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Sherrill’s tours are as good as gold

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Bob Sherrill has chauffeured the likes of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and entertainers Lou Rawls and The Supremes. On this particular night, Sherrill had Portland Community College’s Small Business Management’s second-year class on board for a tour of Beaverton businesses.

It’s a first for the Small Business Development Center, which enjoys partnerships with the Small Business Administration and Oregon Small Business Development Network in Eugene. The tour, thanks to positive feedback, will be a regular tool used by instructors to help small business owners in the class gain valuable knowledge about their profession.

"It was designed to showcase the different businesses in the class to the class members," said Galen Sarvinski, instructor of the two classes. "It’s another method to reach out to the class as opposed to the traditional classroom. It intensifies the networking, solidifies the business-to-business relationships, and exposes class members to different merchandising and service strategies."

Sherrill, who is in the Small Business Management’s first-year class, used one of his two 14-passenger buses to take the second-year class on a tour of three establishments, all owned by students in the class. He is in his third year as owner of Northwest Gold Tours, located in Beaverton, which for a fee of $65 an hour, takes groups to such locales as the wine country of Yamhill County, or to the Oregon Coast and back, all in the lap of luxury.

The class filed onto Sherrill’s $50,000 custom-made bus one by one, all in awe of the plush seating, closed-circuit television screen, refreshment cooler and heater, elaborate speaker system and generous portions of sparkling cider in authentic wine glasses. His idea for the tour bus business came from a Sunday Oregonian’s want ad in the businesses for sale section. But after seeing that the bus for sale was "the rattiest service I’d ever seen," Sherrill believed there was a market for a classy medium-to-small sized charter service in Portland.

"We doubled in our second year in income volume," said Sherrill, who had no prior experience in the charter bus biz. "Now, we (wife Susan and daughter Stephanie) can work full time. The real secret is networking. I signed on to the (Beaverton) Chamber of Commerce and three months afterward I started talking to people at senior centers and various companies."

On this night, the first stop was Richard and Marie Hamann’s Beaver Tool, Inc., an industrial diamond tool company operated out of a suburban garage. Like the Hamanns, Sherrill started his business from scratch and is fine-tuning his business skills in PCC’s Small Business Management classes.

"You get to interact with people who are experiencing the same things every day, instead of people who have just gone to school and only study about it," says Sherrill. "We brainstorm in class on topics and it has been very valuable to me. I’ve learned how to focus and identify what the jobs are that I need to create within the company."

Next stop was the Hart Road Animal Hospital, owned and operated by veterinarians Clifford McVey and Jennifer Martin. Sherrill insures everyone gets off the bus safely and that the vehicle is running and ready to go when they come back following their tour of the couple’s elaborate animal clinic.

"We teach intuitive service, which is figuring out what our clients want," says Sherrill, who has bused around clients from Nike, Freightliner and Oregon Steel Mill. "The basic concept of the company is built on what we do if we had a friend coming in from back East. It’s all about how we want them to be treated. I tell people the I’m the group’s mother I make sure everything is happening the way it’s supposed to and that it’s fun."

The final stop on Sherrill’s tour is Barbara vanDoorninck’s The Wedding Cottage. The wide array of wedding books, cake decorations and wedding gowns offers a couple a little of everything, but always in a classy style. She’s in direct competition with the likes of Martha Stewart, who enjoys a world-renowned wedding d*cor service. Sherrill’s Northwest Gold Tours is much like vanDoorninck’s business.

"I learned from the ground floor what it takes to run a company," he says. "Taking the classes from PCC I’ve been able to share my experiences with others that understand because they are out there, too. Small businesses are different from big businesses, and all we ask is an opportunity to get into the game."

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »


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