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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Let's start a coffee shop with ReferenceUSA

Reference USA, a powerful tool for finding information about businesses and people, just got even better with its new mapping tools. The resource always allowed you to create really customized searches by things like industry, business size, income, and so on. But the mapping tool just makes it so much more useful and interesting. Let me show you why.

Let's start a coffee shop

I happen to love coffee, and let's say that love it so much that I want to open a coffee shop in the area. Starting a business is a risky proposition, so it helps to understand your market. Reference USA has always made it easy to pull up a list of coffee shops like so:
  1. Search for U.S. Business
  2. Select Custom Search
  3. Choose by Buisness Type >> Keyword/SIC/NAICS

In this example, I typed in coffee shops, but it suggests I include Cafes as well, and why not? I COULD press "View Results" and see the list and go on my way. But that's kind of boring.

Lists are boring, maps are cool

The new mapping feature takes this kind of search to a whole new level. Under Geography I select "Map Based Search" and a new window appears at the bottom. The trick is to press the "Open Map" button that appears there instead of the "View Results" button above

Press the button and there is a map with...nothing on it? The map starts out with the entire U.S. in the window, so you need to zoom in by entering a zip code under "Zoom to."

Drawing shapes for knowledge and profit

Ready for the fun part? Once you're zoomed in, you can use the "Area" or shape tools to slice up the results on the map. In this example I want to see how many coffee shops are in a wider area around Des Plaines. So I do the following:
  1. Select Define Radius
  2. Pick a center point
  3. Click and drag outwards to draw a circle
I can see in the sidebar that Radius 1 contains 29 results. I can click there to see those results. You can refine things even more by drawing a smaller circle inside the larger one. This way you can hone in on a specific area. The Draw Shape tool even lets you draw crazy polygons if you want to define a specific neighborhood.

Our tour comes to a close

So that's been a little taste (dare I say, sip) of what you can do with the new mapping and visualization tools in Reference USA. You'll also find heat maps and charts. Check it out and let me know if you have any questions at

P.S. If you're an iPad user, Reference USA has an iPad app available in the App store.

Can I access these resources from home?

Yes, you can!

With a valid Des Plaines Public Library, any of the links above should take you right to the online resource.

Don't have a library card? Use our online form to sign up. Any Des Plaines resident can apply. Start now.

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