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W.A. Fisher--Mapping Out Success

May 1999
Map printer W.A. Fisher has carved a profitable niche in this mammoth market, where durability, detail accuracy and color are critical. Switching from parchment to synthetic paper gave the company a competitive edge.

Outdoor maps are keys to our nation's parks, wilderness and great outdoors. They enable visitors to safely explore the vast expanse of nature. Accuracy is, of course, of paramount importance. Lakes, rivers, walking trails, portages, historic sites and ranger stations all must be clearly defined. But what about durability? How effective are maps that must endure the persistent elements of nature? Water, dirt and old-fashioned abuse all take a toll.

W.A. Fisher Printing, of Virginia, MN, set out 76 years ago to provide guidance to hikers and campers of the Superior National Forest, Boundary Waters Canoe Area and Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. The company quickly established itself as the premier printer and publisher of maps and guides of the region. Though the maps were extremely accurate, the parchment paper W.A. Fisher originally used was not durable enough to survive the elements. So in 1980, the company turned to synthetic paper.

William Fisher, an avid outdoorsman, founded the Midwestern company in 1922. Before long, it became known as the largest four-color printer in northern Minnesota. W.A. Fisher provides up-to-date area maps and other high quality printing services to the primary industries in the region—mining and tourism. Maintaining that business over three-quarters of a century has set it apart from its competition.

"It's not often that a small business adapts to service the needs of its customers over seven decades," says Eric Norri, current president and business manager.

After remaining in the Fisher family for two generations, Norri and Mark Leese, both natives to the area, purchased the company in 1990. By then, the Fisher family had once again adapted to changing times by having the foresight to eliminate the fragility of its maps by switching from parchment to synthetic paper.

Synthetic Stock
W.A. Fisher initially used several different synthetic stocks, while seeking the right product. "We just couldn't find a synthetic paper that had all the characteristics we required," declares Norri. "We tested a number of brands to find the most consistent, stable sheet," he continues. "During testing, we compared printability, runability, cost and dot gain. We finally picked Yupo."

The company adapted its marketing message to enable it to carve a profitable niche in the mammoth map business. "We've separated our company from the competition by adding value to our map products," says Leese, vice president and account manager. "When setting out on a trip, campers want accurate, durable maps that stand up to abuse. The durability of Yupo gives our company the competitive edge."

Small Niche, Big Money
Though only 15 percent of its $2 million business, map printing has proved to be very profitable. The maps, which are 23x35˝ in size, are sold wholesale to local outfitters, who, in turn, sell direct to campers. "The profitability of our map division greatly increased after switching to Yupo," relates Norri enthusiastically. "We were able to more than double our map pricing, due to the added-value to our customers."

Norri notes that W.A. Fisher adds volume to its map sales by printing maps for the entire region. "The area is so large—14,500 square miles—that it takes 30 maps to cover the region," he explains.

Coincidently, much of W.A. Fisher's map printing is conducted during its slow season. "Map printing complements our overall business because it supplies revenue during the winter, which is traditionally a slower time of the year," says Norri.

Print quality is the yardstick for any printer. Do images hold razor sharp? Does the substrate support vivid colors? This is particularly important of camping maps, whose depth or elevation contours, hiking trails and roads are essential details.

"It is important that the synthetic substrate run well on press, particularly since we print all four-color jobs on two-color presses," says Norri. "Yupo paper holds dots exceptionally well and enables us to capture critical details in print."

Since purchasing the business, Norri and Leese have increased the company's scope. By developing a new creative and advertising division and offering creative writing, design and media planning to its existing full-color printing services, W.A. Fisher has doubled its business in eight years.

The company maintains a full-service prepress department, a pressroom that features a pair of two-color Heidelberg presses, a pair of two-color A.B. Dick units and a finishing operation that features foil stamping, embossing and a six-station bindery. W.A. Fisher's 19 employees also produce work for tourism, medical, financial, educational, industrial and packaged goods clients.

While Norri is diversifying W.A. Fisher's services, he clearly sees the importance of the core business that established the company. "Map printing will always remain an important part of our business," he says. "We've adapted our products and services to meet our customers' needs and have become more profitable. Products like Yupo paper add value to our services and products."

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