All Shane Ballard remembers from the explosion is flying through the air and hitting the ground outside of the Safari Off-Road Inc. shop in Nixa.
It was a bitter-cold winter day on Feb. 20, 2008, and Ballard was in a loft storage room with an employee when the shop’s heater exploded, shooting both men into the air and out of the structure.
“I remember going up and ended up on the grass outside,” says Ballard, the business owner. “The other guy hit the rafter first.”
According to Springfield Business Journal archives, Nixa Fire Protection District ruled the subsequent fire as accidental – caused by vapors from a used motor oil furnace, which occupants were trying to light to heat the building. Firefighters fought the blaze throughout the night, but the 9,000-square-foot building was a total loss.
“I had just paid off my building,” Ballard says.
After assessing the damage, Ballard says he was still $200,000 underinsured. It was a challenging time for the business. However, fast-forward 10 years, and Safari Off-Road is still situated at 422 S. Patricia St. in Nixa, now in a 12,000-square-foot building featuring a brick, stone and antique timber exterior. The showroom, with a vaulted ceiling, holds inventory to customize vehicles. The work facility portion of the shop includes eight bays, a machinery room and extra indoor parking.
And what Ballard is really proud of: He rebuilt debt-free.
Start your engines
Working on vehicles is a lifelong passion for Ballard. While he enjoyed customizing his own vehicles, others began taking note of his skills and inquired if he would work on their vehicles, as well. Realizing he could make an income via a hobby, Ballard personally invested $3,000 into starting Safari Off-Road in 1991 at a rented shop in Springfield.
Business began gaining traction when Ballard’s racing career took off, doing off-road stadium racing with his Ford Bronco in 1994. It was excellent publicity for Safari Off-Road, he says, and customers began coming more frequently to the shop, which enabled a 1997 move to the current spot.
“That’s when it really took off,” Ballard says. “And that kind of led to where it is. My hobby turned into a career, and the career eliminated the hobby.”
He doesn’t have time to do racing anymore. Another contributing factor was the loss of his main racing truck in the 2008 fire.
“I never got back into it,” he says.
As smoke cleared from the disaster, Ballard says he resolved to rebuild debt-free.
“It was better to rebuild and put it back than just walk away,” he says.
While operating Safari Off-Road out of a small shop nearby in Nixa, Ballard began doing demolition himself. The metal collected, he says, was sold and the subsequent money earned was put back into reconstruction, along with insurance dollars.
There was another hurdle.
“I literally had no inventory,” Ballard recalls.
Replenishing the supplies came about unconventionally. The Great Recession actually worked somewhat in Ballard’s favor, he says, to repurchase inventory at discounted prices from big dealers who were selling items for sometimes 10 cents on the dollar.
Building cars requires an artistic eye, and Ballard applied that same skill set to the new building’s architecture – a design unique to most auto shops.
“I spend more time here than I do at home,” he says. “So I built it like home.”
Schulz Architecture handled the design work, according to SBJ archives, and Security Design Group did the engineering. Although some of the work was contracted, Ballard says many aspects of the construction – such as plumping – were done internally, contributing toward the goal of reopening debt-free.
When purchasing supplies, Ballard says he shopped for thrifty deals – such as the support beams used in the vaulted showroom ceiling, which he purchased from a Bass Pro Shops auction.
By the time the shop was ready for customers in 2010, Ballard had spent about $350,000 on the building. Restocking the inventory took his cost to about $550,000.
Today, Safari Off-Road’s shop bays are busy. There’s a blue Jeep next to a Bronco Ballard says he built for his dad. GMC and Ford trucks are on lifts undergoing substantial modifications. Across the way, a Toyota is parked next to a vintage Mustang frame.
A lot has changes since 2008.
“We’ve grown 50 percent in revenue,” Ballard says.
With 2017 revenue at about $1 million, Safari Off-Road works on four or five vehicles a week, mostly installing truck accessories as opposed to auto repairs.
“There’s better money in accessories,” Ballard says.
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