Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Opening a retail store? Check the location mapping first

IMAGINE. You are looking for a place to open a retail store. You decide to scout for the ideal location, and trek the streets of Singapore in the unflinching sun.

Or maybe you could approach your mission another way. Such as by sitting in the comfort of your home and logging on to an Internet portal that does the work for you.

All you need do is specify a point on a map. The software then analyses the suitability of the location by detecting nearby amenities, competitors and even local population demographics.
'It's so much more convenient than pounding the streets to find a good location,' says Terence Tan, founder of Wheresoft Geo- commerce, the company behind the application.

Mr Tan's WhereBizMap portal helps companies, franchises, SMEs and entrepreneurs determine the best site to set up shop. It incorporates the Singapore Land Authority's (SLA's) derivative layered base maps, which use over 30,000 points of interest overlaid with any business and residential address in Singapore.

The retail location analysis application is but the latest tool introduced by the company. Prior to that, Wheresoft has been offering location-based services for logistics tracking and amenities search. The company counts StarHub, SingTel, Comfort Transportation and CityCab among its key customers.

However, its most popular application to date is a tool that helps real estate agents gather information about specific property projects. Called 'Wis', it aggregates data about properties in Singapore, from floor plans, prices and historic transactions to owners' profile and litigation checks. This alone generates a six-figure income for the company.

'We launched it about two-and-a-half years ago,' says Mr Tan, who is now CEO of Wheresoft. 'Today, a substantial market share of agents use it. I would count the largest and strongest supporter to be HSR. And there are PropNex, DWG and OrangeTee - to name a few.'

Wheresoft was founded in 1997 but did not begin commercial operations until three years later when it clinched a deal with Singapore Press Holdings to provide services for logistics tracking.

Even then, demand for its location-based services (LBS) was lacklustre, limited mostly to SMS directory requests like the location of the nearest ATM.

The company was 'just coasting' until business turned around in late 2005 when a new investor prompted a foray into developing applications for the property industry. Lawan Consultancy, which had conveyancing and litigation databases, decided that by taking a strategic interest in Wheresoft it could put its databases to better use. And that was how the idea for 'WiS' was born.

Wheresoft has since moved on to offer mapping systems aggregated with geographic, business and people information systems. And by using its mapping systems as a launchpad, it offers related services such as corporate information searches, litigation and bankruptcy checks and credit management and debt recovery, supported by the experience of Lawan Consultancy.

'The convergence of available location-determining technology - be it GPS, your handphone or wireless network - is making location a big thing now,' says Mr Tan.' A lot of information can be accessed dynamically. The push from external factors is accelerating the growth of what we are doing. Continuous tracking of your current location becomes possible - LBS on the go, rather than LBS where I am.'

So confident is Mr Tan that he wants to move his applications from a B2C model to a B2B model, with the introduction of WhereBizMap. The company is targeting retail SMEs. Business costs are a bigger concern than ever, as the weak economic climate leaves little room for wrong decisions.

Hence, pricing options will be catered to SMEs' appetite. 'We will offer them a package,' says Mr Tan. 'They can check, do a cross-search, location analysis and will be entitled to, maybe, 10 demand letters in debt recovery.'

As for expansion overseas, Wheresoft only sees headway being made with partners. 'To begin with, it will take a long time for us to get information together to a satisfactory level of integration,' says Mr Tan. 'Especially as not every country is as well organised as Singapore, where SLA and the various agencies are reliable information providers. We will have to find our way slowly.'

Source: Business Times, 3 Mar 2009

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