Most of us don't look forward to getting mail from the U.S. government. That's because the chances of receiving a letter from Uncle Sam announcing your random selection for an income tax audit are better than the U.S. Postal Service delivering the happy news that the president wants you for that ambassadorship to Tahiti that you always dreamed about.

But one piece of mail that you will be getting soon from Washington is critical to your business and to the electrical industry. In the next month, the U.S. Census Bureau will be mailing 2002 Economic Census surveys to 5 million businesses. This 13-page survey will ask for detailed information about your company, such as market focus, sales, and number of employees.

Answering these questions will help the Economic Census, which has been done since 1810, more accurately reflect some of the new realities of the distribution market. That's important, because the numbers of most interest to electrical distributors in the last Economic Census, which was mailed out in 1997 and published in 2000, were so out of whack with reality that they were basically useless.

The mess developed when the Bureau of Census mistakenly recategorized thousands of electrical distributors as retail companies when it switched its data collection system from the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) codes to the new North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).

Andrea Herbert, formerly EW's editorial director, an industry expert on the use of the Census data for market planning and the developer of EW's Market Planning Guide, made a valiant effort in the 2000 Market Planning Guide to align the new NAICS numbers with the long-established SIC industry benchmarks.

Adam Fein, president, Pembroke Consulting Ltd., Philadelphia, and the National Association of Wholesale-Distributors (NAW), worked with the Bureau of the Census to bring the 2002 Economic Census back to reality. Fein says the electrical industry got hit worse than most other businesses in the 1997 Census, when it “lost” 6,061 branch locations that did $23.3 billion in revenues when these businesses were reclassified as retail outlets. Fein says many of these locations were mistakenly but permanently reclassified, and advises that until 2002 Census data becomes available in 2004, electrical companies should not use the 1997 numbers.

To ensure that the electrical industry is represented as accurately as possible in the upcoming Economic Census, please take the time to answer the survey. Your response is important because you can use the Census data in several different ways:

  • Calculating market share
  • Locating potential customers
  • Locating new branches
  • Setting sales quotas
  • Enhancing business presentations to banks or venture capitalists

The Census data is also the benchmark upon which the sales forecasts published in the Market Planning Guide are based. EW's editors survey readers annually on their sales forecasts, and these reports are factored into the most recent Economic Census statistics for sales through electrical distributors.

The 2002 Economic Census will also have some interesting new data on the outsourcing of some traditional logistical activities that distributors perform, such as warehousing and delivery and the amount of e-commerce sales.

Participating in the Economic Census is important, and not only because businesses are required to respond by law. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan calls the Economic Census, “indispensable to understanding America's economy,” and has said that it “assures the accuracy of the statistics we rely on for sound economic policy and for successful business planning.”

Completed forms are due at the Census Bureau by Feb. 12, 2003. If you have any additional questions about the Economic Census, check out www.census.gov/econhelp, or call the Census Bureau's toll-free help line at (800) 233-6136.