Amped-Up Electric Rides’ founder Diane Kirby discusses the discriminations towards older business owners.
Diane Kirby has been working on motorcycles since 1986, even before she graduated from American Motorcycle Institute in Daytona Beach, FL in 1993. She bought her first sport bike in 1986, just 2 years after the first full fairing sport bike hit the public market in the USA. It was 1 year after high school graduation, that Kirby acquired a true passion for motorcycles, when she bought her first Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle.
As her passion grew, she decided to leave her career in broadcasting to pursue a new career in motorcycle mechanics. Because her background in broadcasting and sales seemed to continually call her back to her roots, she worked at various motorcycle shops throughout New England only on a seasonal basis and continued to dabble in motorcycle and snowmobile repairs throughout the years.
Having sold a successful business in sales (in 2018) after 18 years, in which Kirby was 50% owner, she began considering working with motorcycles and scooters and therefore, discovered the world of electric vehicles. It didn’t take long to decide that electric recreational vehicles were right up her alley! The more Kirby investigated the world of electric motorcycles and scooters, the more she fell in love with them… There are SO MANY models, speed and distance packages and color options, Kirby quickly realized she could offer something for everyone.
After selling her partnership, she took a few years off to decide what she wanted to do. Kirby took notice of news articles and conversations people were having about electric vehicles. She decided this was the direction our country, the economy and she were going to go. The partnership sold its commercial real estate and Kirby sold her vacation home to finance the business as much as possible herself. Kirby realized she was short by nearly $30,000 to acquire all the scooters she wanted to start with because the latest shipping costs and raised tariffs ate up a lot of the budget she had allotted, for inventory, which turned out to be double her original calculations. It was then Kirby began researching SBA loans. She realized she had far more than the credentials needed to successfully land an SBA loan, particularly maintaining an 803 credit score when the minimum requirement was 640. It made sense to apply for the loan. That was when all Kirby’s troubles started.
The first local bank Kirby approached was very excited to work with her as Kirby recalls, specifically because the bank was all about “Go Green” and saving the environment. They sent over an application immediately, which Kirby filled it out in a day. After submitting the application, Kirby could not reach the bank representative for 5 days. She finally called and gave a fictitious name, which prompted her bank contact to take her call. She was dismayed at the cold reception she had received and very disappointed when the rep informed her that the bank had decided this was NOT an industry they would invest in. He proceeded to inform Kirby they would not “waste their time” contacting the SBA to back a loan for an industry as “electric vehicles are not a proven commodity”. Kirby was in shock, to say the least and proceeded to thank him for making this decision before pulling her credit report. He proceeded to inform her he did, in fact, pull her credit report anyway. She was unaware that worthless, unnecessary credit pull had just dropped her credit score 20 points!
Three of the four following banks Kirby reached out to were quite similar, only these episodes went so far at to invite Kirby in, to meet with the bank CEO and/or manager(s). Kirby (55) said their attitudes and body language changed dramatically the moment she walked through the door, when they saw her long grey hair. She was told to fill out the application and that it did not look promising, as “electric scooters are not a proven commodity”. Déjà vu! Kirby knew she would be turned down due to the cold reception, completely opposite from the phone conversations earlier. It then occurred to her the ONLY common denominator between all the banks was that their decisions to loan her money became a negative experience when Kirby filled out the applications, and they knew her age.
Kirby is a victim of age discrimination, rampant in the banking industry; but it cannot be proven. To Kirby’s dismay, she found all these banks performed hard credit pulls unnecessarily, over the course of 6 weeks, dropping her excellent credit score to 640. Kirby, had not applied for a loan in 20 years. She had no idea all these credit pulls would ruin her life. Now, every bank’s convenient excuse not to finance her for the scooter business is due to her low credit score, even though 640 is still within the approvable loan limits of the SBA. The SBA requires a 10% cash injection from the borrower. Kirby has a 300% cash injection. Still no banks will consider Kirby’s loan request. It appears there is a conspiracy to deliberately turn older people down for loans. “What would possess a bank to do a hard credit pull when they clearly knew they were not going to finance the loan?” Kirby asks. It’s despicable and should be illegal. I clearly met all the criteria to be approved for a loan.
Fortunately, Kirby has been able to raise her credit score over the past six months, but it doesn’t change the fact the damage is done… It took years to build her credit, putting her in the 800’s, which took only weeks for banks to destroy. Why is this legal? Why are there not more laws and audits confirming the percentages of “older people” getting turned down that are worthy of financing?
Now Kirby is forced to seek financing from private investors, her last option, which is the most difficult form of financing to obtain as the highest percentage of investors are seeking to invest in only 3 industries today: 1) development of new electronics and/or technologies, 2) healthcare (the development of new medical procedures and medicinal products) and 3) life sciences (e-commerce and web-based business making life easier for the average person). People investing their money into a stranger’s local, single-location business is nearly unheard of nowadays. Seeking private investors for a family-run business is another part of America’s past that’s gone. Considering the banks have ruined Kirby’s credit unnecessarily, it remains to be seen if she will find the financing she needs to bring her business to the next level. Kirby worked diligently with Chinese suppliers 8,000 miles away, overcoming the language barrier, shipping uncertainties and unreliable financiers to start Amped-Up! ELECTRIC RIDES, in Hadley, Massachusetts. There is no doubt Kirby made purchases based on the first bank’s enthusiasm to finance her the money she was requesting. She most certainly would have invested her own money differently had she actually known her age was going cause the bank to change its decision and not commit to the loan after all.
Too many businesses fail due to lack of capital. Electric vehicles are here to stay, regardless of any excuses banks use to not finance the industry. Fortunately, steady sales of her scooters and motorcycles have allowed her to reinvest money back into the business and buy new inventory. It may just take a little longer than anticipated to grow her brand.
Opening a new business in any industry is taking a big risk. Women don’t open scooter and motorcycle businesses every day. Amped-Up! ELECTRIC RIDES is truly a business that’s on the right track and Kirby is a pioneer in the world of electric vehicles.