Secondary Sources

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Secondary Sources

First of all, in many situations our managing director is right: a little simple desk research may well be all that is required. Government and quasi-government statistics are themselves a very fruitful source of information. It must also be borne in mind that government departments can publish only a part of the data they collect, simply because publication of the whole would be quite un-economic. A telephone call to the relevant department or ministry can often solve apparently insurmountable problems. (This does not apply, of course, to commercial information supplied on a confidential basis, which is subject to very strict safeguards.)

The managing director will also point to the 107 Companies Act: "Surely it is easier now to assess market size, since turnover must be disclosed?" But the Act, unfortunately, is by no means as helpful as market researchers might have hoped. It permits directors to treat as one class "classes of business which, in the opinion of the directors, do not differ substantially from each other" - a provision of which many directors take full advantage.

Trade associations are often helpful, though not invariably so. And while any published statistics must be carefully scrutinized and cross-checked for accuracy, this is doubly important with trade association figures. Among the more common pitfalls are incompleteness of membership, radical changes of membership, changes in product definitions and inadequate methods of analysis; among the more exotic dangers are the rare Stances of falsification of returns by members.

Even if desk research produces no information of direct relevance, it is often possible to deduce market size from indirectly related figures. The most obvious and straightforward examples occur in components, where sales figures for the finished product give clear guidance. More complicated, but still reliable, relationships can often be established quite cheaply, and there is scope for some ingenuity.

Nevertheless, despite this wealth of published and available unpublished information, there remains a vast number of markets and products on which there is just no information, and where original research becomes essential.

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