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Telemap Service Turns Car Phone Into Compass

UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL

Mariners had sextants, early settlers relied on Indian guides, but these days Gloria Cohan uses her car telephone for travel directions--and she gets quicker results.

Cohan, 66, got lost in an Oakland neighborhood so tough she didn’t dare get out of her car, but it was no problem. Telemap, a fledgling Walnut Creek company that features computerized street maps and round-the-clock personalized “navigators,” was just 11 digits away.

“I’m a senior running a property management and interior decorating business and I’m having a hard time finding things in the past two years,” Cohan said. “The streets and buildings are always changing.”

She became discombobulated while driving 10 miles from the wealthy suburb of Lafayette to a shop in the twisted streets of Oakland, where a craftsman restores antique radios.

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“I don’t know Oakland too well,” she said. “It wasn’t an area you wanted to get out in. It was rough looking.

“So I sat in my car and used the cellular telephone to get help from Telemap.

“They told me, ‘You’ve gone too far on Adeline Street.’ So with them still on the phone, I drove back on Adeline Street to San Pablo (Street) and they said, ‘Turn right,’ then ‘Turn right again.’ By then I could see the shop I was looking for,” Cohan said.

“When you’re lost, we’re the calm in the storm,” said Sean Duffy, 32, president of Telemap.

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The company has about 1,800 active customers throughout the nation for city map directions anywhere in the United States and Canada. The fee for individual customers is $24 a year. Now, 55% of Telemap’s business is with companies and corporations, which pay a reduced rate per user.

A staple of the business is planning routes for truck drivers, salesmen and limousine services. Customers call on a toll-free number or fax their destinations and starting points to Telemap, where a computer plots the swiftest, most efficient route.

Printouts of best routes are faxed back to the client in time for departure.

“It works for us,” said Steve Testa, traffic manager for President Containers Inc. of Moonachie, N.J.

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“Sometimes we have drivers who don’t know where they’re going,” so President Containers, manufacturer of cartons, uses Telemap to help route its 32 trucks, Testa said.

Each day, before the trucks start rolling from the plant in New Jersey at 5 a.m., Testa calls Telemap in California for help in routing them from point to point. Deliveries are usually within 100 miles from the plant and Telemap faxes back directions that take the drivers from stop to stop.

“Even though its 2 a.m. (PDT) they’re cordial and say, ‘Call any time, seven days a week,’ ” Testa said.

Telemap was launched in November, 1989, on $85,000 seed money raised by Duffy and Dave Licht, 32, chief executive officer. Licht took out a second mortgage on his home and Duffy sold a couple of prize antique cars to get money to start the business, which features 32 telephone lines, a state-of-the-art computer and maps for more than 4,000 population areas.

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Revenue projections for the first year of business total $500,000, putting the little company “slightly in the black,” Licht said.

The idea for Telemap came when Duffy himself got lost trying to find the address of friends he hoped to surprise by dropping in on them in Plano, Tex., a mostly Latino community just outside Dallas.

“First I go to a gasoline station, but nobody speaks English,” Duffy said. “I go to another station that has one of these bullet-proof enclosures and I have to shout through the round hole in the glass, ‘Do you have a city map?’

“They didn’t but they directed me to the police department. It took me another 10 minutes to find the police station and they helped me, but they also let me know they had better things to do.”

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Why not start a company that you can call for street directions, Duffy reasoned. There are organizations offering city-to-city routes, but no one actually giving street directions from “your front door to your destination door.”

It works for Gordon Morris, a salesman for Shasta Insulation Corp. based in Chico, Calif.

Morris faxes Telemap the addresses of the accounts he plans to visit the next day throughout Northern California. The company plots his routes to each stop and faxes the information back before the salesman sets out.

“The biggest advantage to me,” Morris said, is “I no longer have to sit in a motel room the night before and try to figure out on a map where I’m going. I can actually save time and see more accounts by having my routes all planned for me.”

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