From the vague to the specific
One form the vague request can take is “find the company.” Mabye it’s a specific firm you’re looking for, but you don’t have the company name, or maybe the name that was supplied is wrong and you’re coming up blank. Maybe you’ve just got a line of business and a not-very-specific location. “His family owns a company that makes equipment for breweries; they’re either in New York or New Jersey.” Alternatively, you may be asked to generate a list of companies in a specific line of business. “Find me all the companies in Idaho that make roofing supplies; we’re going to try and get an in-kind donation for the repairs on the dormitory roof.”
A great place to try this kind of search is Thomasnet. Brought to you by Thomas Register® and Thomas Regional®, it’s an industrial search engine designed to bring together suppliers and customers. The simple interface allows a search by product/service or by company name, and can search across the U.S. and Canada, or limit it to a single state or province. You can also search for companies by name or product within a set number of miles of a specified zip code, which is good for narrowing a search by location. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, you can browse the product categories, and each search result also includes a list of related categories to try. At minimum, it provides names, addresses and phone numbers for the resulting companies
Thomasnet has its limitations: it’s heavily weighted toward industrial and manufacturing firms, certainly not comprehensive (but what source is?), and some of the indexing seems whimsical at times, with a few companies in every batch of results seemingly tossed in at random. But it can narrow the field when you’re facing a vague request.