|| Print ||
|Articles - October 2012|
|Monday, September 24, 2012|
BY DAN COOK
Kent Couch’s aerial exploits have been chronicled for the world to dissect and ponder. Known as the lawn-chair balloonist, Couch has pursued for the past decade an esoteric hobby. He attaches huge helium-filled balloons to a Bi-Mart lawn chair and ascends into the stratosphere to see where the winds will carry him.
His most recent flight took place on July 14. This fifth trip was perhaps his least successful. The contraption stalled above Madras because of bad weather, forcing Couch and his fellow traveler, Iraqi pilot Fareed Lafta, to bail. The pair plans to ascend again this fall in Iraq to raise awareness about Iraqi orphans.
But even a failed flight is expensive. Couch estimates the trip, paid for by Lafta, cost around $15,000, about double the price of his earlier excursions due to skyrocketing helium costs. The Iraqi flight may cost even more given the travel involved.
Leaning back in his swivel chair in his cramped office at the Shell Stop N Go mini-mart he owns on the eastern outskirts of Bend, Couch explains how excellent customer service pays the freight for the flights.
“Here it’s all about the service,” Couch says. “Anybody can run a gas station or a convenience food store. We do things differently.”
Couch does not come across as a risk-taker, although he regularly takes them in his business as well as in his ballooning. Quiet and affable, the 52-year-old father of five and grandfather of four has an aw-shucks air about him that belies his inner drive.
Couch spent 20 years with Safeway. Customer service was a way of life there and Couch paid attention. He started as a bottle boy in Pendleton at 15 and moved up the ranks to store manager. When Safeway relocated him to Redmond, he felt at home and soon yielded to his inner entrepreneur. “You get to the point where you say, ‘I can do this myself,’” he says. He purchased the Stop N Go in 1997. He liked the concept. Folks come in for one thing — gas — and buy something else — soda, beef jerky, a lighter. Or they want to grab something from the store and they decide to gas up. Size-wise, it was more manageable than the independent grocery stores he had considered purchasing. The location was right — a large intersection on the road to Burns. He bought it and immediately began to restructure it around customer service.
With an average of 3,000 customers a day, Couch and his team have plenty of opportunity to practice their strategy. It’s a place where everybody knows your name. “Sometimes I might forget someone’s name, so when I see them coming, I go ask one of the employees. Someone always knows,” he says.
Couch puts money into research and rewards. Every week for the past decade, Couch has paid mystery shoppers to transact business at the Stop N Go and report back. Highly rated employees get bonuses of at least $25 a week. Shell Oil also conducts its own mystery-shopping program. “We’re always in the top five in the nation with Shell,” he says.
Then there are the old-fashioned uniforms. The 36 employees wear snappy outfits that Couch pays for and has laundered. The gas-pump jockeys (who wash your windows) sport crisp white suits complete with caps, a throwback to the 1950s. Couch says they cost $600 each but they set his crew apart from other stations. “Our uniforms are part of our brand,” says Couch. “It costs us quite a bit, but it’s worth it.”
Couch constantly adjusts and expands his store inventory based upon customer input. Although not a beer drinker, Couch knows that a lot of his regulars are. His first response to this customer demand: the Beer Cave, a highly stylized beer cooler featuring just about any brand of beer. This spring, responding to the latest beer-drinker trend, growlers, he opened a small growler bar. Encouraged by the strong response, he unveiled a greatly expanded growler bar in August. It was an instant hit.
Couch has dabbled in other businesses over the years; he built the Sisters Market in Sisters and subsequently sold it, and he ran a powder-coating business in Bend for a few years. But for now, he’s concentrating on the Stop N Go — and balloon flights. No better way to escape the pressures of the job than relaxing in a lawn chair at 15,000 feet.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
BY JASON NORRIS
Uncertainty in Greece and China, along with potential interest rate hikes mean investors are looking at the market and nervously questioning where they should be invested.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
BY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Greenpeace activists suspended themselves from the St. John's Bridge in an attempt to prevent a ship from heading to the Arctic.
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY GINA BINOLE
Screening for “culture fit” has become an essential part of the hiring process. But do like-minded employees actually build strong companies — or merely breed consensus culture?
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY LINDA WESTON
In 1996, after a 17-year career in the destination marketing industry, where I gained national standing as the CEO of the Convention & Visitors Association of Lane County, I was recruited by the founders of a new professional basketball league for women. The American Basketball League (ABL) hoped to leverage the success of the 1996 USA women’s national team at the Atlanta Olympics — much like USA Soccer is now leveraging the U.S. Women’s National Team’s victory in the World Cup. The ABL wanted a team in Portland, and they wanted me to be its general manager.
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY AMY MILSHTEIN | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN
Telemedicine, new partnerships and real estate diversification make health care more accessible in rural Oregon.
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
We asked readers how Obamacare has impacted their business.
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY SAM BLACKMAN
Storyteller-in-chief with the CEO and co-founder of Elemental Technologies.
|Child care challenge|
|Is there life beyond Reed?|
|University of Oregon plans facility named after Marcus Mariota|
|Facebook doesn't need to know everything about you|
|Hackers access more than 225k Apple accounts|
|Companies offer wearables for your dog|
|Umatilla targets homeless camps|
|Obama has votes for Iran deal|
|A Bouquet of Beer in Bend|
For good or ill, gay marriage inspires many people. They have strong feelings about it. Sometimes those strong feelings are grounded in religion and sometimes they are not. When the workplace is added to the mix, emotions tend to run high. After giving an overview of two current situations, The Bullard Edge is going to outline three key points for consideration and clarity.
Yesterday, a divided National Labor Relations Board dropped another hammer on the employer community. In a long-awaited and much debated move, the Board jettisoned the decades old standard for determining when two independent businesses should be considered joint employers of an individual worker for collective bargaining purposes.
Transforming the culture of Oregon’s educational leadership.
Attendance, breakfast buffet, materials, certificate of attendance and parking are all complimentary on behalf of the firm.
New regulations are in effect and more updates are on the horizon, are you prepared?
The Oregon Entrepreneurs Network (OEN) is pleased to announce 16 finalists — from over 60 nominees — for the 2015 OEN Tom Holce Entrepreneurship Awards.