Bill Holtzman scorns Shenandoah politics for hindering business

Bill Holtzman, president and owner of Holtzman Corp., speaks to members of the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce during a luncheon at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Woodstock Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK — A leading Shenandoah County businessman blasted county political leaders Tuesday for hindering economic growth by resisting needed change.

Bill Holtzman, founder of the multi-million-dollar oil business that bears his name, warned that the county is less business friendly than its neighbors and is falling behind as a result.

“All our growth is in Rockingham, and Augusta County, Winchester, Frederick County, down into Loudoun County,” Holtzman told the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce monthly networking luncheon. “We are not growing in Shenandoah County, and I think it’s the political atmosphere here. Our county is not growing like all the counties around it, and it’s a shame, because the political atmosphere here is not encouraging to business.

“All you have to do is listen to what goes on at the Board of Supervisors. You’ve got a number of people on there who don’t want anything to change. They probably moved here from somewhere else, and they want to slam the door and they don’t want anybody else to come in, so they don’t want any changes.”

Because new businesses are not moving into the county, Holtzman reasoned, there’s not a sufficient business base for taxes and the burden is placed on rising real estate taxes. He identified an underfunded school system as a root cause of the issue.

“Shenandoah County ought to be growing as much as Rockingham and Frederick County. But we’re not,” Holtzman said.

Holtzman, a sufferer of dyslexia, can still remember coming home from high school one day and telling his mother he got a D-. Six decades later, he’s built a multi-million-dollar business, negotiated deals with international corporations and was named the 2017 Virginia Oilman of the Year.

He’ll still ask you to repeat a phone number spoken over the phone, though.

Holtzman, 80, took the podium to share his story and business lessons he’s received over Holtzman Corp.’s 45 years of operation.

A lifelong Shenandoah County resident, he received his bachelor’s degree at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (the precursor to Virginia Tech) and his master’s from Cornell University. He returned to Shenandoah County to work in the apple industry with the Byrd family, and credits many of his first lessons in business to them.

“When I’d go places with Mr. Byrd, he’d always introduce me as his associate. He never said, ‘Bill works for me,'” Holtzman said. “So I have always remembered never to say anybody works for me, because it’s very complimentary when somebody says, ‘This is my associate.'”

Eventually, Holtzman decided he wanted a business of his own. Noticing a small Gulf Oil distributorship in Mount Jackson, he took out a $37,000 loan with his prized 1953 Thunderbird convertible on the line and founded the Holtzman Corporation on July 7, 1972.

Over the next 45 years of growth, Holtzman established connections with gasoline brands such as Liberty, ExxonMobil, Amoco, Shell, BP and Pure to supply retail gas stations from Winchester to Dublin. Some of those relationships were amiable. Others, not so much.

To Holtzman, trust is essential in a business partner. “You can’t watch over your shoulder enough to keep them from getting you,” he said.

By contrast, Holtzman’s relationship with 7-Eleven has been smooth since the launch. The number of Holtzman Corp.’s 7-11 partnerships now total 28 with plans for six more in the Shenandoah Valley. The 7-11 in Massanutten is the first such store in the U.S. to sell chicken fried from scratch on site, and is pulling in $4,000 a day on fried chicken alone.

Holtzman Corp. currently supplies over 130 stations and convenience stores throughout the area.

At times, expansion can be challenging — he shared the story of one particular Loudoun County location that raised several zoning issues and cost just short of a million dollars to resolve. But, even with these headaches, Holtzman sees Loudoun County as more business-friendly than Shenandoah.

During his speech, Holtzman wasn’t shy to share his business failures along the way. He admitted that how his company ran its Burger King franchises and how it currently runs its Denny’s stores has not been up to snuff.

“It’s a very difficult business to run and I don’t think we did it as well as we should have,” Holtzman said. “It bothers me when I go in and see things not being run the way I think they should be.”

But Valley Ice, LLC, took the cake.

“The ice business,” Holtzman began saying, before trailing off and tilting his head. “You know, we all make mistakes.”

The idea for making and selling ice came from his son, Todd Holtzman, who now runs the company’s propane arm, as a solution to the surplus of summertime delivery drivers after the winter rush ended. Rather than building a small ice producing factory and expanding over and over again, Holtzman went big, and created what he later called an “oversized” factory from the start.

The manufacturing facility had space for four 30-foot ice makers and took up 16,000 square feet. The process is now almost entirely automated and the entire plant, which can produce 140 tons of ice in a single day, is run by a single person.

It took 10 years of operation for Ice Valley, LLC, to finally became profitable.

“I haven’t always done everything right,” Holtzman said. “But I’ve done enough right.”