This Company’s on the Map

136 destinations and counting

by Phyl Newbeck

discovery-peter-hans0319Peter Hans, president and CEO of Discovery Map International, bought the Waitsfield hand-drawn mapmaking business in 2005. It’s now one of the top franchise companies in the country.

During his career as an international banker, Peter Hans worked in Zurich and London, traveling to many European capitals. These days, Hans helps others do the traveling as president and CEO of Discovery Map International, a Waitsfield business he purchased in 2005. Founded in 1981, the company franchises hand-drawn maps of cities across the United States and Canada.

Hans grew up in Albany and attended a military school called Albany Academy. His father was an insurance agent who later worked for the state of New York’s Legislative Bill Drafting Commission. Once Hans and his sister were grown, his mother got a clerical job for the state.

In high school, Hans played hockey and football and ran track and field, continuing with hockey and track at St. Michael’s College. An economics major, he later dropped track and returned to skiing, which he’d enjoyed as a child.

After graduation, he returned to Albany where he spent six months as a bank teller before becoming a systems analyst. Learning from a friend about a bank holding company that had a variety of subsidiaries, he joined the business, spending his time traveling across northern New England selling auto leasing deals to car dealerships for Norstar.

Deciding an advanced degree would be beneficial, he applied and was accepted to three MBA programs, ultimately choosing Babson because a friend who attended had been able to take advantage of its international internship program.

Hans attended school at night while working for Bay Bank of Boston (now Bank of America). He had switched from lease financing to corporate financing, he says, but since that department was quiet in the summer, he offered to take a sabbatical, which would allow him to avail himself of the international internship option. Three months in Zurich working in the project finance department of the Union Bank of Switzerland (now UBS) whetted his appetite for more international work, and he stayed with UBS after graduating in 1990.

He eventually left Zurich for London where he ran the Scandinavian corporate banking team for UBS, adding Helsinki, Copenhagen, and Oslo to the list of capital cities where he has done business. When the firm merged with Swiss Bank, he signed on with Fuji International Development, working with high-yield bonds. In London he met Susan Walker, whom he married in 2001.

When Fuji was sold, Hans left the company, and he and Susan decided to move to a house he had purchased in 1994 for ski weekends and two-week summer visits “to recharge,” he says. “Every time I left I would get really sad. Somebody saw me and asked, ‘What’s the matter?’ and I said, ‘I just hate to leave Vermont.’ They said, ‘Why don’t you move here?’”

They moved in on Labor Day of 2002.

That date has multiple meanings for them since Susan was pregnant at the time, but Hans had one more moving chore to take care of. In November he headed to Lagos, Portugal, where his sailboat was moored. Weather conditions required him to make the journey in several segments, so it took eight weeks to bring the boat to Newport, Rhode Island, via the Canary Islands, St. Lucia, and Tortola.

His sister, parents, and Susan joined him in Tortola for Christmas and the New Year’s celebration and he made it back to Vermont in time for Molly’s birth on January 24, 2003. A second daughter, Emma, was born two years later.

Once settled in Vermont, Hans needed to decide his next step in life. “I had done pretty well,” he says, “so I wasn’t in a hurry to start working.” He worked as COO for a small defense contracting business in Waitsfield, but found it wasn’t a good fit. His assistant there told him her parents were looking to sell their Waitsfield-based map business. He bought the company, which was then called Resort Maps, on Halloween of 2005.

When Hans took the helm, the company had 64 maps, primarily on the Eastern Seaboard. He and his team raised the number to over 100 before acquiring Discovery Map, a West Coast business with a similar product, in October 2011, and adopting its name. Discovery Map now has 136 destinations.

Of the company’s many honors, Hans is most proud of being named one of the top 50 franchise companies in the United States by Franchise Business Review.

Hans was familiar with European capitals, but says his new business venture introduced him to places he might not have otherwise visited, such as Mount Desert Island; Key West; and Sedona, Arizona. He estimates he has visited three-quarters of the cities the company covers.

Discovery Map is considered a “brand franchise,” a business model Hans developed after he bought the company. “We built a system where people come to us or we solicit them for places to develop a Discovery Map,” he says. “They pay a fee and we develop the map with them and drive the process from here.”

Most of the cities are located on the East or West Coast, but Hans is starting to expand into Middle America. There are also two franchisees in Canada, a few in Puerto Rico, and one in process in Mexico. “We have a 40 percent interest in a company that started in Slovenia, and they like what we’ve done and wanted our help,” he says, when asked about expanding into Europe. “We do best in middle market cities that have destination features, like Burlington; Savannah, Georgia; and Portland, Maine,” he says.

The company has six full-time employees in Waitsfield and one in Washington state, Monica Moore, who was part of the initial Discovery Map staff. Two half-time contractors work on computer development, and a half-time artist is based in New Hampshire. For printing, Discovery Maps works with Catamount Color in Essex. It relies on Gallagher, Flynn & Co. for its accounting needs and Rich Pashby of Pangea Design for graphics work.

Hans’s love of skiing has not diminished with age. The sport he returned to in college now occupies quite a bit of his time, since he was recruited by John Dillon to be a volunteer ski patroller at Mad River Glen. “I started eleven years ago and it’s been a hoot,” he says. “It’s a very fraternal organization with a gallows humor.”

In addition to skiing, he plays hockey regularly at the Waterbury Ice Center. His sailboat is still in Rhode Island, and he and his family spend several weeks there in the summer months.

Dillon is happy to have played a part in persuading Hans to join the Mad River Ski Patrol. “I thought he would be a good fit,” he says. “He’s been part of the fabric of that community ever since.” In addition to being friends since the 1980s and colleagues on patrol, the two are business partners in a three-family rental property in Waterbury. “We share responsibility in a loose arrangement that seems to work out well,” Dillon says. “He is a man of his word and he stands behind what he says.”

Hans generally begins each day by working on the print part of the business, answering questions and “putting out fires,” although he notes that most of that work can be done by his employees.

“The people who work here are awesome” he says. “For the first time since I’ve owned the company, they don’t need me here. I weigh in and clarify and answer questions, but generally the print business takes care of itself and my focus now is how do we take this tiny print publisher and make it competitive in the digital space. The printed map is the highest and best form,” he adds, “but digital offers different benefits.”

Hans believes Discovery Map can differentiate itself from giants like Google, Facebook, and TripAdvisor. “We offer something different from the algorithm-driven big players,” he says. “We have real relationships with the local businesses. If we can convey that message — that it’s a real human experience — we should be OK.”

Each printed map is published once a year, with most going to press between late February and early June. Another batch, designated for ski resort communities, goes out in the fall. “The geographic information is good for a year,” Hans says, “but things like musical events and opening hours can be added or changed online in real time. We want to complement the printed piece with what is happening now.”

Sam Krotinger, Harwood Union High School’s assistant principal, has known Hans for 15 years and has done some consulting work to help Discovery Map establish its digital presence. “I think he represents the perfect combination of observer and listener,” Krotinger says, “but he is also an extremely articulate creator of ideas and strategies and is really fantastic with people.”

Krotinger appreciates the fact that Hans has a strong commitment to the Mad River community. “Many people intend to be involved,” he says, “but he’s a person who sees things through both professionally and personally.”

Hans can’t say enough good things about the people he works with. “Our core team in Waitsfield and the diverse set of personalities that are the franchisees makes the organization,” he says. “Sometimes we may be challenged by a particular franchisee but this is a nice place to come and work. It’s all about the people.” •