see what this tool would tell me about Boise, I invented a small business. I told SizeUp I was a Boise-based homebuilder who started out in 1990 and had revenues of $1 million a year. I pay my fictitious employees an average of $35,000 annually. (None of this information is maintained by the SBA, according to SizeUp.)

Here’s how I measure up. First of all, my revenues put me ahead of most of my peers – 92 percent of them, in Boise. SizeUp said that revenue-wise my construction company is doing better than 86 percent of similar businesses in the county, and more than 84 percent in Idaho. Nationally, though, I’m lagging – 61 percent of comparable businesses are making more than $1 million annually.

Longevity-wise, I come out way ahead. Turns out few construction companies started in 1990, and most of those that did didn’t stick around. Salary-wise, I’m ahead too. The $35,000 I pay is 9 percent above average for Ada County, 12 percent above average for Boise, and 18 percent above average for Idaho. But it’s a whopping 21 percent below average for the nation. No surprises there; anyone alert enough to run a business around here knows about Idaho’s low wages.

That’s construction. How about its sibling, landscaping? Well, if my landscaping contracting business has revenues of $400,000 a year, I pay my workers $25,000 annually, and I started out in 2000, here’s how I’m doing. I’m making more money than 75 percent of my peers locally. And my revenues put me right in the middle nationally.

Once again, the longevity of my business is unusual; I’ve been around longer than three-quarters of the landscapers locally, statewide and nationally. And pay-wise I’m on target with my competition. The average salary nationally for landscape maintenance workers locally is right around my $25,000, and nationally it’s $29,000.

SizeUp has a host of other tools that can help you see more about the competition, such as where they are. It also supplies information about the best places to advertise, showing areas with the highest industry revenue and most underserved markets.

To see these tools, you have to sign in, using your e-mail address. The site says SBA won’t keep the information. This site is not only helpful, but interesting for its own sake. It turns out Boise has a surprisingly large population of orthodontists, nail salons and dog groomers. Golf cart repair shops are in short supply (but how many do you need?) as are drywall contractors, according to SizeUp. Soft drink wholesalers and video game purveyors are relatively scarce, as are horse trainers and automobile parts manufacturers, but there’s a strikingly even distribution of grocery and food stores throughout the metro area.

About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.