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Q&A with Pitney Bowes MapInfo global practice leader Devon Wolfe

Site selection has come a long way in a short time. Unlike the old days when “siting” meant paying some consultant to hazard an educated guess at where to find store locations and branch offices, technology has helped the process evolve into a highly sophisticated and exacting science. Troy, N.Y.-based company MapInfo is part of the reason for this shift. The 21-year-old firm, which sells “location intelligence” mapping software, consulting services and related data to companies and governments, officially became Pitney Bowes MapInfo this spring when Pitney Bowes bought it for $408 million.

Since then, MapInfo has forged strategic alliances with Accruent Inc., a leading provider of real estate performance-management solutions and Metrostudy, a leader in U.S. housing market information, to help expand its services to clients such as MasterCard, Fairmont Hotels, IHOP, Airservices Australia and Bay Area Rapid Transit. Devon Wolfe, global practice leader for retail, restaurants and real estate for Pitney Bowes MapInfo, recently talked to NREI Technology Edition about the merger and the company’s growing site evaluation business.

NREI: How does MapInfo help facilitate the site evaluation process?

Wolfe: If you look at our decision support products and services, we go the full range from site analysis to market optimization. Products such as AnySite allow people to unlock data and get answers quickly in a streamlined fashion that requires minimal assistance.

NREI: Tell us about AnySite.

Wolfe: AnySite is a real estate decision support tool for retail, restaurants and financial services. It’s designed to quickly and accurately analyze the relationship between store performance and trade area demographics. It also allows you to add your own specific content from databases and maps into the process.

NREI: Before Pitney Bowes bought your company, wasn’t MapInfo making acquisitions to support this service?

Wolfe: We were headed in that direction. The acquisition of MarkeTech Systems in 2005 gave us a deeper understanding of the banking business and location intelligence. Our acquisition of Thompson Associates in 2003 gave us a greater understanding of the kind of predictive analytics that help retailers make vital strategic decisions.

NREI: You offer a service called site modeling. What’s that?

Wolfe: It quantifies the relationship between the site and [local] demographics, psychographics, employment numbers and competition. These determine how a site can achieve its optimal sales potential. We have people who’ve spent years studying this and know what models are warranted. While these aren’t panaceas, they do help establish best practices and simplify site decision techniques. We’ve already worked through a lot of issues that face companies today and have applied that information to our models. We have years and years of empirical research factored in.

NREI: How can MapInfo technology serve non-retailers?

Wolfe: What we do for retail banking, for instance, is practically a mirror image of what we do for retail stores — that is, profiling and understanding the customer base. Pitney Bowes sees this as a big opportunity. We can marry our data with how banks reach customers from a multi-channel perspective. We can help them add locations and better direct their revenue. When you think about bank transactions and products — credit cards, money market, CDs, etc. — we have demand statistics on financial customers that touch all those different areas.

We also have a product called Financial PSYTE. It divides the U.S. into pre-defined neighborhood clusters, which provide descriptions of household financial behaviors and characteristics. These contain economic variables that indicate the types of financial products and services consumers are likely to purchase. This data, as you can imagine, is also an excellent fit for the telecommunications industry.

In the public sector, we work with economic development people trying to bring in retail, hotels and other attractions. We can help them determine how best to lay out their retail landscape and help with Homeland Security analyses and locating police and fire stations.

NREI: How can the development and real estate investment communities use MapInfo?

Wolfe: Developers and real estate investors commonly use it to do things like shopping center evaluation studies. We assist those folks in planning. Some use it to do appraisals for REITs. It also works for developers in gauging what (leasing and consumer) trends to expect over time, when they should be doing their land banking and when they should move forward.

NREI: In the spring, you announced a strategic alliance with Metrostudy that you said will enable retailers, restaurants and developers to more accurately identify and analyze high-growth markets. How will this complement MapInfo?

Wolfe: Metrostudy covers 70 high growth markets with a hands-on, ground level approach and does some pretty heavy detail work. It targets companies such as drug stores and grocery stores looking to be first on the scene. They really dig down for data that can help our clients, too. We’ll be announcing other relationships soon to help build more national coverage.

NREI: On that note, what products or services are next for MapInfo?

Wolfe: Pitney Bowes bought MapInfo with the idea of turning it into a major growth vehicle. That means we’ll be exploring more opportunities outside of real estate. These could include loss-prevention, marketing, logistics and any number of businesses.

TAGS: Technology
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