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San Diego
Saturday, May 25, 2024
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Store Serves Search and Rescue Teams Near and Far

Search-and-rescue , or SAR , teams share a common motto: “So that others may live.” Vaudois Handley could have his own motto: “Helping SAR teams so that others may live.”

Handley is owner of Search Gear, a catalog/Internet retail firm that specializes in rescue equipment for SAR teams, which he relocated from Chico to San Diego in June.

With a few exceptions, most inland search and rescue in the United States is performed by teams of highly trained, unpaid volunteers. These volunteers are responsible for acquiring most of their equipment at their own cost.

“Some search-and-rescue products are so expensive,” said Handley, a 42-year-old native San Diegan and veteran of nearly 10 years of SAR work. “I try to take what SAR people use in the field and make it reasonable in price.”

Handley’s company had its start in 1992 in Chico, where he was a general contractor and reserve deputy with the Butte County Sheriff’s SAR unit. His first product was a small backpack camping stove fashioned from a tuna can which became popular with his fellow SAR volunteers.

In 1994, Handley test-marketed a small catalog advertising some of his products by sending it to every Sheriff’s Department in the United States.

“The response from that paid for the catalog and put money in my pocket,” he recalled.

Adding Internet sales to his mail-order catalog, Handley grew Search Gear into one of the largest retailers of SAR equipment in the country, and the only national SAR retailer offering “the scope of equipment we do.”

His Mira Mesa warehouse contains boxes of backpacks, medical equipment, rappelling gear, navigation equipment and uniform items.

The firm offers products from other manufacturers, as well as equipment designed by Handley and made by contract manufacturers. A search-dog handler himself, Handley is the country’s largest supplier of “K-9” equipment.

Sixty percent of his business comes from outside California. The bulk of it , 80 percent , comes through catalog sales, the remainder from his Web site (www.searchgear.com). He also attends as many as 13 trade shows throughout the U.S. each year.

While he planned Search Gear as a retailer for individual SAR volunteers, most of his income comes from bulk sales to government agencies.

Handley and his wife began planning their return to his hometown five years ago, setting June 6 of this year as their moving date. Despite their planning, he said finding a new location here was the toughest search of his career.

With just three weeks to their planned move, the Handleys finally found a location on Waples Street, just off Mira Mesa Boulevard. The 4,000-square-foot warehouse and office space is double the size of their Chico location and allowed them to add a walk-in retail store to their operation.

When not tending to his company, Handley plans to work with the sheriff’s volunteer search-and-rescue unit.

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