Mapping from the past
Most retail or service franchisors seek to have some mapping to understand their distribution network, either from a store perspective or for territory planning and anaylsis. Over the years mapping has evolved from a printed wall map (originally from UBD or Melways), with black texta markings or coloured pins, to more sophisticated computerised mapping.
The digital-age version is shown below as a large-format wall map (modern continuous printers mean the only size limitations are the dimensions of your wall). The formatting can be manipulated to suit the purpose, the boundary lines are very clear, it can be reprinted easily, and the underlying boundary files can be used to extract population and other demographic data. However, the map itself still has limitations because it is a static image.
Cutting edge mapping options
Dame Edna Everage would say, ‘Show them colour and movement’, and this can now be done in a reasonably cost-effective manner through two new mapping formats, both of which plug into existing free software.
1. Using Google Earth
The first new way to improve mapping is using that fantastic free service called Google Earth. My view is why try and invent a new wheel when the one you have rolls very well anyway! Google Earth is a great way to visualise all sorts of things from the satellite level, including viewing photo images of all of Melbourne, Sydney or even Australia at the same time, down to the very low level of a particular shopping strip or territory. There is also the option for ‘street view’, which allows you to have a look at a particular shop front. There is some issue about the currency of the satellite photography, however even though this may be a few years old, roads and buildings do not change all that often.
Google Earth, like Excel or Word, is a program or an ‘environment’ in which to run information files. When you open Excel, you normally then open an Excel file, usually with the suffix .xls. In Google Earth, you can have your own specific files that open within the Google Earth program, with the suffix .kml. A .kml file may contain the location of all your stores, mapping layers of all your territories or special layers you or an expert consultant may have created. These could be showing your competitors, special demographic layers, or your customers.
One development allows you to click on any store in your network and open a bubble that may contain all of the store’s relevant information. This could be the address, manager’s name and contact details, floor space, rental costs and any sales data you wish to have. There is no limit to the amount or type of information you can include. The beauty of a .kml file is that it is YOUR file. While everyone may have free access to Google Earth, only you can open your files within it, similar to you having your own files to open in Excel.
2. Using layered pdf maps
A pdf map is usually a fixed image showing all the features you want, similar to a photo.
However, we now have the ability to create what we call a ‘layered pdf’. This is a map where you (the operator, with only Adobe on your computer) can input all your information and the result is an extremely professional mapping tool.
I best describe it like ‘the old days’, where someone would be doing a presentation standing in front of a flip chart. The person would then flip over some transparencies that were aligned to appear as if they had added the next section they wanted to show you. It is also similar to Powerpoint, where you follow one slide by the next and it appears you have just added some specific points to the previous slide.
A map you see may have 20 to 50 layers on it. When you see a hardcopy, or a normal pdf, these layers have all been locked together. The layered pdf allows the user to unlock these. A key (not unlike the folder control in Windows Explorer) sits on the side, allowing you to turn on and off the various layers as you choose.
In creating layered pdfs for clients, we find it is best to start the mapping with minimal details showing, and then let the client turn on and off the features they wish to see. A typical scenario may be the Network Development Manager presenting to the CEO, and she wants to look at a particular market and show:
• the location of our sites (shown as stars and clovers in the map shown)?
• the position of our major competitors.
• the areas where our customers live (shown as differently coloured dots in the map below)
• the locations of the highest customer penetration (customers per 1000 persons)
• the commercial and industrial areas
Once set up, all this becomes a ‘piece of cake’. The process is user friendly and can be learned in just a few minutes.
Recently, one of our clients had to do a presentation to Telstra Management, and used a layered pdf to show their deep and intrinsic knowledge of the Melbourne area. The clients were from Perth, and so the detailed mapping assisted greatly!
Mapping has come a long way recently, especially with the popularity of Google Earth, layered pdfs and the ability to print large wall maps quite economically. For businesses that want to be able to look professional, while efficiently undertaking tasks such as strategic network planning, designing and selling territories to franchisees, or even using Google Earth to assist with lead distribution, the mapping options have never been better.
Peter Buckingham is the Managing Director of Spectrum Analysis Australia. He is a certified Management Consultant, and a Fellow of the FCA and IMC.