MacVan mapping the road to success for businesses

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Macvan Map Co. Cartography Director Kevin Persson spot checks a map as it is being prepared to proof. MacVan opened in 1978.

In a world of GPS technology, a little Colorado Springs atlas store is determined to stay on the map.

New products, a move to in-house printing and distribution of maps in five states coupled with good-old-fashioned street smarts has kept MacVan Map Co. from losing its way in a digital world.

“The electronic maps have been an issue for us and we are trying to navigate our way through that,” said Kevin Persson, MacVan director of cartography.

This month, the company, which opened in 1978, printed its 27th edition of the Colorado Springs Regional Street Atlas. Realtors, bus drivers and employees of the Colorado Springs Utilities department have already grabbed up copies.

Maps still have a place among satellite navigation systems, said Persson, who studied geography in college and has been a mapmaker with MacVan Map Co. for 13 years.

Ken Field bought the mapping company, which includes a retail store at 929 W. Colorado Ave., in 1997. Back then, printed maps were hot sellers to all motorists, not just travelers and tourists. But, gadgets and navigation software took a huge bite out of map store revenues. Small map stores across the country closed down. Even mapmaking giant Rand McNally changed its business model to include fewer paper maps and more electronic maps in recent years after nearly going under.

“Rand McNally had maps in all the convenient stores and book stores,” Field said. “A year and half ago, they decided they weren’t going to do that anymore — there was a pretty big rush to fill that void.”

MacVan seized on that void and began its entry into the distribution of the old-fashioned paper maps which are still sellers with out-of-state visitors. For example, Colorado maps flew off the racks during this summer’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge bike race.

“People still want to touch maps, there is a fascination about maps and a lot of people enjoy them,” Field said.

Now, MacVan is filling orders in nearly 300 7-Eleven stores and 240 Walgreens stores in five states. It’s a move that helped the company’s bottom line, Field said.

He wouldn’t reveal the number of maps he prints or the company’s annual revenue saying that with Rand McNally’s departure in distribution there is untapped territory and he does not want to give away his secrets.

Bob Stanley, MacVan distribution manager, said he is negotiating a distribution deal with a national chain “which would quadruple revenue,” he said.

At MacVan Maps, cartographers have the latest high-tech mapping software. But they’re old school too. Senior cartographer Des Shoreland drives every single road of El Paso and Teller counties, Pueblo and the Western Slope to find new routes that no one yet knows about. In the construction boom a few years ago, there were as many as 500 new streets a year. Now, there are about 100 new streets a year.

“GPS on a cell phone or in your car, they are 75 to 80 percent accurate — they are only updated about every five years,” Field said. “We drive, and check out the accuracy of every street.”

And, the MacVan maps are updated every month and can be downloaded by subscribers.

That makes the street atlases popular with local businesses, including bus drivers, cabbies and pizza delivery drivers.

This year, MacVan began printing its street atlases in-house, something it used to contract out in large orders of as many as 10,000 books at one time. But, with atlas sales down by about 50 percent since 2007, it made more sense to print what they need, Persson said.

In-house printing has allowed the company to pick up smaller atlas jobs including Teller County Street Atlas, which hadn’t been updated since 2005. Cartographers are readying to print a Western Slope Atlas, which they have not done in more than 10 years.

In recent years, the company has made inroads in other areas including printing popular city maps highlighting local destinations for chamber of commerce offices and topography maps, which are hot commodities now as hunting season gets started.

Eric Lynn, experienced hunter and owner of Mountain Ridge Gear, studies printed topography maps to try to pinpoint the best areas for elk.

“I carry a GPS, but any experienced outdoorsman knows never to put all your trust in technology,” Lynn said. “Being able to read a map and use a compass is an important skill. I always carry a map and compass with me in the back country.”

If MacVan cartographers had their way, learning to read a map would be mandatory for all school-age children. They’ve read too many news articles of travelers, lost and in danger, because they relied only on GPS.

“There are niches in the map industry and there are not that many players,” Field said. “We make maps and we distribute maps –we’re a rare breed. I think there is a whole lot more we haven’t tapped.”