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Heartland Golf Cars and Equipment Co.: Golf cars have become hot commodity Local firm has ridden the trend to profitability ram said. He credits solid financing at startup as key to the success of Heartland. To anyone interested in starting a business, he

May 23, 2005

ram said. He credits solid financing at startup as key to the success of Heartland.

To anyone interested in starting a business, he advises, "Don't go into it on a shoestring. You have to have a business plan and be committed to working long hours. It's not only working harder, it's the workmanship, too. It may sound like an old cliché, but it's very true."
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Golf cars are no longer just for sport.

These electric- or gasoline-powered cars may be the hardest-working equipment at parks, apartment complexes, manufacturing plants, retirement centers, shopping centers, airports, sports stadiums, college campuses and all the best events in town.

Golf cars have become the vehicle of choice for getting around large areas efficiently and quickly without the expense of an automobile. They also are a must-have for special events, such as the local Orchard in Bloom garden show and the Indy Jazz Fest, for transporting VIPs and other special guests.

For two Indianapolis businessmen, golf cars also represent a nice ride on the pathway of opportunity.

Bob Bethuram, a former executive with Indianapolis-based Standard Life Insurance Co., partnered with Steve Sullivan, president of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Board of Realtors, to form Heartland Golf Cars and Equipment in 1997.

The men started with a business plan and personal lines of credit from banks. Now they operate with two additional partners and bank lines of credit.

The plan did not show a profit for the company until it had been operational for five years, and it was right on target, said Bethuram, vice president and CEO. Sullivan is president.

Heartland started on a former used-car property, clearly visible along State Road 37 in Martinsville, with used equipment and about 25 cars for rental. Now, Heartland has 200 golf cars and provides sales and service on new and used equipment from any manufacturer.When Bethuram started the company, the only way he could tell the difference between electric- and gas-powered cars was with a key.

"If it made noise when it ran, it was gas. If it didn't make noise, it was electric," he said.

Initially, the businessmen "worked very hard to get the name out there," relying on direct mail and fliers. The company also has memberships in key associations, such as those for the managers of golf courses and apartments.

"We also made a lot of sales calls," Bethuram said.

Three years ago, Heartland became an authorized dealer of Yamaha Golf-Car Co. equipment for sales and service. Since 1998, sales have grown from $250,000 to slightly less than $1 million in 2004.

"They are extraordinarily nice people with a real commitment to customer service," said Rich Brown, district manager of Yamaha Golf-Car Co., responsible for distribution in four states and fleet sales in the northern two-thirds of Indiana.

"Yamaha is pleased with the relationship. I think it has helped both companies," Brown said.

Most revenue comes from sales, but plans are to grow the rental and service ends of the business, Bethuram said. Heartland recently expanded to four acres, and built a new showroom and office area. It has several mechanics who are certified for warranty work on Yamaha equipment, and it plans to contract in the next year for a truck rig that can haul up to 30 golf cars for rentals for large events.

Heartland is one of several companies Butler University in Indianapolis uses for golf-car rentals for commencement, alumni weekends, orientation, homecoming and other special events, said Patti Valentine, sesquicentennial event coordinator for the campus.

"They have nice equipment that I really like the looks of, and they provide good service," said Valentine, who had been manager of conferences and special events at Butler.

Even though Butler rents only about six golf cars a year from Heartland, the company "pays attention to our needs," she said.

The road ahead "looks very good," Bethu- Bob Bethuram is one of the owners of Heartland Golf Cars and Equipment on State Road 37 near Martinsville.
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