"The ROBS program that Guidant helped me through has really made retirement not just possible, but opened up an income and way of life that I wouldn’t have had if I left my funds in a traditional 401(k)."
Terri Candelaria, Springerville Smoke
A Smokin’ Startup Expands
Terri Candelaria, Springerville Smoke
In Business Since
Terri Candelaria knows a thing or two about being a small business owner. A long-time client of Guidant, Terri originally used Rollovers for Business Startups (ROBS) to fund her first business, a popular smoke shop in a small town in Arizona. Today, she’s just launched a second location using the profits from her original business.
The Backstory: A Legacy of Life in the Mountains
How did Terri launch two successful small businesses? She’s a facilities manager by expertise and has spent 45 years managing real estate portfolios. She’s also planning to retire in five weeks, which she credits to ROBS and the success of her businesses. ROBS, also known as 401(k) business financing, allows for entrepreneurs to utilize their retirement funds to finance a business. For Terri, ROBS made her first business possible — and as she grew her business, she grew her retirement egg, too.
“The ROBS program that Guidant helped me through has really made retirement not just possible, but opened up an income and way of life that I wouldn’t have had if I left my funds in a traditional 401(k),” Terri explained.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Terri opened her original smoke shop in the white mountains of Arizona — where her family laid roots in 2019. She recognized that COVID-19 would change the working world forever. “I told my family there was going to be huge urban flight because people can work from anywhere in the world,” she said. “We thought people would start heading to the white mountains – and it turns out, that prediction was absolutely correct.”
“We opened a smoke shop because it was a gap we were filling for that rural community. You couldn’t go get a nice cigar or some of the other specialty items we sell in the area. My son is a smoker and my husband loves having whiskey and a cigar for relaxation—but you couldn’t get it here. We bought a commercial building and have had tremendous, double-digit growth every single year,” Terri continued.
Then, last Spring, Terri and her family decided they wanted to open another shop in a second rural community only 45 minutes from the first location. Even with more new smoke shops in town, Terri felt confident in their unique business model – and knew that it would continue to thrive.
Terri’s business model keys in on providing a rich selection typically hard to come by, recognizing the scarcity of smoke products in these rural communities, “The idea was location, location, and location,” Terri added.
As happenstance had it, Terri and her family drove by and saw a big lease sign in Show Low, Arizona. In two days, they were under contract and ready to go. Springerville Smoke Show Low opened nearly four weeks ago, continuing the Springerville Smoke legacy. Terri explained, “We kept the branding because it’s such an excellent brand. We have followers and people who really care about what we’re doing so we wanted to keep our branding.”
With an amazing venue right on the highway, Terri notes the location is phenomenal for business. They catch tourists coming in from Phoenix and are already cultivating a prospering community with the locals. “Every single day we have more patrons, and the buzz is crazy,” she said. “We have a little more on the till every day.”
“We’re really excited and none of that is possible without the Guidant program that allowed me to have that investment money right up front. Springerville Smoke ended up financing the new shop.”
Guidant Payroll is Paying Off
Now the second smoke shop is paying for itself. To complete payroll for her eight employees, Terri uses Guidant Payroll. “They do an amazing job — Guidant Payroll is so service-oriented, detailed, and responsive.”
Terri said there was no question that she would continue to partner with Guidant for the second shop, just as she has for the first. “I was going to mirror what I was doing at Springerville with the second shop,” Terri stated. “It’s so painless — onboarding is so simplified and geared towards the customer experience.”
“This is my first business ownership other than some real estate and it’s really been an incredible experience because I’ve had a full-time job and demanding career,” Terri explained. “But because of Guidant and how they hold my hand, I have had the opportunity to continue to focus on my career and not be bogged down by all the details of owning a business — and now two.”
Customer Experience: The Competitive Edge
“In rural towns, everyone knows everyone,” Terri said. That’s why customer service is critical. Anyone walking through the door should feel like your best friend, Terri adds. “It’s like Cheers and Norm – you want to go where everyone knows your name, you know?”
At the new Show Low location, relationships are being built, too. “It’s not just an exchange of product and money. It’s an exchange of goodwill,” Terri added.
Sometimes they even notice people just hang out and talk during the day. It’s a true community. One unique aspect of the smoke shops is that they don’t limit their hours. They’re open seven days a week, 13 hours a day. “People literally come in and are so happy we’re open,” she said. “Some of the other shops don’t stay open as long.”
Experience and variety are two other differentiators of Terri’s smoke shops. “For disposable vapes, we carry every juice flavor that’s available. You won’t get that at any convenience store.” And if you don’t see what you want, you can just ask and they may be able to place an order for it.
While Terri is still determining the diverse needs of the two communities, she’s found cigars to be a constant. “Cigars are huge so there’s a broad-based inventory from less expensive to extremely high end. Tourists sometimes are looking for either end—medium blend or cigarillo.”
Experiencing Explosive Growth
“Since launching in October 2020, the growth year over year has been stunning,” Terri said.
She recounted how they started with about 10 patrons, then moved up to 20 and then 30 and so on. With desirable summers in the mountains (away from the Phoenix heat), people would flock back to the mountains each spring and summer to stay in their vacation homes. But in Springerville, the peaks and valleys are leveling off, so regular month-to-month sales have been steady. “It’s become much more flatline across the months for sales in Springerville. We’re hoping we start to see that in Show Low now, too.”
When it comes to growth, Terri says her son, Tom Candelaria, is responsible for doing such an amazing job of cultivating customers. “If something breaks, he smooths it out and offers them a new one. He’s exceptional and he always makes things right for people,” Terri said. “When you’re a small business, you have the leeway to make things right like that and really solidify the relationship you have with the customers.”
Tom is the general manager of both store locations and acts as the General Manager running the retail side of the business. “He found his niche with being an entrepreneur,” Terri added. He specializes in training employees to provide exceptional customer experiences. In fact, Springerville Smoke has two employees that have stuck with the business from the beginning — even through a pandemic. “We’ve had very little turnover,” Terri added.
Roots Run Deep in the Mountains
The family has roots that run deep in the area too. Her husband was born in the area, and there are cousins and other family members in the white mountains — which lie about 250 miles from Phoenix, near the New Mexico border.
As to why the family ended up opening businesses up in the mountains? Terri and her family used to take their kids camping there when the kids were young. Then they gained an opportunity for a summer home in the mountains and, as Terri said, “it took off from there.”
Terri’s son and her grandson live in town now too.
The Road: Paved by Guidant
When Terri started her first business — Springerville Smoke — she was referred to Guidant Financial and the ROBS financing method. Terri noted, “The ROBS program has allowed me to have the best of both worlds.” She can not only run her small businesses, but also her real estate opportunities, thanks to ROBS.
“I’ve had to learn a lot and still don’t know everything,” Terri said. “But there is a forgiveness for the mistakes with Guidant. So many people have their arms around you, they’re going to always help you figure it out.”
She’s so grateful for Guidant, and credits that original ROBS transaction to being able to retire in a few short weeks. When it comes to running the two businesses, especially at year-end, Terri said Guidant takes care of everything she needs. “I don’t have to do anything other than go into the portal and load my documents and it’s all taken care of. They answer all my questions — it’s truly seamless,” Terri added. “Guidant does everything they can to keep you successful.“
“I would recommend Guidant Payroll 100 times over. Phil and his team take care of everything and are so pleasant to work with. You really don’t have to do much more than write an email. For me, that’s priceless.”
Terri attributes the success of her first — and now second business — to 401(k) business financing. Not only did she launch her first business debt-free, but also cash-rich, alleviating future cash flow issues most new small businesses often struggle with. That gave her a huge advantage as a small business owner for both the Springerville legacy and its dedicated employees.
“If you’re wanting to open your own business, you have options to create debt to fund a business. But my cash flow is amazing because of the way we chose to use ROBS and Guidant to fund our businesses,” Terri explained. “We are a small business, but we don’t have cash flow issues because of the way we funded this. It is a huge advantage as a small business owner.”
“We don’t worry about cash flow if we want to give our employees a $300 bonus. There’s so many advantages to starting with no debt,” she added.
Living ROBS and Prospering
As for quality of life, Terri said her favorite thing about being a small business owner is enjoying a steady income with freedom. She can’t stress enough how much of a difference 401(k) business financing, also known as ROBS, has made for her and her family’s everyday lifestyle.
“We will have the same quality of life as we had with two full-time jobs,” Terri said. “I cannot stress enough that if you’re going to do this and believe you’ll be successful and take that risk, it’s so much better having zero liability than being in debt out of the gate and being cashflow poor.”
Terri leveraged ROBS to launch her first business debt-free and cash-rich. And with that success, she did the same with her second business. Now, Terri and her family are more than financially secure — and happily using their collective brainpower toward running two thriving businesses.
“I also get to use my brain power and keep learning and those opportunities that have been opened up, there’s nothing comparable now,” Terri reflected. “Our paths are limitless now: Every day, we see something new. We do something new. You take those risks, but without being a business owner and being debt-free, the personal growth and opportunity to learn, I would never have being a W-2 employee.”
Terri continued, “We’re debt-free. We own commercial and real estate. We’re not affected by the stock market. We’re not bound to a mutual fund or paying a percentage to someone who is managing our money. If you believe in yourself and the people you’ve hired around you, the sky is the limit.”
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