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Thursday, March 27, 2014, Gila Valley Polaris was recognized as a 2014 Success Award Winner by the Arizona Small Business Development Center Network in the annual Success Award program for small business success. The Arizona Small Business Development Center Network is Arizona’s largest and most accessible statewide source of assistance for small businesses in every stage of development. Each year the Network highlights and honors some of Arizona’s brightest small business successes for the vital role that they play in our state’s economy. Gila Valley Polaris worked with the Eastern Arizona College Small Business Development Center to achieve a higher level of success. Read their story below:

Who could have guessed that a first date on a Polaris quad would turn into a marriage and eventually purchasing and owning their own Polaris dealership, but that is exactly how things turned out for Lance and Terri Shupe, owners of Gila Valley Polaris in Safford. “Our first date was literally me on the back of Lance’s quad, running out through the desert and him showing off doing wheelies” says Terri. Since that date, the Shupe’s have had a long history throughout their life together with Polaris off-road vehicles so their eventually having the opportunity to purchase a Polaris franchise was very fitting.

Lance had been in law enforcement for almost 18 years, but due to numerous shoulder surgeries, was now facing a medical retirement from the force and trying to decide what to do next. “I had always wanted to do some kind of business but the right one really never came along. I knew at some point I was going to, but this opportunity came along much earlier than expected” says Lance. Lance and Terri had been long time and regular customers of Gila Valley Cycle and Ski, an off-road vehicle dealership that had been in business for over 20 years. A chance conversation about Lance’s upcoming retirement with the owner caused the future hopes to become current opportunities. “He just asked me if I wanted to buy the business and I told him I needed to think about it a little bit.” But Lance waited a bit too long. When he finally got back to the owner, it was already in process of being sold to another potential buyer, who was also a client of the SBDC. Terri’s casual comment to the owner as they walked out that day was, “If it falls through, give us a call”. A short time later, the call came and the Shupe’s wasted no time in getting things in order.

After making arrangements for personal and private investors to assist in purchasing the business, Lance and Terri approached Eastern Arizona College SBDC Director Kevin Peck in August of 2013 with hopes of getting some assistance in working out all the little details. Terri was referred to the Eastern Arizona College SBDC by her sister, another previous client of the SBDC and by one of their investors. “We had so many things to get organized, especially in trying to get a business plan written that made sense and helped us get things in order”, Terri says. “Kevin really helped me gain the confidence in what I was doing and what needed to be a part of the business plan. He helped me make sense of everything that we needed to address. I always felt confident that we were in good hands and that he was helping us move this in the right direction”.

Eastern Arizona College SBDC provided additional research on traffic counts, demographics and census information as well as assistance working through details for the dealership agreement and application needed for the franchise. The Shupe’s were quickly approved and officially purchased the business in October 2013 and changed the name to Gila Valley Polaris.

Since the purchase, business has taken off, almost doubling historical sales figures and anticipated projections. Because of the increased business, they now have four mechanics, two salesmen, and an inventory manager, not to mention Lance overseeing all operations and Terri doing all the bookkeeping to keep up with growing demand. “Taking the Quickbooks training offered by the SBDC was one of the biggest things I could have done” says Terri. “I was able to get up and operational in a fraction of the time it would have taken me on my own.”

“I can’t think of another business that I would rather have and enjoy as much” Lance says. “We had never been business owners before, no experience and no background in business. Eastern Arizona College SBDC helped us right from the beginning in understanding what our numbers were and what we needed to focus on to be successful. We can’t say enough about all they have done to help us get started in this.”

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