Business celebrates 50 years

JOHN RISHEL/THE EXPRESS Leonard and Gail Hoffman are the proud owners of Mill Hall Speed and Custom along Nittany Valley Drive outside of Mill Hall.

MILL HALL — Leonard Hoffman has now served the Mill Hall area for over half a decade, and his business continues humming along.

Leonard is the owner and founder of Mill Hall Speed and Custom who has experienced plenty of success, and change, along the way over the past 50 years.

“This is actually the fourth location over the years,” Hoffman said, of the 8010 Nittany Valley Drive address.

“I started at age 19, in a small room of Turner’s Cycle shop, owned by Art Turner. Art allowed me to get started,” Hoffman said.

“The second location, for a period of time, I operated out of my parent’s garage in Mill Hall,” Hoffman added.

JOHN RISHEL/THE EXPRESS Mill Hall Speed and Custom has served patrons of the region for over half a decade.

“In the spring of 1973, I moved onto Hogan Boulevard, where Puffs is now. I rented it off Don Spangler for a period of time, and eventually bought it from him. He even co-signed my financing,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman went on to detail the interesting story of how he got his own location for the first time.

“One day, a bunch of mafia looking guys came in the door, pushing around, helping themselves. I called Don up and asked him if he had the building for sale. He told me that people wanted to buy it, but they were told it was not available. He asked me if I wanted to buy it. I told him, Don, I would love to, but I cannot afford it,” Hoffman reminisced.

“He told me to call around and see what I could do. I did, but the bank wouldn’t take my co-sign. A few days later, the First National Bank called me, wanting me to go in. I walked in there, they handed me a pile of papers, they told me to sign. This is the financing on the building, you just bought it, Don just co-signed it. The guys came into the location an hour later with a lawyer. They were furious,” Hoffman said.

That’s when business, and life, completely changed for Leonard and his wife Gail.

JOHN RISHEL/THE EXPRESS The weathered sign outside the building has withstood the test of time.

“Right before that, I started handling truck caps. I started selling Leer brand caps, which is now my main brand and biggest seller,” he said.

“I was dealing with carburetors, intakes, headers and magwheels. I sold bicycles, truck caps…went away from high performance and went to vehicle dress-up and car accessories,” he said.

“In 1998, we built this place, on Nittany Valley Drive, and have been here ever since. In ’98, I was praying for a business opportunity … then a few days later, Paul Garbacz, the UHAUL Area Field Manager stopped in and asked if I was interested in checking it out. Twenty years later, I’m still doing it,” he said.

Now, Hoffman is one of the area’s most reputable dealers in bug shields, floor mats, tonneau covers, humming boards, trailer hitches, truck caps, after market accessories, and UHAUL rentals. Hoffman and his company deal in car and truck accessories, along with much more for any automobile or automobile enthusiast.

They are actually the only independent UHAUL company in the US where they have set-up storage, according to Hoffman, although he said that sometimes causes problems with programming and management issues.

The products Hoffman has offered over the years have changed to some extent, but the service and quality has always been unwavering and impressive.

“I sold pop-up campers for a short period of time … that was one mistake,” Hoffman detailed.

He lined them up behind the building and sold them right off the lot, Hoffman said. It seemed to be working for him for a while, but then the labor strike happened at the local Hammermill plant and suddenly several people in the community were out of jobs. With the strike, several customers were forced to come in and cancel their financing,” he said.

The company also stopped selling bicycles in 2000, around the time Walmart came to Mill Hall, Hoffman noted.

“My supplier got bought out, prices changed. I just called and told them to cancel my account. Around that time, I was already thinking about getting out. Walmart’s arrival just made the decision for me,” he said.

Hoffman believes his business has been successful, and has established its reputation throughout the area.

“I’m the sole proprietor, very few employees over the years. A guy today, I sold him his fifth truck cap. I sold county sheriff Kerry Stover his first tricycle. I have customers bringing in their grandchildren, and they’re buying my products, fourth generation customers. I even met my wife Gail while I was working here. Her brother was a customer of mine. I’ve been blessed with a lot of good relationships with a lot of good people. The community has supported us. I have to thank them… some could buy stuff elsewhere but they come to me. That reputation means loyalty and returning customers,” Hoffman said.

“The car dealerships in the area buy accessories from us, they support us,” he continued.

“Customers want to see, feel, and touch the products to get a sense of them. If they have a problem, they can come back in and talk to me instead of sending them in the mail. Buying online or from other places, that’s how it goes. I welcome anyone to come in and take a look at my products, before they buy them,” Hoffman added.

“I’m getting older,” Hoffman admits.

“At 69, I’m out there on the concrete doing trailer hitches, bug shields, installation and more,” he said.

“Part of me is hoping someone purchases the business and continues the legacy. We have a good reputation and clientele built up. Three other businesses in the area got into truck cap sales, didn’t make it, and got out. That just goes to show you the loyalty and support we’ve had from this area.”

“I don’t advertise much anymore. Word of mouth and good customer relations are the best advertising. We’ve done well here. We’ve been loyal to our customers and they have been loyal to us.”

“Honor and trust in God, and he will bless you. We are good examples of that. Seek God’s wisdom. There have been a few things I have thought about getting into, but it seemed doors slammed shut. I sincerely have to say thank you to all my customers and the community for all the support over the last 50 years,” Hoffman said.