Couper News keeps Sunday routine

JEFF AND DEBBIE COUPER of Iron Mountain are the owners of Couper News, a local wholesale distributor of weekend editions of newspapers such as the New York Times and USA Today. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

IRON MOUNTAIN — After two decades of transporting newspapers such as the New York Times and USA Today to the region, Jeff and Debbie Couper were abruptly left without anything to deliver after the Green Bay-based distributor shut down operations with less that two weeks’ notice.

“Just like that, 20 percent of our income was gone,” Jeff Couper said.

His wife wasn’t ready to give it up.

“Jeff and I had a heart-to-heart — ‘Are we going to live with this and boo hoo, boo hoo, or what can we do about it?'” she said.

With the intent of “Keeping the U.P. Informed,” the Iron Mountain couple started Couper News, taking over as the wholesale distributors of the weekend editions of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and its weekly Packer Plus publication, the New York Times, Green Bay Press Gazette and USA Today.

They contacted the individual newspapers and vendors that had carried those papers in the past to find out if interest was still there for the print product.

“There are a lot of people up here who still like to hold a newspaper. They still want that. It’s portable; you can take it with you wherever you go,” Debbie Couper said.

But after being an independent contractor for someone else for so many years, the couple admitted some stumbles getting out of the gate in running the entire distribution route.

“We struggled. It didn’t come with a manual. We had to figure it out,” Debbie Couper said.

First, they inherited an aging billing system that needed to be replaced, then paid for worthless equipment they believed was required for operation.

“So, we made a lot of errors in starting up the business,” Jeff Couper said.

But they found a local accountant to help them set up billing in Quickbooks. They purchased a delivery van, bought a strapping machine to bundle the papers and developed a distribution plan that includes bulk delivery to grocery stores, restaurants and libraries in parts of the central Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin.

The Coupers begin their work week on Saturday evenings at the warehouse in Green Bay, stuffing the newspapers with inserts and strapping the bundles.

They then head back north early Sunday, stopping to drop off bundles in Amberg and Pembine in Wisconsin.

In Iron Mountain, they hand off bundles to two drivers, one going to Iron River, the other to Marquette. Debbie Couper then continues to Escanaba, where she ends the morning routine after deliveries by having coffee with her mother, who lives in that city.

“We want to have all the newspapers delivered by 8 a.m.,” Debbie Couper said.

The Coupers have been married for 18 years and work well as a team. Jeff Couper recently retired from United Parcel Service and Debbie Couper also works as a dental assistant for Santini Dentistry.

The couple still is working on marketing and sales for the new business, but they continue to be optimistic about the newspaper industry.

“People have a routine. Sunday morning, they go to the grocery store, they get their newspaper, they get their milk, whatever it is,” Debbie Couper said. “We want to continue to keep the Upper Peninsula informed with the newspaper and we will keep doing it as long as there is interest.”