The year was 1973. The submarine attraction—20,000 Leagues Under the Sea—at Disney World was temporarily closed; however, an attraction in the making seemed to have already unlocked inside the Magic Kingdom.
Almost two decades later, in the fall of 1992, Karen Hansen was a distributor in the promotional products industry. Chris Stauffer, a supplier rep who was living in Los Angeles, traveled to Kirkland, Washington—where Karen lived and worked—to give a presentation at her office.
A regional dinner cruise had been planned for that evening. Chris was single, and Karen caught his eye during the meeting, so he took a chance. “Hey! I need a date for the dinner cruise. Do you want to go?” he asked.
Much to his disappointment, she said no, turned around, and walked back into her office.
Karen clarifies, “It sounds like I was being mean, and I wasn’t. I thought he was really cute. But, he was this bleached blonde dude from LA. I thought he was just looking for a hook up, and I was dating someone at the time.
Chris felt a bit blown off by Karen’s turndown. But it just so happened later that same year, she needed a huge favor: a less than minimum rush order over the holidays. Being with a top 40 supplier, Karen’s best contact to get her customer’s overseas order delivered in a timely manner was Chris. So she called and asked for his help.
“I’ll do this for you,” Chris told Karen, “but you need to buy me a drink at the PPAI show in Dallas.”
Fast forward to January in Dallas, Texas. After the fourth and last day of working the tradeshow floor, Chris hadn’t seen a sign of Karen. Just when he was giving up hope and about to write her off, she showed up at his booth.
“It was my first show,” Karen says. “So, it was fortunate that I found him because I was a novice, just wandering the show floor without looking at the guide. I kept thinking I might bump into him at any time. So it really wasn’t by design. I lucked out finding Chris’s booth with only one hour left before the show ended that Thursday.”
She adds, “When I walked up to his booth, he said, ‘Oh! There you are.’ And it kind of gave me chills. I thought that was so sweet. And then he asked, ‘Are you still going to buy me that drink you promised me?’”
After Chris had come through for Karen on the overseas watch order, she agreed to let him pick her up at seven o’clock and gave him her room number.
Walking back to her room, she froze…. A twenty-eight year old single woman letting a stranger pick her up in a city she wasn’t familiar with had Karen on edge. For safety reasons, she wondered why she had blurted out her hotel room number.
Having been there all week, with just one night left, she returned to her room and phoned the front desk. “I need to change rooms,” she told them.
Without going into detail, Karen told them the truth by stating she wasn’t comfortable. Within no time, the bell hop came and picked up all of her luggage.
“You couldn’t even see the covers because of all of the samples I’d picked up at the show! They were spread out on the double beds in my room”. (First show!) The bell hop helped me transport my samples to my newly assigned room on the hotel’s fourth floor,” she said.
Meanwhile, Chris called to make specific arrangements to meet. When the phone rang through to the room number Karen had given, he was greeted by a man’s voice. Poor Chris was all kinds of confused. He said to himself, “Damn! She gave me the wrong room number. If she doesn’t want to go out, she should just tell me.”
Instead of giving up, he decided to give it ONE more try by calling the front desk and asking for her by name. When he got through to Karen, he asked, “Why did you give me the wrong room number?”
“It wasn’t intentional,” she assured him. “They made me move for some reason.”
That’s what she said as Michael Scott from The Office would say.
If it wasn’t enough that Karen had switched rooms on Chris, she also brought chaperones to meet for drinks. “I told my two guy friends from my work—who were meeting us—that this wasn’t a date, that we were just going to have a quick drink,” she says.
Odd thing is, within three minutes Karen had a major feeling come over her, but she waited an hour before shooing off her co-workers. “You guys can go now. You can leave,” she told them, giving the cue that she was comfortable being alone with Chris.
What a misjudgment she’d made. Karen had quickly discovered that the guy she’d first described as a long-haired, bleached blonde, beach bum dude from LA was anything but what she’d initially thought. Turns out, Chris Stauffer was a super, highly intelligent and nice guy from Boston with a sense of humor that could split the sides of Jerry Seinfeld. “He is the funniest person I’ve ever known in my life,” Karen beams.
Chris’s business motto is: “Always leave them laughing.”
“And he always does,” Karen professes.
After their date in Dallas, a couple of things needed to be remedied. Karen was in a relationship, and she and Chris lived quite a distance apart. Once she returned to Kirkland, Washington, she made a change and began dating Chris long-distance.
Since email and cell phones hadn’t come into existence yet, Chris and Karen dated long distance and communicated via fax—sneakily. Karen recalls receiving a fax that read, “Your six-foot, one hundred and eighty five pound shipment will arrive in Seattle on Friday, at 6 pm.
“Should anyone in the office intercept a fax, we didn’t want them to catch on to us, so we had secret codes we used to communicate,” Karen winks. “And we had a lot of fun with those faxes. In fact, I still have several of them saved in a scrapbook, but they are on thermal paper and all mostly faded now.”
Only a few months later, Karen re-located to Southern California to live with Chris. Eventually, Chris relocated to Washington. Karen loves to joke with her friends and says, “For the first time in my life—on complete accident—I played hard to get and it worked.”
On April 22nd, 1995, they had an intimate church wedding with just a few close friends and family members in attendance.
While reminiscing, Chris laughed and said, “Pretty sure the random woman we hired to sing at our wedding was hungover.” Evidently, she had taken Elton John’s hit tune titled Can You Feel The Love Tonight and botched the daylights out of it by singing way off-pitch.
“We still joke about it,” Karen laughs.
Around the time they married, Karen and Chris had taken a break from the promotional products industry to start a business with friends. “It was like getting our MBA,” Karen says. After putting literally everything they had into the business, and getting the product sold to QVC, there were issues with the product’s injection mold. It left them flat broke, and starting over.
Needless to say, they couldn’t afford the type of honeymoon they desired, but they did travel to Palm Beach, Florida—only it was to Chris’s grandparent’s home where they shoved two twin beds together for the week.
What a climb it’s been for them from 1995 to the present. They returned to the promotional products industry, and were the first to form a rep group—Cascade Marketing Group—that focused specifically on the Northwest.
“Our territory had never really been broken up before as a multi-line rep group territory, so we were able to do that and just focus on the Northwest,” Chris says.
Together, they’ve worked tirelessly to rebuild from the ground up after the business they’d started with friends didn’t come to fruition.
How did they make it happen? Karen explains. “Before Facebook and social media, we created our own marketing packages we mailed out, listing the top twelve end user clients in the Northwest. We printed all of their logos and sent it to suppliers we targeted. It read, ‘Would you like to do more business with these companies in the Northwest?” We put together our marketing package, and focused on having two salespeople in the territory, not just one. And, we focused on marketing to just a few states, instead of thirteen. And it’s been really great,” Karen smiles.
Every couple who works together in the industry always gets the same question: “How do you live and work together?”
For Chris and Karen Stauffer, the answer is quite easy. “We have so much fun. Together we make one person. And the thing we love about it is when we get home at night, we don’t have to talk about our day because we both already know what happened! It’s a bonus,” Karen says. “When we shut the office door, we’re done for the day.”
To get Chris to admit the exact moment he knew there was something special about Karen is a hard pull, yet he had to have recognized her value early on when he compliments, “Karen is the most amazing salesperson/presenter I have ever met. Her energy is amazing. Having been a distributor, you just can’t measure how important that is being a supplier rep because she gets it. She knows what they are going through day in and day out. I’m more analytical. I’m okay with customers, too,” Chris says. “But—”
Karen interrupts. “But you’re so funny!” Together, they laugh.
In case anyone needs to know, the one thing women love most about a man is his sense of humor.
Twenty-seven years ago, they were shoving two twin beds together on their honeymoon. Now they are fortunate to do a lot of fun things together such as spending summers boating, cooking, and listening to great music together. In 2018, their took their first vacation ever-without checking email, and spent eighteen days in New Zealand ziplining and exploring.
Years prior to Chris’s presentation in Karen’s office, therein lies some mysticism.
One day in conversation, Chris and Karen were talking about being in Disney World at the age of nine and how disappointed they each were that the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction was temporarily closed.
The Eureka moment occurred. They realized they were both at Disney World at the same time. Just how close had they come to each other inside the Magic Kingdom in 1973? Who knows? Maybe when the fireworks displayed at the theme park’s closing time, perhaps the two of them were standing next to or very near one another.
Whatever the case, little did they know that sparks would one day ignite between them—even if it was years later.
One thing that is for certain: Fate always waits!