Missoula Company Maps its Way to a Real Montana Success Story
At a time when many "brick and mortar" stores are struggling against online competition, a Missoula company has flipped that business scenario, turning its virtual storefront into a real retail space.
Over a decade ago, brothers Chris and Greg Robinaille decided to combine their respective talents in art and business, launching Xplorer Maps from their shared appreciation of classic, hand-drawn maps.
With Chris lending his considerable artistic skills working remotely in Africa, and Greg and his team working out of their Missoula warehouse, Xplorer Maps has become one of Montana's best online business success stories.
This weekend, the company enters a new phase with the opening of a new retail store in Missoula.
"For the last few years we've contemplated a brick and mortar and as crazy as that sounds," Greg, Xplorer Maps President and CEO told me this week. "This space became available, on the front end of our warehouse and office. So we just thought the time was now. And I've got an amazing team behind the scenes that have worked their butts off to make this come to fruition. And we want to really make more of a community connection with the Missoula and Xplorer Maps and Western Montana in general."
The results are spectacular, opening a window on not only Xplorer Maps' stunning creations, but a world of recollection of trips to special places, or dreams of journeys to new places.
"We've got maps of 60 different places around the world. 22 national parks and 14 states and 20 travel destinations. And then for each of those we have 10 to 20 different products for each of those map locations," Greg explains. "So hopefully we'll get people in who are originally from somewhere else. In addition to our four Montana-based maps hopefully, they find a connection to their place that they call home."
The store at 1245 S. 3rd Street West has been arranged so shoppers can see the maps, and then all the associated products for that place, from mugs to blankets to puzzles and more. One attractive feature is that customers will be able to pick a gift, and have it wrapped and shipped with a handwritten note that same day anywhere in the world.
While Xplorer Maps plans to continue connections with organizations and causes remotely, the store will also be used as a new gathering place for local groups.
And the store will be the place to enjoy Chris' wonderful work in an "art gallery" setting.
"That's what we are," Greg agrees. "We're an art company that tells stories of these cool places. We definitely want to make sure that people see the art when they come in and they get a sense of wonderment at, 'Oh my gosh, there's so many different places that these guys feature.' But we also wanted to be casual and low-key and have it be a conversation because, ultimately, that's what Xplorer Maps does. We want to tell stories of these different places throughout the world."
Xplorer Maps will be celebrating its Grand Opening from 11 am to 5 pm through Sunday, with food trucks, music, and presentations, including multi-media presentations from "Mandella", the company's "lead storyteller", who is back from her explorations and work with conservation efforts in Africa.