For small-business owners, a business is much more than just a building
Hoffman Group Architects
16236 Westwoods Business Park
For a small-business owner, the brick-and-mortar store is more than just a building. It’s also often a second home. At least, that was the case for Terry Hoffman.
Over the past 15 years, he spent countless hours at 16236 Westwoods Business Park in Ellisville, home of Hoffman Group Architects. He toiled days, nights, and weekends over the drafting table, designing structures, add-ons, and renovations for his clients. At around 3 p.m. on the first Friday of every month, Hoffman would invite clients, product reps, and other acquaintances over for drinks and snacks on his building’s spacious back deck. And on the Fourth of July, he’d throw bigger parties in the vast 15-stall parking lot, where he and his friends and family could see the fireworks display put on by the City of Ellisville.
“It was my home away from home,” says Hoffman. “I loved my little business. I got emotionally attached.”
That affection for the 2,050-square-foot brick two-story made it all the more difficult for Hoffman when, in 2015, he decided to scale back and sell his beloved business. But that grief was soon balanced with anxiousness as months, then years passed as the building sat on the market with no buyer stepping forward. Even when Hoffman decided to retire in 2019, the property was still on the market.
“Everybody who saw it liked it,” Hoffman says of the prospective buyers. “But there was always some small excuse why they wouldn’t buy. I was getting kind of depressed.”
“I’m an architect. I can make it work.”
In retrospect, Hoffman says he should have known that the building would be difficult to sell. That’s the way it had been back in 2005, when he first bought the place.
At the time, Hoffman had been in business for 20 years, but he was renting space. His accountant had been urging him to buy his own building. He finally relented—but he didn’t know where to start looking.
Hoffman had been making architectural renderings for some clients of Frank Yocum, a broker with Hilliker Corporation. Hoffman went to Hilliker’s website to look for Yocum’s email address to ask him about starting a search. But on the site, he spotted a listing for 16236 Westwoods Business Park. Yocum showed him the place, a former clubhouse for Tower Tee Golf Range in West County. It had six-foot-wide stairs bisected by an imposing for two-way golf bag traffic, and the back half was unfinished, used as storage for the machine that picked up balls from the range. It only had one bathroom, and it was down on the lower level. In short, it needed a lot of work to be converted into an office. But it was 3.25 miles from Hoffman’s house, and he was intrigued by the challenge.
“Frank told me that a lot of different people and businesses had looked at the property, but no one could make it work,” says Hoffman. “I thought: ‘I’m an architect. I can make it work.’”
Hoffman bought the building and went to work. He ripped out the upper-level offices and a long counter; opened up the space for workstations; and installed a conference room, wet bar, and kitchenette. He finished the backroom on the lower level, replacing two hulking metal doors with a broad window, and installed his private office. And, importantly, there was still plenty of room for Hoffman Group Architects to expand and grow into the future.
Time to walk away
Over the next decade at 16236 Westwoods Business Park, Hoffman Group Architects thrived.
Then around 2015, Hoffman started slowing down. He was in his 60s and realized he didn’t want to be climbing up onto roofs and going out to do site investigations. Eventually contracting to a one-man operation, Hoffman started moving more and more work to his primary home, and he soon tired of driving over to the vacant office building to cut the grass and do other maintenance. He decided it was time to finally sell. So Hoffman called the broker who had helped him find the place a decade before.
“I had known Frank for years,” says Hoffman. “Unless you know somebody, who do you get ahold of? Like a doctor or a dentist, you don’t want to just look them up in a phonebook.”
Yocum came out and started searching for prospective buyers. But even though Hoffman had put tens-of-thousands of dollars and hours of sweat equity into fixing up the building, each would-be tenant found something that just wouldn’t work. A chiropractor looking to move his practice needed a bathroom accessible to people with physical disabilities. A civil engineer with a staff of 7 was concerned it was just too far from his employees in St. Charles. Most people wanted a second bathroom upstairs. Years passed and excuses mounted.
Meanwhile, in 2019, Hoffman officially retired. He picked up hobbies like woodworking and restoring antiques in his shop at home. He made frequent trips to Table Rock Lake where he could fish for bass. But he could never fully relax as long as the building remained unsold. It had been paid for, but in order to buy the office in the first place, Hoffman and his wife refinanced their home and that loan was still hanging over them. Plus, the property was something of an anchor to his working life that, as long as he was attached, would never let him feel free.
Through the long process, Yocum was a rock for Hoffman. The broker kept chasing down leads, sending out fliers, and keeping Hoffman apprised of who was interested and what was said. He also buttressed Hoffman, assuring him that the right buyer would eventually come along, just as Hoffman had 15 years ago.
Finally, earlier this year, Yocum found a match: An accounting firm he knew of that was based just 8 miles away and looked for a new office with more parking. They came, they saw, they made an offer. After a few counters, the building was sold. Hoffman was a free man.
Hoffman says he plans to take the proceeds from the sale and renovated the kitchen in their condo on Table Rock Lake. Now when he’s out enjoying retirement on his bass boat, Hoffman fondly remembers his business, his second home at 16236 Westwoods Business Park. And he also values the relationship with broker who helped him buy it and then pass it on to the next owner.
“Frank was great,” says Hoffman. “He kept me up to speed with what was going on and kept sending out fliers to people. Usually when I see realtors list something and sell it and take their commission, I think ‘What did they do for that?’ Not Frank. He worked his tail off.”