The Map Shop on East Morehead Street can seem like a charming anachronism, an ink-and-paper merchant in an ever more Google-ized world where everyone carries a map of the world in their phone.
But owners Ted and Patrice Northrup say they're rebranding and refreshing the store, focusing on new areas such as travel books and mapping services for businesses, to stay in business - and grow.
"People say, 'Map shop? How are you guys still in business?'" said Ted Northrup. The store has been in Charlotte for 22 years, 13 at its current location, even as Northrup estimates about 90 percent of map stores around the country have gone under. "If you're not changing, you're not staying."
Some of the rebranding at The Map Shop will be subtle. Northrup said The Map Shop plans to drop the "The" from its name, a la TheFacebook.com becoming "Facebook."
Other changes are more obvious. The store took off its awnings and some signs as it prepares to redo and replace them, and add a new logo. That's prompted some questions, Northrup said.
"We looked at the building and said, 'You know, this is starting to look pretty tired too,'" he said. "Some folks have asked us if we're going out of business."
Not even close, said Northrup. "The Map Shop still has a strong retail presence thanks to loyal Charlotte customers who appreciate unique specialty retail shops," he said.
Now, they're doing more map finishing and framing. They're doing more maps for businesses to help illustrate sales territories, such as this one. They carry unique and custom maps, such as topographical relief maps for people with mountain houses.
Annual sales are currently at just under $1 million, Northrup said. With more exposure, he thinks Map Shop can double that.
"In the back of customers' minds they think they can find anything they want on the web," said Northrup. "We're competing with Google Maps. The key is for us to offer something they don't offer."
It also helps that the business has been online since 1998, Northrup said, giving it time to establish a digital customer base.
And in the world of physical maps, Northrup said he has to convince customers a map is worth spending on. Many buy world maps to pin their travels on, Northrup said.
"I've been trying to educate customers about the value of a quality map," said Northrup. "You can buy cheesy Chinese maps with Chinese frames pretty cheap."
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