COVID-19 Offers Opportunity For New Product Ideas

The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has caused immediate drop in sales for many businesses, with long-term financial impacts yet to be determined. It has also changed the way many are doing business, with a huge increase in video conferencing and meetings via webcam. For Maps International, part of IMIA member Lovell Johns, the recent market interruptions have inspired a new product that brings their expertise and existing production capabilities to a new area – video conferencing backdrops.

Several weeks ago, as the COVID-19 impact on Asia and Europe was just beginning to be understood, Maps International, a provider of mapping products, saw an opportunity for their existing map posters to be used as backdrops for video calls.

“We saw this as an exercise to not only create a new product that might obviously suit the mood of the moment, but also something that could be brought to the market quickly,” said Liz Murray, Sales and Marketing Director for Maps International.

Using its existing printing and shipping capabilities, Maps International was able to get the product online right away, using their own website and sites like Amazon for distribution.

“If we had taken three months to plan something and then go to market, we would have missed the opportunity,” said Murray.

The new webcam backdrop product is designed to freshen up an unattractive background with a choice of images, including traditional maps as well non-mapping images like a football stadium, bunker, restaurant interior, sunny beach and wine cellar. The large backdrop covers the height and width of the widest cameras, whether internal or external.

With their international sales base, Maps International has been closely monitoring the spread of coronavirus in countries like Italy to help gain perspective on what might happen in other markets.

“We have seen a slight dip in our sales for about a week as each country begins to deal with the [coronavirus] transition,” said Murray. “But as soon as these countries move into a work-from-home phase, our sales seem to have settled back to where they were at this same time a year ago. During that week of a sales dip, people are worried about getting their families settled, getting supplies, setting up computers at home, but once everyone is back online, life gets back to some kind of normal.”

This is not the first time Lovell Johns have had to navigate a changing business landscape. With the industry-wide shrinking of cartographic services in the late 1990s, Lovell Johns saw a need to think beyond the traditional mapping and GIS services, and made a leap to adding direct-to-consumer products with the establishment of Maps International. Nearly 20 years later, Maps International now represents a significant part of the company’s revenue. Products include art maps, scratch prints and maps for kids, as well as personalized map gifts.

“Everyone says maps are dead, but we sell hundreds of thousands of maps each year,” Murray said. “We still provide cartographic services and we also have another area of the company that provides interactive, digital and GIS-type services, but a key part of our business is now Maps International.”

Murray also hopes that for parents who are now quarantined with children, some of their map gift products can serve as a welcome distraction. “Obviously screen time with children is increasing, and it’s something parents are ever more conscious of, so to have a map that children can color or scratch off, it could help fill some of those 16 hours per day you have to entertain the little ones.”