MOUNT JACKSON – Bill Holtzman’s first business was building picnic tables and selling them for $25 each when he was just a kid. He followed that by mowing lawns for $1 in the yard on Bridge Street.
But his next business venture – at the age of 35 – turned out to be his most successful.
He started Holtzman Oil Corp. in July 1972 and celebrated 50 years in business Saturday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce and an open house.
“We’re very fortunate to have grown into what we have,” Holtzman said. “The people here are really special.”
Holtzman worked in the apple industry for 11 years after dropping out of college.
His father and uncle owned and operated Valley Fertilizer, and he said he always planned to come home after college and work for them. Instead, he ended up working for TB Byrd and US Senator Harry F. Byrd at Turkey Knob Orchards in Mount Jackson.
In the early 1970s—about seven years after the owner of Nelson Oil Corp. passed away – Holtzman approached an estate attorney about buying the company. He secured a $37,000 loan using his $3,400 Thunderbird convertible as collateral, along with $5,000 in cash he had saved.
“It took me a year to be able to negotiate that deal. First, I had to negotiate with Gulf to agree to make me a distributor. Then I had to get the assets to sell me the company. And I was trying to do this without anyone knowing, because I was the No. 1 guy. 2 at Apple and I didn’t want anyone to know that I was thinking of leaving,” Holtzman recalled.
Holtzman started his company with five employees and quickly hired 14-year-old Rick Koontz, who is now the company’s vice president.
Holtzman admitted that he never had a specific interest in oil. Buying the business was more about opportunity.
“I just saw this business here and I thought it would be a really good business to be in,” he said. “I thought there was a future in this, and it was a business I could buy and it would be here in Mount Jackson.”
The company made $18 in profit in its first calendar year with five full-time staff, three diesel trucks and a pick-up truck. Holtzman Oil Corp. moved less than a million gallons of product that year.
The company has grown by leaps and bounds since then.
In 1997, Holtzman added the propane side of the business, which is run by his son, Todd, out of Strasburg. Todd is now the general manager of Holtzman Propane and also runs an ice manufacturing and distribution business called Valley Ice.
Holtzman Oil also currently owns more than 135 convenience and fast food properties that are leased. Holtzman Oil Corp. also owns a construction company that builds most of these facilities.
Holtzman businesses generally deal in gasoline, diesel, heating fuel, propane and lubricants while also offering HVAC installation and maintenance, an ice manufacturing and delivery business, a full service truck and auto shop, a home construction company and a lot. other services.
“We’re probably growing as fast as we’ve ever grown,” Holtzman said. “We started with five employees and now we have about 390 employees. I never dreamed we would grow up like this.”
Holtzman said it was important to him to return to Mount Jackson after college and eventually have ownership in a business that could do great things for the community where he grew up.
“I wanted to come back here and live,” he said. “Most of the kids who grew up with me at school wanted to leave here and move to the city. I loved growing up in a small town. I loved getting to know everyone and said I would like to stay here and live.”
Holtzman, 85, said he has no plans to retire anytime soon.
“If you love what you do, it’s not work. There are very few days that I don’t go into the office for something. This is my hobby,” he said. “I played golf, but I found that when I played golf, I had to stay up until 10 or 11 at night to catch up on what I was missing. So I quit playing golf. I love what I do.”