What Industries Are Small Businesses In?

If you want to start a new business, you probably should avoid certain types of businesses. You’d have a hard time, for example, setting up a new company to make automobiles or aluminum, because you’d have to make tremendous investments in property, plant, and equipment, and raise an enormous amount of capital to pay your workforce. These large, up-front investments present barriers to entry.

Fortunately, plenty of opportunities are still available. Many types of businesses require reasonable initial investments, and not surprisingly, these are the ones that usually present attractive small business opportunities.

Industries by Sector

Let’s define an industry as a group of companies that compete with one another to sell similar products. We’ll focus on the relationship between a small business and the industry in which it operates, dividing businesses into two broad types of industries, or sectors: the goods-producing sector and the service-producing sector.

  • The goods-producing sector includes all businesses that produce tangible goods. Generally speaking, companies in this sector are involved in manufacturing, construction, and agriculture.
  • The service-producing sector includes all businesses that provide services but don’t make tangible goods. They may be involved in retail and wholesale trade, transportation, finance, entertainment, recreation, accommodations, food service, and any number of other ventures.

About 20% of small businesses in the United States are concentrated in the goods-producing sector. The remaining 80% are in the service sector.[1] The high concentration of small businesses in the service-producing sector reflects the makeup of the overall U.S. economy. Over the past fifty years, the service-producing sector has been growing at an impressive rate. In 1960, for example, the goods-producing sector accounted for 38 percent of GDP, the service-producing sector for 62 percent. By 2015, the balance had shifted dramatically, with the goods-producing sector accounting for only about 21 percent of GDP.[2]

Goods-Producing Sector

The largest areas of the goods-producing sector are construction and manufacturing. Construction businesses are often started by skilled workers, such as electricians, painters, plumbers, and home builders, and they generally work on local projects. Though manufacturing is primarily the domain of large businesses, there are exceptions. BTIO/Realityworks, for example, is a manufacturing enterprise (components come from Ohio and China, and assembly is done in Wisconsin).

How about making something out of trash? Daniel Blake never followed his mother’s advice at dinner when she told him to eat everything on his plate. When he served as a missionary in Puerto Rico, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao after his first year in college, he noticed that the families he stayed with didn’t either. But they didn’t throw their uneaten food into the trash. Instead, they put it on a compost pile and used the mulch to nourish their vegetable gardens and fruit trees. While eating at an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet back home at Brigham Young University, Blake was amazed to see volumes of uneaten food in the trash. This triggered an idea: why not turn the trash into money? Two years later, he was running his company—EcoScraps—collecting 40 tons of food scraps a day from 75 grocers and turning it into high-quality potting soil that he sells online and to nurseries. His profit has reached almost half a million dollars on sales of $1.5 million.[3]

Service-Producing Sector

Many small businesses in this sector are retailers—they buy goods from other firms and sell them to consumers, in stores, by phone, through direct mailings, or over the Internet. In fact, entrepreneurs are turning increasingly to the Internet as a venue for start-up ventures. Take Tony Roeder, for example, who had a fascination with the red Radio Flyer wagons that many of today’s adults had owned as children. In 1998, he started an online store through Yahoo! to sell red wagons from his home. In three years, he turned his online store into a million-dollar business.[4]

Other small business owners in this sector are wholesalers—they sell products to businesses that buy them for resale or for company use. A local bakery, for example, is acting as a wholesaler when it sells desserts to a restaurant, which then resells them to its customers. A small business that buys flowers from a local grower (the manufacturer) and resells them to a retail store is another example of a wholesaler.

A high proportion of small businesses in this sector provide professional, business, or personal services. Doctors and dentists are part of the service industry, as are insurance agents, accountants, and lawyers. So are businesses that provide personal services, such as dry cleaning and hairdressing.

David Marcks, for example, entered the service industry about fourteen years ago when he learned that his border collie enjoyed chasing geese at the golf course where he worked. While geese are lovely to look at, they can make a mess of tees, fairways, and greens. That’s where Marcks’ company, Geese Police, comes in: Marcks employs specially trained dogs to chase the geese away. He now has twenty-seven trucks, thirty-two border collies, and five offices. Golf courses account for only about 5 percent of his business, as his dogs now patrol corporate parks and playgrounds as well.[5]

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. (2012). Estimates of Business Ownership by Gender, Ethnicity, Race, and Veteran Status: 2012. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from: http://www.census.gov/library/publications/2012/econ/2012-sbo.html#par_reference_25
  2. Central Intelligence Agency. (2016). World Factbook. CIA.gov. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2012.html
  3. Ecoscraps.com. (2016). Our Story. Ecoscraps.com. Retrieved from: http://ecoscraps.com/pages/our-story
  4. Isidro, I. (2003). How to Succeed Online with a Niche Business: Case of RedWagons.com. PowerHomeBiz.com. Retrieved from: http://www.powerhomebiz.com/online-business/success-online-business/succeed-online-niche-business-case-redwagons-com.htm
  5. Isidro, I. (2001). Geese Police: A Real-Life Home Business Success Story. PowerHomeBiz.com. Retrieved from: http://www.powerhomebiz.com/working-from-home/success/geese-police-real-life-home-business-success-story.htm


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