THE BUSINESS: Publisher of maps and other materials
OPENED: 1948
CLOSED: October 1999
PRIMARY CAUSES OF DEATH: Expansion beyond sales force's limits; declining profit margins

Few map publishers covered more of small-town America than Mosher-Adams Inc. did. Under contract with the chambers of commerce of such unsung communities as Salem, Ohio, and Hickory, N.C., Mosher-Adams published detailed local maps for more than half a century. The company had plenty of rivals. Hundreds of other small publishers competed to print chamber-sponsored maps, tourist guides, and business directories and sell accompanying advertising. But Mosher-Adams, based in Oklahoma City, differed from virtually all the others in having a national scope: over the years, it did business with about 1,500 chambers in 48 states.

Oddly enough for a mapmaker, Mosher-Adams seemed to lose sight of the vastness of its market's geography, which created a logistical nightmare for its sales representatives. Being all over the map proved to be a fatal mistake. "If I was going to start a company from scratch," notes Jerry Wright, the former president and CEO of the now-defunct company, "I'd stay within a territory that could be covered in a day."

At first the company's founder, Jim Adams, had stayed within one territory -- in fact, within a single metropolitan area. Known as the taxi driver in Oklahoma City to ask for directions, Adams had tired of scribbling free maps. In 1948 he began printing and peddling street maps for 5¢ apiece. Eventually, he teamed up with Marvin Mosher, a professional cartographer. Their business branched into other states, becoming a leading publisher for small-town chambers. In 1996, at the peak of its expansion, the company had more than 40 employees -- 9 of them full-time cartographers.

But Mosher-Adams had to contend with increasing pressures on its bottom line. Rick Smith of Oak Creek, Wis., bought the company in 1990 and merged it into his truck-stop business. When he either closed down or sold all three of his truck stops in the mid-1990s, Mosher-Adams was left struggling under a heavy debt, according to Wright, who joined the company in October 1997. As more competitors entered Mosher-Adams's market, chambers of commerce began demanding a larger share of the revenues from the ads sold for their publications. And too many of the jobs Mosher-Adams was taking on weren't profitable.

What's more, Wright was straining to recruit and maintain a sales force that could cope with the company's nationwide territory. One regional sales manager would have had to drive almost 1,400 miles a week in order to completely cover her territory in the Northeast, Wright recalls. "If you're a family person, it's difficult being gone two weeks at a time," says Gary Taylor, a former Mosher-Adams sales rep. "It wears on you." To save the company, Wright dramatically shrank Mosher-Adams's horizons, confining its market to regional clusters in 22 states.

Beginning in March 1998, however, three of the company's five regional sales managers and 13 of its 16 sales representatives defected to Village Profile, a chamber-oriented publishing company based in Roselle, Ill. (A suit later filed by Mosher-Adams in an Oklahoma state court alleges that three of the defectors broke their employment contracts with the company.) As revenues plummeted Wright and Smith scrambled in vain for new financing. In October 1999, Mosher-Adams closed its doors, and the following month it filed for liquidation under Chapter 7. Smith declined a request for comment.

Among the buyers was Jerry Wright. His newly minted company, New Atlas Dot Com Inc., acquired all the assets related to two Mosher-Adams publications, an Oklahoma City street atlas and wall map. He expects to market a CD-ROM version of both and offer maps in print and online. But with a look backward at Mosher-Adams, he says, "Controlled expansion is critical."

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