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How To Find Out Who Owns a Small Business


Genie Tyburski, Web Manager, The Virtual Chase


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5 May 2008. How do you find the name of the owner of a small private company?

There are a number of resources and research strategies for finding business owners. I'll outline several methods, starting with relatively easy approaches and free sources of information. Then I'll suggest several harder-to-accomplish tactics that still utilize free sources and I'll end by mentioning some commercial databases.

This how-to article focuses on small businesses because it's generally harder to find information about them. However, you may use these sources and methods to find owner information for large private companies as well. In some cases, you might even find the names of officers and others in upper management.

Call the company. Unless circumstances preclude this option, the answer could be a phone call away. Look up the number in a local or online telephone directory. Or query the company name in a search engine.

Check the company's Web site. Believe it or not, in this day and age many small businesses do not have a Web site. But it's always worth checking. Use a search engine to query the company's name. If you find a Web site, start by following any "about" or "contact" links.

Search Better Business Bureau reports. The Better Business Bureau often has information about a company even when it isn't a member. However, you should note:

  • The primary contact may not be the owner. The person's title often accompanies the name.

  • The timeliness of the information may be an issue. For Reliability Reports, note the date the file was opened.

Search the state's database of registered businesses. All states provide some information about companies registered to do business in their state. Start here to find the database. Then search the entity name. Whether the information provided includes the owner's name depends on the state. It's hit or miss.

Query business information search engines and social networks. Certain search engines (Zoominfo, Ziggs) and social networks (LinkedIn) target businesses. Search these for owner information. Note that you may have to look for advanced search links. LinkedIn, for example, provides a company name search option, but only in the advanced search form.

Call the local agency responsible for licensing the business. The local (city) government office you call will vary depending on the location. Start by using a search engine to locate the proper authority. Try variations of these queries:

  • business licenses city, state

  • licenses inspections city, state

  • business permits city, state

  • certificate occupancy city, state

For instance, if you were looking for a business in Philadelphia, you would call Philadelphia Licenses & Inspections.

Call the state regulatory agency for the business's industry or search its online database of licenses or inspections. Businesses in certain industries (restaurant, car dealership) must obtain a license. You may call the regulating agency and request the owner name, or look online for a database of licenses, permits or inspections.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, 27 licensing boards and commissions exist to oversee the activities of licensed professions (car dealerships). Once you identify the appropriate board, you may call and request licensing and public disciplinary information. The board may or may not reveal the name of the owner.

Alternatively, you may examine the regulating agency's Web site for a search function like this one from the Pennsylvania Department of State. Keep in mind that it provides information only about those in licensed occupations.

If the industry is regulated, but does not require board oversight (restaurants in Pennsylvania), check the relevant state agency's Web site for a database of licensing information or inspections. In Pennsylvania, for instance, the Department of Agriculture, which regulates food establishments, offers an inspections database. Food inspections reports list the owner's name.

Search Hoovers. Hoovers falls toward the end of this article because it's a commercial resource. However, it offers substantial information for free. When you conduct a company name search, the results appear in two parts. The top half contains matches directly from Hoovers. These typically include large private companies, non-profit organizations and public companies.

The chance of finding owner information for a small business is small, but cost-free.

The bottom half of the search results contains sparse information (company name, location, and type) about matches in the database of Hoovers parent company, Dun & Bradstreet. Following links from D&B search results sometimes - but not always - takes you to a subscription sign-up page.

You may also opt to buy a single report. Prices range from $12.99 to $159. But reports do not necessarily reveal the owner's name. They often provide the names and titles of key executives.

Search other commercial databases. For consumers, KnowX provides an easy-to-use, low-cost alternative to access-restricted or subscription-based research systems, such as LexisNexis, Accurint, AutoTrackXp and Merlin. You may search the company name from the home page. KnowX returns a list of databases (bankruptcies, corporate records) that contain matches. Be sure to display the database information sheet (called VIEW under Info) to determine what kind of information is provided. Also be aware that KnowX sells access to public records that often are available online or on-site for free.

Accurint, AutoTrackXp and Merlin offer business reports. These frequently include the owner's name.

LexisNexis provides several different databases that are useful in finding information about private companies. Select the information icon next to any database name for information about database coverage.

For information about franchise owners check out Franchise Index in Find a Business under the Public Records tab. Additionally, there are a number of potentially useful databases under the Directories option. Try Experian Business Reports for U.S. owner information. But note the undiscounted price. It's $76 to retrieve a report in full-text format.

Several methods exist for finding the owner of a small business from placing a telephone call to the business or its licensing or regulatory agency to searching specific commercial databases. The approach you select to launch the research depends on how direct you want to be and how much time or money you have to spend.




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Created: 5 May 2008
URL: https://www.virtualchase.com/articles/finding_company_owner.html

Suggestions: Genie Tyburski, tvceditor [at] virtualchase [dot] com