ABOVE PHOTO: Melinda Martin, an Albany small business owner, created the Oregon Challenge passport in 2020 to encourage Oregonians to get out of doors during the pandemic. – PHOTO COURTESY: Melinda Martin
Melinda Martin has a natural entrepreneurial streak.
She became a small business owner after buying a delivery service based in Albany, Oregon, from her parents. Then, in the early days of the pandemic, she added a service providing home delivery of wine. But her most recent venture, The Oregon Challenge, has developed into her pet project.
The heart of the Oregon Challenge is a three-by-five-inch “passport” that contains a dozen pages of 140 places to visit — including three major valleys and 11 state parks — and activities to undertake while exploring the state’s natural wonders. Passport holders mark down the dates they complete an activity or visit a spot along with notes, collecting experiences and memories along the way.
While the Challenge started as a side project designed to encourage people to get out of their homes and into the great outdoors during the pandemic, Martin says it has been fulfilling to see it grow into something that has become self-supporting.
“It’s so fun to have it out there and have it be a real thing,” said Martin, a self-professed fan of outdoor recreational activities. “I like to think everybody who has (an Oregon Challenge) passport is having fun.”
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Martin admits she has always kept a running list of ideas for possible projects that could develop into side businesses. She grew up seeing her parents run their own business, City Delivery Services, a delivery company that first opened in 1922 in Corvallis. Martin’s mom and dad purchased it in the ’80s and moved it to Albany, where they ran it for two decades.
Martin sometimes helped at the business with bookkeeping and other tasks. When she headed to Oregon State University for college, she pursued and received a degree in business management. Her career path included working in an investment banking company. But it wasn’t until her parents were ready to retire that she decided to take on the role of small business owner.
“That was pivotal moment for me to take on a bigger task,” Martin said. “The beauty was, it was a small business — and the best advantage for me at the time was the flexibility. I could take (my kids) with me if I needed to make a delivery.”
By the time Martin’s children had reached ages where they were out on their own, she had grown City Delivery Services to 13 employees, a fleet of vehicles, and geographic service areas in the Willamette Valley counties of Linn and Benton, with both regular routes and on-demand service up and down Interstate 5.
Melinda Martin combined her love of the outdoors with an entrepreneurial mindset to create the Oregon Challenge passport. – PHOTO COURTESY: Melinda Martin
Interested in Tackling a Passport Challenge?
Oregon, Alaska – Kenai Peninsula, and Idaho versions of Melinda Martin’s passport Challenge can be purchase online for $10 each under the “Challenge Passports” menu tab on the City Delivery Service website online at citydeliveryservice.com.
Passports also can be purchased in person at the following locations:
Oregon Challenge Passport: Margin Coffee Roasters, 206 2nd Ave. S.W. , Albany, Oregon
Idaho Challenge Passport: Flying M, 1314 2nd St. S, Nampa, Idaho
Alaska – Kenai Peninsula Challenge Passport: 13 Ravens Coffee & Books, 411 Port Ave., Seward, Alaska
INNOVATION STEPS IN
Like most small businesses, City Delivery Service took a hit during the early months of the pandemic in 2020. Eventually, business bounced back a bit, but as uncertainty related to the pandemic continued, Martin decided to find a way to create additional revenue streams. That’s when her entrepreneurial spirit kicked in, spurring what Martin calls two “genius” ideas.
The first resulted in the creation of a wine home-delivery service.
“I like wine,” Martin said. “Since people weren’t working in offices and were stuck at home, I felt like they probably needed wine.”
She applied for and received an Oregon Liquor Control Commission license, allowing her to sell wine in the retail market. Next, she purchased wine wholesale, usually focusing on Oregon brands. Then she created wine packages featuring a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white and began taking orders and delivering them. The service quickly found a customer base.
While Martin offers a subscription service, she said most orders are one-offs. The packages have become popular choices for people looking to send thank yous or birthday gifts. Martin also has found a niche with local real estate companies that send wine to clients who buy a property.
“They put their tags on it and put in a gift bag. It works out nicely,” Martin said.
UP FOR A CHALLENGE
The Oregon Challenge was Martin’s second unique idea.
“(In early 2020) we really didn’t know what the Corona virus was or how it would affect us. People would hunker down, staying in their houses,” Martin said. “I thought we needed to be outdoors getting fresh air. Then the Forest Service closed some of our more popular trails because they didn’t want people (gathering) on them. That was a terrible time. It just seemed like that very thing we needed, which was getting out in nature, we weren’t getting.”
Martin thought that if she could provide people with some activities they could do outside on their own or with their families, it might encourage them to get outside.
“Sometimes people … don’t know where to go or what to do,” Martin said. “I thought if they had something specifically to look for, that would guide their experience. It was just to encourage them to get outdoors.”
Martin started by listing all things she enjoyed doing in the outdoors and the places in the state she enjoyed visiting. The first version of the Challenge she came up with was a three-fold paper flyer.
“It wasn’t very packable or portable; it was just a sheet of paper,” Martin said.
Throughout 2020, she carried the flyers with her when she went on her outdoor adventures and gave them to people she met. She also gave brochures to her friends, and collected feedback from those who tackled the Challenge with an eye toward possibly adding more suggestions of activities to try and places to visit.
When the pandemic continued to impact the ability of people to meet in groups indoors in 2021, Martin decided to upgrade the Oregon Challenge. The one sheet of paper turned into a small booklet the same size as a real passport. She added activities and grouped them into categories such as “peaks and trees” and geographies such as Crater Lake and the dunes on the coast. She even added a “Try it” category encouraging people to ride a ferry, go snowshoeing or hug a tree.
She had the booklet professionally printed, using recycled materials, and then set out to market it. Each passport comes in an envelope containing the booklet, an Oregon challenge pin, and a sun-shaped paperclip. As part of her marketing efforts, Martin contacted the owner of an Instagram account called Oregon Explored. She convinced the account owner to purchase 100 passports to sell on his Instagram site.
“He said they sold out in a couple of hours,” Martin said.
The Oregon Challenge passport allows people to cross off activities, such as hugging a tree or visiting a scenic waterfall area, while exploring a range of outdoor areas in the Oregon, from a quick stop by the nearest greenspace to a trip to a state park.
In addition to introducing people to outdoor areas in Oregon, Melinda Martin hopes the Oregon Challenge will encourage them to try new activities.
A page selling Oregon Challenge passport booklets for $10 each joined a page for the home wine delivery service on the City Delivery Service website. However, Martin also wanted to find a way to use the Challenge to support other small businesses in Albany. So she arranged to have an Albany coffee shop, Margin Coffee Roasters, at 206 Second Ave. S.W., sell the books and billed the business as the only place in Oregon where people could purchase Challenge passports in person.
She also included a coupon sheet offering deals with Albany small businesses — such as a free chocolate chip cookie from Natural Sprinkles Co. or $5 off two cocktails at Deluxe Brewing — tucked inside the back cover of the passport. She hopes the Oregon Challenge will boost support for small businesses — not just in Albany but throughout the state.
“Part of my philosophy as a small business owner is that I want people to support small businesses,” Martin said. “When I send people a passport if they’ve ordered it, I encourage them to support all of the small businesses they encounter along the way.”
Sidney Stewart, who helps Martin with administrative tasks related to the Oregon Challenge, said they’ve already sold between 300 and 400 booklets, requiring several additional printing runs. Martin also has created Challenge passports for the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska and Idaho.
The Alaska Challenge was created at the suggestion of Martin’s cousin, who helped her come up with activities and locations specific to Alaska to include. Following Martin’s coffee shop approach in Oregon, her cousin’s coffee shop, 13 Ravens in Seward, is the only place where the Alaska Challenge can be purchased in person. Likewise, the Idaho Challenge passport can only be purchased in person from a coffee shop called the Flying M Coffee Garage in Nampa. Martin created the Idaho version with help from her step-children, who live in the state and spend a lot of time doing outdoor activities. Like the Oregon Challenge passport, the Idaho and Alaska passports can be purchased online.
Based on the success so far, Martin said she’s looking at ways to expand the scopes of the three challenges.
“I’m constantly thinking about it. I carry a notebook around with me and every time I think of some place to go or an experience (people) should be having, I write it down,” Martin said. “I’ve been trying to figure out how to have a more advanced challenge or an easier challenge for kids. I’ve been thinking it could also translate into a curriculum for elementary or younger kids; I there are things the next generation needs to learn about nature.”
The one thing Martin doesn’t want to do with the challenge is to expand it to the point that she can’t stay connected to it. For example, maintaining eco-friendly packaging and the message to support small businesses is an integral part of the heart of the Challenge.
“I don’t want to get away from my base idea,” Martin said. “I don’t want to make it a huge commercial enterprise … (or) lose the essence. I’m trying to keep it small and go slowly. I think there’s a little more heart in it that way.