24 February 2007

Map Vending Machines

After the oil companies stopped distributing free road maps in the 1970s, a new business was born. You could start your own business by buying map vending machines and placing them in gas stations and other locations. At that time, the gas stations didn't want to deal with buying and stocking maps, but they wanted to have them available (just as some convenience stores don't sell newspapers, but have machines outside).

After a decade the machines started disappearing as the major map companies began to control their own distribution, and found they could sell a wider range of products thatn just road maps in many of these locations.

The machine pictured above is in the car wash I go to, and it's the first one I've seen in many years. The maps in it are priced at $2.00, so you know they've been there a while, since most street and road maps are now at least $3.95. I think the machines were never updated once map prices rose and can only accept eight quarters.

One of the country's largest map publishers was born of the vending machine business. Two men in Lansing, Michigan, Bob Bond and Bert Green attended a meeting where the vending machine company was making the "own your own business" pitch. They both got into it and at some point decided to be partners. The company they formed is Universal Map Enterprises, now with offices in Michigan and Florida. At first, they were content to distribute maps of other publishers such as Gousha (now defunct). But they couldn't find a good map of Lansing, so they had one made. From that point they became a publisher as well as a distributor and now mosy of what they sell carries the Universal brand.

Here is an innovative use of a map vending machine. It has art created to fit and sell for $2.