Locating Manufacturers Tools to help you find the right manufacturer

Q: I've invented and patented a new kind of checkbook. How can I locate the printers that make checks and checkbooks?

Note to readers: The method I cover in my response to the reader's question above can be used to locate manufacturers or service providers in any kind of business. It's a valuable but little known method, especially when the product or service is difficult to categorize or traditional sources, such as the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, don't produce ideal answers.

A: Checks are a very specialized form of printing, and the printing function is secondary to product design and management. Whether you want to print a prototype or test run, or locate prospective licensees, you'll need to locate one or perhaps several of these specialized printers. Here's how:

1. Locate the NAICS code.
Every product and service has a code number assigned to it and listed in the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) directory. NAICS is a government publication that in 1997 replaced the former Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) directory. The NAICS directory can be found at your library or on the Internet at www.census.gov/naics. Although the NAICS and SIC directories serve the same purpose, NAICS uses a six-digit number that accommodates greater refinement (the older SIC system used only four digits). The last digit in the NAICS code serves any special needs of the NAFTA countries-Canada, Mexico and the United States. It's important to know about the difference in the numbers because many of the older reference material is still coded by the SIC system. The SIC numbers can be converted to the newer NAICS numbers either at the library or on the Internet.

2. Find suppliers by NAICS code.
After locating the NAICS code for the product you're interested in, you can search any of several references at your library to find companies who make the checks or checkbooks you want to produce. For example, directories such as Standard and Poors, Dun and Bradstreet, and certain state industrial listings can be searched by NAICS code number. Be sure to discuss your search with your reference librarian in order to locate various directories that may not be obvious to you at first. Currently, there's no free Internet service that provides access to company information by entering the code, although your library is likely to provide this service.

In your case, I pulled up the NAICS site, then clicked on the "Search" button (upper left corner of the page), typed in checkbooks, and the code number 323116 came up in a few seconds. I also clicked on the cross-reference button and located the SIC code, which is 2782. Then I took both numbers to the library and asked the reference librarian to locate and print out a list of businesses that were classified under the NAICS number. Within a few minutes, I had the names, addresses and phone numbers of several checkbook companies. I could have asked the librarian for the hard copy of the NAICS directory, but searching the Internet often provides several fringe sites that offer pertinent information.

Although the Thomas Register is well-organized, when you're looking for subcategories or exotic products, or you simply want to double check the Thomas Register (and other specialized product directories), use the NAICS code as the tracer to sources that may provide valuable-even surprising-information.

Jack Lander is a prototyper for inventors. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for several years as a corporate manufacturing engineer and later, as a mechanical design engineer, acquiring 13 product patents. You can contact Jack at (203) 792-1377 or visit his Web site, The Inventor's Bookstore, at www.inventorhelp.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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