It seems like you can publicly trade anything these days! Public companies usually conjure up thoughts of Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Microsoft, but anyone that is familiar with the Wilshire 5000 Index knows that there are a lot more public companies in the U.S. equity market than just the household names.
A publicly-traded company offers its securities for sale to the general public, typically through a stock exchange. This can provide liquidity to the original owners and be a source of capital for expansion.
Some public companies fit into such small niches that it's hard believe that they are public at all. While this is not intended to provide any guidance or analysis of these companies, here are some public firms that may expand your impression of what types of companies can go public.
- When you are stuck in traffic all kinds of ideas can pass though your head about how to avoid this in the future. The traffic management industry thinks about this all of the time. In fact, that's all Iteris, Inc. (NYSE:ITI) focuses on as they develop applications of technologies that reduce traffic congestion. Speaking on behalf of everyone in a major city: work faster!
- Does your pet have stinky bedding? International Absorbents Inc. (NYSE:IAX) makes animal care absorbent products that reduce odors and last longer than wood shavings. They also have a line of small pet food and are moving into the cat litter business as well. This still may not be enough to get you to buy a guinea pig, but any improvement in the absorbency area should be welcome news.
- Kids love Rollerblades, skateboards and just about anything with wheels. So when Heelys, Inc. (Nasdaq:HLYS) put the wheels in the shoes themselves, they really had something. While kids moving through streets, shopping centers and classrooms at faster speeds may not be appealing to some adults, it's likely they are just jealous they didn't have them when they were kids.
- Jacques Cousteau went public? No, not really. But it seems that is what Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. (Nasdaq:OMEX) has done as they explore deep-ocean shipwrecks worldwide. Among other things the company sells artifacts and produces a shipwreck exploration television series.
- Health companies are big business, but the Female Health Company (Nasdaq:FHCO) is devoted to just one product: the female condom. They are distributed in over 100 countries as a woman-controlled means of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
- For those people who desire a faster way to purchase jewelry online, Bidz.com, Inc. (Nasdaq:BIDZ) used the live auction format to go public as an online retailer of jewelry. The majority of its auctions are short term, often lasting less than one hour, so results can be known before you log off. EBAY may own the online auction space, but if you need your jewelry in a hurry, Bidz.com has you covered.
- Just like software giants tend to have much smaller competitors, bowling has its smaller competitors as well. The giants of bowling have more than 500 bowling centers worldwide, but there's still room for Bowl America Incorporated (NYSE:BWL.A), which operates 19 bowling centers with a total of 756 lanes. They receive revenue for using the lanes, selling food and drinks, and, of course, renting those great looking shoes.
- Have you ever brought home a big balloon for a birthday or holiday? If so, then you may be a customer of CTI Industries (Nasdaq:CTIB). Along with other things, it produces and distributes foil and latex balloons in more than 30 countries. You'll never think of that heart shaped Valentine's day balloon the same way again.
- Some firms manufacture such a specific piece of equipment, you'd think they would have to be part of a larger entity. Not necessarily. Breeze-Eastern Corporation (NYSE:BZC) supplies electric and hydraulic rescue hoist systems for helicopters in more than 38 countries and has full-service support departments on four continents. While the number of lives saved by this company's equipment wasn't available, it's a pretty sure bet that none of the people who have been rescued questioned the importance of this small company's work.
While there are thousands of publicly traded companies, it's mostly the larger, well-known brands that we recognize. As this list shows, there are no restrictions on the types of companies that can go public and list their securities for sale on a stock exchange. (For more on publicly traded companies, check out our related articles: IPO Basics and Why Public Companies Go Private.)