PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Chris Griggs, manager of Beaverton’s Drones Plus, says he’s amazed at how quickly word about the opening of his new business in Beaverton Town Square has spread, mostly via word-of-mouth from neighboring businesses.
“In the three-plus weeks, we’ve had about 1,500 (people) come in,” he said. “They’re just curious.”
And what they’re curious about is checking out drones, those unmanned aerial vehicles that have captured the public’s imagination over the last few years.
What they find at Drones Plus — what Griggs believes to be the lone drones-only retail store in the state — is a large selection of DJI drones, known as the industry leader in many circles.
Griggs said many of those who walk into his store (located just across the parking lot from the downtown Beaverton Fred Meyer store) tell him it’s now their new favorite store. One customer threw up his hands and exclaimed “You are finally here!” said Griggs, who runs the store along with store manager James Older.
Jared Hoffen, Drones Plus owner and chief operating officer, said drones are super easy to fly and can be used for numerous purposes.
He said the company opened its first retail venture 1 1/2 years ago in Las Vegas. In addition to Beaverton, they now have stores in the Los Angeles, Seattle and Toronto, Canada, areas.
“I’m growing this into a very large company overnight,” said Hoffen, who noted that a national magazine recently forecasted that by 2024, personal drone sales will exceed $11 billion. “The industry is going to grow by leaps and bounds.”
Hoffen said the company also provides service for everything it sells.
Like the other Drones Plus stores, the Beaverton location carries an extensive selection of remote control aircraft.
Griggs said in most cases, customers can learn to fly a basic drone within an hour. Buyers include everyone from the father who wants to shoot his daughter’s wedding to real estate agents who want to use them for a birds-eye-view perspective of featured homes.
“We’ve got them as cheap as 29 bucks,” said Griggs, noting that $30 buys a 1 1/2-inch-by-1 1/2-inch drone that provides its user with loads of fun, but has limited capabilities.
“Basically, people get it to bug their cats or bug their co-workers,” he noted.
But it’s not only personal or commercial ventures that can benefit from drones. Griggs said police departments are using them to get accurate overhead views of crime scenes instead of using fire department ladder trucks or a helicopters.
“If you had to use a helicopter in the past, you can use this,” said Griggs.
In addition, drones have been used extensively to film the devastation and help locate victims following the recent earthquake in Nepal.
Kenneth Silverton, a Drones Plus sales associate, said he’s been interested in remote control vehicles for a long time, but now loves to fly drones. Though he hasn’t flown remote control helicopters, he’s heard from other aficionados that drone copters are more stable than RC aircraft and feature motors that will last for several years if they are well maintained.
One of the most popular DJI drones is the Phantom series, said Griggs.
A Phantom was featured recently in an episode of the popular TV sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” which had the characters attempting to take apart and reassemble one, said Griggs.
While the Phantom 2 came out a couple of years ago, the new Phantom 3 has already proved a hot seller, coming complete with a GPS system and capabilities to shoot high definition videos or still photos in a price range of $999 to $1,259.
“The Phantom 3 has about a mile range,” said Griggs, whose other job is running the Tudor Doctor, an in-home Beaverton-based tutoring company. “It can go about 35 (miles per hour).”
Like many of the more pricey drones, it can also controlled by a smartphone, which allows the operator to view everything the drone is looking at as well.
With an airborne battery life of about 20 minutes, the Phantom 3 can reach that 400-foot legal ceiling for personal drones and is even smart enough to know if it is going too high.
The store’s largest models, which cost around $3,000, are effectively the Ferraris of their class and include the DJI Inspire, which will fly about 60 mph and has a range of 1 1/2 miles.
“It’s just the biggest, baddest beast we carry,” he said.
In addition, there are drones that can carry a professional movie company camera with the ability to lift objects as heavy as 22 pounds.
Not that personal drones don’t periodically cause headaches for local and federal officials. An investigation by the Washington Post published last summer showed that over the last two years, drones have flown “dangerously close to airports or passenger aircraft.” That survey also noted that a drone (or remotely controlled model aircraft) was reported on a near-collision course with a US Airways plane in Florida.
Griggs noted that there aren’t that many rules yet governing personal drones other than making sure they stay specific distances away from federal buildings and airports. Still, the FFA is still working on rules governing personal use, he pointed out.
Meanwhile, Griggs said he loves his job, pointing out that when there are no customers in the store, he and other Drones Plus personnel can often be found trying out the aircraft.
“It’s a fun environment to be in,” he said.