Thursday, July 30, 2009

10 Tips to Avoid a Disaster in Buying a Wall Map

Buying a wall map that shows street-level detail can be one of the trickiest tasks a small business faces, especially if the buyer is geographically challenged.

For some businesses, a good local wall map may make the difference between a flat bottom line and one that bulges upward a little.

Few buyers know it, but the task of buying a map for the wall is loaded with possibilities of making a mistake that the purchaser later will regret. The job is not as simple as reaching for a can of beans on a shelf at your local supermarket.

Here are 10 tips to help the buyer avoid a disaster:

1. Know what job you want the map to do.

· Does it cover the territory you need covered?
· What features do you want the map to show?
· Do you want a pretty map or a useful map? Color? Black/white?
· What size do you seek? Will it fit your wall?
· Is the method of hanging important? (rails? rollers? eyelets? nothing?)
· Is lamination necessary, or would you accept paper if available? (Most maps for the wall are not available in paper, because the publisher can't make enough money to support its business by selling paper maps.)

2. Be willing to compromise.'

There is no such thing as a perfect map. Be aware that the business of publishing a map - any map - is extremely complex. Partly because of this, as an example, every map sold to businesses is out of date on the day it comes off the press. And the longer it sits unsold on a shelf, the less current its information is.

The key questions the buyer needs to ask: Does this map do the job for me? Or are there better alternatives?

3. Know your publisher.

Publishers come in all kinds of stripes. No two are alike. Each publisher has its own methods, its own goals, its own priorities. And different publishers focus on different markets, serving different clientele. Make sure the publisher you choose focuses on your needs as a customer.

Don't buy a map just because the publisher is a household name. That publisher may not serve the market you're in, and the map offered by that publisher likely won't serve your needs. Example: If you're not part of the market that includes tourists, you don't want to choose a street-level-detail product for your wall produced by a publisher whose primary market is tourists.

While you may want to avoid a publisher that is a household name, it's not wise to choose a publisher you've never heard of. Ask another small business that has bought a map for the wall. Would it buy another one from the publisher you're considering?

Where does the information on the map come from? A map publisher's standard answer is that it comes from local government sources. What that publisher doesn't want you to know is that it may be buying that information from a third party which may have gotten it from a local government source, maybe via the Internet.

Which is okay, if it's accurate information. But how can the buyer know for sure? Is the publisher telling the truth? Yes, and no. Unfortunately, the economics of map publishing are forcing the largest publishers to buy the information from third parties.

4. Buy directly from the publisher if possible, not from a distributor.

This may be more easily said than done, but here's why it's important: The publisher controls the quality of the product. The distributor makes sure it gets to a place where you can buy it, and most often the distributor is the end seller. The distributor has no control over quality. A distributor sells the products that are available. (Most maps available on the web are sold by distributors, not publishers.)

Like many industries, the map business is going through a period of consolidation and change. What was true as little as five years ago may not be true today. Regional publishers are vanishing like the 10-cent movie theater, so it may be hard to find one in your area.

But a regional publisher is much more likely to serve your street-level-detail needs than a national publisher, who is more likely, for example, to serve a different market. It makes sense that a publisher in Chicago who serves the national tourist market can't keep up with the street changes in your area - especially the streets that a local business needs.

Example: If a street is missing on a tourist's map, few tourists are likely to notice it. But the omission will stick out like a palm tree in Alaska to a local business -- and tell volumes to a potential buyer. Be aware that this difference affects cost, and thus price.

5. Don't buy sight unseen.

You don't buy shoes sight unseen. Why would you buy a map sight unseen? Like shoes, one size doesn't fit allBuying sight unseen is the biggest mistake a map buyer can make.

One change in the map industry has been that many regional map stores have closed, robbing the customer of the chance to see various map products on the wall. That's too bad, because the chances of making the wrong decision are greatly increased for the buyer.

In many cases, the choices for the buyer today are the web, the web or the web. You can buy a wall map on the web, but you have to be very careful. Know this: What a map website doesn't say may be more important to you than what it does say.

Beware the publisher or website that is unable - or unwilling - to show and tell. And - if the publisher does show its wares - it's likely to leave the prospective buyer feeling cheated in his quest for information that can be used for a purchase decision. Click away from the website that doesn't show you what you want to see.

6. Make sure the map shows information current enough to serve your needs.

A map may be considered up to date by one buyer, but the next buyer may have a far different opinion.
The currency test is this: Check an area you're familiar with -- make that two or three areas. Ifyou think the map is up to date, then it's up to date. The next buyer doesn't matter. Above all, be aware of this: If a publisher touts his map as being up to date, he may be just telling the buyer what he wants to hear.

7. Try to learn when the map was published, if that is important to you.

Resist the temptation to look at the date on the map (almost all maps show the 'date it was published').

This may surprise you: More often than not, the date on the map is meaningless.

Little known by most map buyers, here's what that date means: This is the publisher's edition for that year. The date on the map often has absolutely nothing to do with the up-to-dateness of the map's information.

8. Comparison shop - not only for price but also for quality.

The web is chock-full of publishers offering wall maps. Google wall maps and you'll find almost a hundred million pages containing that phrase. That makes comparison shopping mind-boggling. It's a maze. But it's research that every map buyer should do.

Remember this: The least expensive map may not be the best to fill your needs, and the most expensive may not be the best, either. Never forget the job you want your map to do.

9. Be prepared to weigh price vs. quality.

On this issue, you'll have to compromise something. Is price more important to you, or is quality more important to you?

Bottom line: Does the map do the job?

10. Take your time deciding. Don't make a snap decision.

If you decide at 9 a.m. that you need a map on the wall by 2 p.m., you're going to make a horrible mistake. Buying a map for the wall - one that does the job - just doesn't happen that fast.

Yes, buying a map for your wall is tricky business, and your business probably is tricky enough. What you don't need is more tricks. Like most other purchases, in buying a wall map you need to do your homework. Use these tips. Ask a lot of questions. If you don't like the answers, don't buy.

By Gene Ingle