| The Daytona Beach News-Journal
HOLLY HILL — Richie Lukac calls himself a “hubologist,” a title that reflects 35 years of matching hubcaps and wheel covers with every imaginable type of vehicle.
“I thought Doctor of Hubology was too pretentious,” said Lukac, his face curving into a smile behind the counter at Hub Cap House, the business he has been running on Nova Road since 1985.
In an age of flashy marketing, Hub Cap House is an old-school operation. For potential customers in the steady traffic on Nova Road, catching a glimpse of the sign bearing the company’s yellow logo is a blink-and-you-miss-it proposition.
Inside, every inch of wall space in the tightly packed office is lined with shiny chrome alloy discs. The air is freshened with the scent of steel-belted rubber.
It doesn’t take long for Lukac, 66, to demonstrate that his self-proclaimed hubologist title is no idle boast.
Looking out the window, he recites the essential digits for the proper wheel cover for a customer arriving in a 2001 Buick LeSabre. It’s an instant diagnosis made from about 25 yards away.
“We’ve been doing this a long time,” he said.
Made Just Right: About this series
The Daytona Beach News-Journal is spotlighting area businesses that have been around long enough to be an important part of our collective history. If you are the owner of a business that has been in operation for at least 25 years, or if you want to nominate a business for recognition, please contact reporter Jim Abbott at [email protected] Be sure to include your name, phone number and a little bit about the history of the business.
In the beginning, Lukac and a buddy started selling hubcaps in a household garage in Ormond Beach.
“I got into this business by accident,” he said. “I was playing basketball with a guy from Gainesville.”
His basketball teammate was doing vehicle pin-striping and wanted a job that would get him out of the hot sun. Meanwhile, Lukac was in the midst of launching his own niche business, but was itching to do something else.
“I was selling gasoline nozzles, hoses and pumps,” he said. “I called it The Nozzle King, believe it or not.”
But the kingdom wasn’t that profitable, he said.
“I would’ve had to move to Orlando, which I didn’t want to do,” Lukac said. “I believe if you’re living in Florida you should be next to the beach.”
So Lukac turned to hubcaps, establishing the business for its first five years in a “little wooden shack” at the corner of Nova and Golf Avenue in Ormond Beach, before moving in 1990 to Hub Cap House’s current home at 1827 Nova Road in Holly Hill.
Over the years, the scope of the operation has expanded.
“We started out selling wheels, but we soon found out you can’t sell wheels without tires,” Lukac said. “It’s like peanut butter without jelly.”
When the popularity of alloy wheel covers overtook traditional hubcaps, the business started to offer body shop and wheel repair services to generate more customer traffic.
Although Hub Cap House does a steady walk-in business, its bread-and-butter always has been a roster of auto dealerships that stretches from Brevard County to Gainesville.
Hub Cap House
Where: 1827 Nova Road, Holly Hill
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-noon Saturday
“We’ve had trucks on regular routes for 30 years,” Lukac said. “They stop at dealerships once a week, once every two weeks.
“If you trade in a car, they have to re-condition it,” he said. “If the wheel covers are damaged, it’s more expensive for them to get two original wheel covers from their parts department than it is to get a whole set from us.”
A team of five employees now contributes to calling on roughly 90 to 100 dealerships, Lukac said.
Supplying the dealerships
On a recent afternoon, Dennis Bragg, 60, is making a final inspection of a Ford Transit cargo van loaded floor to ceiling with boxes of wheel covers and rims destined for dealerships in Clermont and Sanford.
“I go primarily down the I-4 corridor, all through Sanford, Lake Mary, Winter Park,” said Bragg, who has worked at Hub Cap House since 2004. “I have a couple of accounts in Palm Coast that I do.”
Bragg also is a familiar face at auto dealerships in Volusia County, including Gary Yeomans Pre-Owned Super Center, a few miles south on Nova Road.
“I see them at least once week and I have them on my speed dial, believe me,” said John Casey, the dealership’s used car manager. “Whether you’re sending a vehicle to auction or getting it ready for a customer, wheels and tires are one of the major things that people look at. From Nissan to Toyota to Honda, they always have what you need.”
Keeping up with ever-expanding inventory has become more complicated over the years, Lukac said.
“There are so many different alloy wheels,” Lukac said. “That’s how the business has changed more than anything.”
For a 2003 BMW Z3 sports car, for instance, there are 23 different wheel options, he said. Over the years, customers have invested anywhere from $300 to over $10,000 in a set of wheels, he said.
“When we started, it was a lot simpler,” he said. ”If you had an Oldsmobile Aurora, there was only one wheel. Now, there are many, many options. People think it’s simple, but it’s not.”
When Hub Cap House opened its doors in 1985, here’s a snapshot of what else was happening in the world:
Live Aid pop concerts in Philadelphia and London raised over $50 million for famine relief in Ethiopia.
Pop stars including Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Richie and others record the song “We Are the World” to raise money for famine relief.
Coca-Cola introduced “New Coke,” a move that came to be regarded as one of the worst marketing blunders in history.
The popular comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes” debuted in 250 newspapers in the United States.
Historic Route 66, immortalized in TV, music and literature, was officially removed from the United States Highway System.
The Nintendo Entertainment System was released in the United States. It would gain popularity sparked by its breakout game, “Super Mario Bros.”
“The Color Purple” premiered in New York City. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film garnered 11 Oscar nominations, but didn’t win in any category.
Michael Jordan was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.
And while many small businesses have been struggling amid the economic downturn of the coronavirus pandemic, Hub Cap House just logged its best July business in 20 years, Lukac said.
“We get less customers, but in this COVID world, the people who come out want to buy,” he said.
Although Hub Cap House does most of its ordering and research online, Lukac still keeps a five-inch thick old-school hard-copy inventory book close at hand. Out behind the shop, shelves are lined with rows of roughly 8,000 vintage hubcaps and 800 wheels, gleaming in the sun.
“We used to have more,” Lukac said. “I’ve been trying to cut down. I mean, how often do you see a Chevy Corsica?”