TNT Customs puts Wyoming on ‘off-road’ map
Cheyenne, Wyo.—A worker at TNT Customs peers over the top of a screen at a computer-controlled plasma table as its bright orange glow cuts a gusset from plain sheet metal. The gusset is one of the many U.S.-made suspension and body armor parts the Levenhagen family produces for off-road Jeep enthusiasts.
Although owners Bob and Mary Levenhagen design and manufacture parts for a variety of Jeeps, from the CJ to the current JK, their recent emphasis on hard-to-find TJ and XJ parts has been successful, they said.
“A lot of companies market parts for the JK and have given up on the older models,” Mary Levenhagen said. “You can pick up an older, less expensive TJ cheaper than a JK (the current Wrangler) and put some money into it.” The off-road parts include front stretch kits, bolt-on tube fenders, rockers, skidplates, bumpers, and more.
The design of TNT suspensions focuses on both off- and on-road capability. “We drive our Jeep at the posted speed limits on the highway and then take them off road,” she said. “That’s the beauty of our suspension.”
From passion to career
After retiring from the Air Force, Bob Levenhagen said he pursued his off-road passion when he decided to open TNT with a business partner in 2005 in Cheyenne, the city the Air Force relocated him to. He said he had built cars in Wisconsin prior to his military service.
His wife added that before they opened TNT Customs, there was always a Jeep in their family garage in Cheyenne. A good reputation and a passion for wheelin’ were the two motivating factors for the Levenhagens to open shop.
Tapping into Jeep culture
At first, they considered manufacturing parts for other makes, but decided to stick with Jeep, because it’s what they knew well. “Every make of Jeep, we know inside-out,” Mary Levenhagen said.
“We’ve been wheelin’ in the Rocky Mountain area for 20 years,” she said, adding that they still do. One of the best marketing methods is to prove the function of the parts on the trail. “When people see the Jeeps in action, that’s what sells the parts.”
“It’s like an addiction or a cult,” she said. “When you own a Jeep, you’re part of the family.” To keep up with events across the county, the Levenhagens purchased a large motorhome.
TNT also benefits from editorial exposure and advertising in several of the major Jeep enthusiast publications, she said, most notably Jp Magazine.
Made in the USA
Even though many aftermarket Jeep parts are manufactured overseas, Mary Levenhagen said that was never a consideration of theirs. They like being able to control quality, fit, and function.
All parts are designed by Bob Levenhagen and manufactured in their 11,000-square-foot facility on North Avenue D. The Levenhagens’ son, Jason, is among the six employees. Rod Weinzierl serves as the company’s general manager.
“Wyoming has great benefits for manufacturers,” Mary Levenhagen said, adding that the most significant one is no state corporate income tax. Another benefit is assistance — in engineering, finance, and marketing — from Wyoming-based Manufacturing-Works (M-W), a nonprofit organization that works in conjunction with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Wyoming Business Council, and the University of Wyoming. “They’ve offered advice and training that has helped,” she said.
Because they sell the majority of their parts in the Rocky Mountain area, being close to I-80 and I-25 in Cheyenne is a big plus, she said.
The cold-rolled sheet steel and steel tubing they use is sourced from two Colorado suppliers, one in Denver and another in Greeley.
Many of the parts are powder-coated black or gray prior to being shipped, she said.
Importance of distribution, installation
In addition to manufacturing and direct sales, the Levenhagens perform installations for retail customers and offer training to other TNT Customs dealers.
A suspension kit can be engineered to fit precisely with the geometry of a Jeep, but can cause problems when installed incorrectly.
For this reason, Mary Levenhagen said, they prefer to sell their parts through smaller shops that have the know-how to properly install the suspension parts.
A select group of parts are now being sold through Transamerican Wholesale, which also does business as 4 Wheel Parts, she said.
The next step for TNT Customs is to market to and partner with franchise Jeep dealerships around the country, she said. To prepare for this, they’re in the process of creating a quality brochure that parts department personnel can use, she said.