American Fence & Flag
If not for a man named Walt Disney, there may never have been a Mickey Mouse or Daffy Duck – or an American Fence & Flag, the fencing company co-owned by husband and wife Hal and Joyce Mante in Whitehall.
After high school, Hal headed for Walt Disney World in 1973 hoping to start his career. When he arrived, however, he was told that there were no longer any opportunities because of the oil embargo. Disappointed but not daunted, he returned to Pennsylvania in search of a job that would provide the same kind of joy as the theme park he loved, and he eventually found a job in the toy department at Sears during Christmastime. Despite it being a seasonal gig, the manager noticed Hal’s work ethic and invited him to stay with the department into the spring, when the toys would be returned to their warehouses and replaced by home and garden supplies, like lawn mowers, rakes, and, of course, fences.
Hal took an immediate interest in fencing, and began taking on small chain link fence contracting and repair jobs in 1974. “You’d think fences would be pretty standard and mundane, but every day is different,” he says. “There’s always a new twist to something.”
“I can confidently say that 95 percent of our products are made in America,”
– Hal Mante, owner, American Fence & Flag
One thing that fencing isn’t is easy work. Hal remembers summer employees telling him that fencing was the hardest job they ever had, and that it motivated them to work harder in college so that they’d never have to do it again. To this day, when someone tells Hal that they want to install a fence themselves, he asks to see how soft their hands are. “I’ll say, ‘Are you sure you want to put this fence in?’” Hal says. “They’ll do it and say, ‘That was the worst experience of my life.’”
For Hal, it was one of the best experiences. After almost a decade of on-the-job training, he took a leap and incorporated American Fence, Inc., in 1983. From there, he worked on growing the business as the sole owner until he met Joyce in 1989. As a banker, Joyce’s world differed vastly from Hal’s. “I didn’t know there was such a thing as a fence company,” Joyce says.
“She came out of banking and thought fences just appeared in the backyard,” Hal says, laughing.
The couple married and had two children, and fences quickly became part of the entire family’s lives. In 1995, Joyce joined the business to take over the finances, and Hal recalls family trips and outings being punctuated by his need to constantly stop or pull over to take pictures of interesting fences. “It wasn’t until my daughter was older and went out with a friend somewhere that she realized people don’t usually stop everywhere and take pictures of fences,” he says. “It was a shock to her.”
The business has expanded to do 400-500 jobs each year, with some even providing comic relief. “We were putting a fence around an air conditioning unit on the roof of the Philadelphia Art Museum, and we had to bring a lot of supplies up,” Hal says. “We had these gigantic carts full of equipment that we had to push through the museum. We were waiting for the elevator and two women came up and stared at us. One of them said, ‘Modern art. I just don’t understand it.’”
Still, owning a small business hasn’t been all laughs. “In 40 years of business, you see a lot of ups and downs, but we’ve learned how to weather it,” Hal says, noting that they’ve seen a loss of business with the arrival of big-box competitors.
There have also been additions, however, such as the diversity of products American Fence & Flag now offers. No longer limited to chain link fences, the company has an array of choices ranging from vinyl to wood and straight to scalloped tops, as well as a host of color selections and height options. They also offer safety railings for indoor and outdoor applications, and nearly all of their products are American made.
“I can confidently say that 95 percent of our products are made in America,” Hal says. “It could be as high as 99 percent.”
Another thing that sets American Fence & Flag apart is their display yard, which houses all of their products available for viewing at any time of day or night. Unlike some competitors who display their products indoors, Hal and Joyce like to give their customers the opportunity to see how the products hold up in various weather conditions.
Of course, there’s also the 30 feet by 50 feet American flag hanging outside the office, which they erected on September 11, 2012. The flag became such a focal point that they changed their name from American Fence, Inc., to American Fence & Flag.
Beyond that, the couple integrates their Christian values in their work. In 2001, American Fence & Flag began donating 1% of gross sales and 10% of net profit to charities like the Allentown Rescue Mission and Second Harvest Food Bank. “Now, we don’t push it on anyone, but we’ve been blessed by our faith,” Hal says. “We reach out to a lot of people who are challenged in life to try to give them a second chance at employment.”
Fencing employment relies on the weather, with April, May, and June being the busiest months, but one winter’s lull in 1998 allowed Hal to fulfill his teenage dream: he returned to his first love, Disney World, for a month of working on Main Street. With that finally crossed off his bucket list, he came back to his true love: American Fence & Flag.
To learn more about American Fence & Flag, visit american-fence.com.