Photos by K2 Images
When a man vacationing in Colorado takes an evening stroll around the small RV park where he is staying and counts eight trucks which say Henson on the back, there is no doubt this company’s motto—“We stand behind what we say and what we sell!” – depicts the true nature of this unique automotive establishment. Owners Fred and Liz Henson have poured into the lives of their employees, their customers, and their community. “It is just part of them to build people up—to reinvest in their business through their employees,” Sales Manager Cheryl Adams stated. “They are very good about giving people an opportunity; I think that is what has kept the business strong.”
When Fred read that Dodge was going to put diesel engines in trucks, he decided to follow his dream of opening his own dealership. P. M. Stanley was retiring and ready to sell. The original site was a cluster of buildings ready for a new commencement. From the beginning, Fred and Liz have been “hands on” owners, which included painting the new location and working with, interacting with, and encouraging each of their employees. Reminders of the initial stages still exist to inspire all the employees to strive to pursue their goals through hard work and perseverance. When the pecan tree that stood in front of the dealership had to be removed, the owners had the wood crafted into the conference room table. An old white house, which became the business office, was populated by a number of hard working women. The sales associates lovingly christened this building “The Hen House.” Cheryl laughingly said, “We politely would say that it stood for Henson, but…” The reception desk also contains foundations from the initial stages. The owners had the wood flooring from the “Hen House” fashioned into the reception desk in the showroom of Henson Motor Company. “We want to remember from where we came, where we started, to have those memories. They have preserved these reminders.”
The Henson family dealerships carry the three domestic brands: Ford, Chevy, and Dodge. Of the three, the Dodge store has been in business the longest. Henson Motor Company sells Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, and Ram. Henson Chevrolet carries Chevy, GM, Buick, and Pontiac. Henson Ford carries Ford products. The salespeople can sell from any of the three locations. “At our household, my husband drives a Dodge Truck; I drive a Chevy Tahoe. The rule at our house is ‘You can drive any brand you want, as long as it says Henson on the back’,” Cheryl quipped. Each location maintains its own Parts and Service Department. Two outside sales personnel in the Houston area maintain commercial accounts, as well as contacting repair shops in need of manufactured parts in order to work on the American-made products. The Ford location also houses a Body Shop.
Henson Motor Company happily delivers their vehicles for free anywhere in the state of Texas. They have delivered to Amarillo, El Paso, Brownsville, and more. Even before the internet became popular, this company received orders over the phone, conversing with the customer in order to deliver the product the patron desired. Cheryl shared, “I have a customer I have never met except over the phone. He has bought six vehicles from us. He calls in and says, ‘Time for a new vehicle.’ About every two years, I talk to him. We trade vehicles. He lives west of San Antonio…we have a lot of repeat customers.” In selling cars over the phone, Henson salespeople must be detail-oriented. The finance manager goes over exactly how the paperwork will appear. The drivers take the documents to be signed and the keys to be turned over to the customer. Cheryl emphasized, “We (consumers) really all pay the same price for cars. We want how we take care of the customer to be what sets us apart. People want customer service. We work hard to deliver that. We try to do our best.”
This example of the principles and values under which the business has been run flows down from Fred and Liz to each employee. Knowing “one customer tells another” encourages the staff to maintain excellence in their interactions with consumers. “Statistics indicate if you have had a good experience (in the marketplace), you are going to tell five people. If you have a bad experience, you are going to tell 10-15. We cultivate those five customers that are going to tell about their great experience,” Cheryl noted.
The Henson family believes in buying local and abundantly giving back to their community. The walls are lined with evidence of this company’s sponsorship of the local population’s activities, ranging from young children up to collegiate groups. They have helped many little league teams bat, slide, and run home to victory. For many years, this organization has sponsored the Sam Houston Rodeo Team and has enjoyed a considerable amount of involvement with the Texas A&M Equestrian program. Closer to home, they back Ranch Rodeos for youth and the Texas High School Rodeo Association. Henson Motor Company has partnered with Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep and Ford to provide FFA (Future Farmers of America) scholarships to youth in surrounding areas. This year alone, they awarded over $6,000 to Madisonville, North Zulch, Normangee, and Centerville graduates. The Madison County Fair Association benefits from Henson generosity as well. “It is very rewarding, as many of these students come to work for us part-time until they graduate,” Cheryl shared. The Ram Rodeo, which is held in conjunction with the County Fair, brings many participants into the county and is used as a fundraiser for the Madison County Fair Association. Henson Motor Company is instrumental in helping with this endeavor. Their giving hearts do not stop at the borders of their town. After the economic downturn of the U.S. economy in 2007, Crockett lost the franchise car dealerships. Henson partners with Ram Rodeo so the Crockett Lion’s Club can continue their over 52-year tradition of bringing athletes into the arena to rope and ride. “It has been our great privilege to help sponsor that. Houston County is our neighbor. We try to be active in that community as well,” Cheryl imparted.
The Hensons’ contributions are not solely financial. Liz Henson has served on the local school board for several years. “She has always been very plugged into the school and the youth. She invests her time. It is about giving folks opportunity…We also expose them (the students) to job opportunities available here: mechanics, parts, inventory, and all other types of skills. The major manufacturers have programs available that help with schooling and other expenses. We like to keep our dollars here as much as we can.” Cheryl shared a story of a young man who started at the company in the PDI (pre-delivery inspection) division, moved up to a lube technician, then to a mechanic tech, and now to a full mechanic. Through the manufacturer training provided, this young man could move up and help pour back his monies into the local community. Fred and Liz have also helped to initiate a growing and vibrant Cowboy Church to this rural area.
Among the many members of the Henson family is Brian Creighton, who grew up with Liz. He is General Manager of all three stores. “He is the glue that keeps us all together,” Cheryl commented. This humble man possesses a great deal of car knowledge, which adds to his skill in his administrative position. Tim Grace, the Parts & Service Manager, stepped into the Henson clan upon the inception of the store. The newest employee, Phyllis Steger, joined the crew less than a year ago. Bea Purdy, who has been selling for Henson for the past eight years, left Houston and returned to her Madisonville roots to sell vehicles for Henson. Salesman Patrick Singletary knows the cars in and out. “If I want to know the gross value weight of a vehicle, Patrick knows it; he doesn’t have to look it up,” Cheryl shared. Ricky Green has grown within the Henson family over the last five years and is now the Used Car Sales Manager. Jodi Roush, who races cars and runs barrels, joined the team a little over a year ago.
Henson Motor Company, which sits at one of the busiest traffic intersections in Texas, truly exists as a family. The three locations are within two miles of each other. They celebrate birthdays together, commemorate Cinco de Mayo, rejoice at baby showers, and more. When Cheryl’s mom fought her battle with pancreatic cancer, she was given the freedom to walk alongside her mother through this ordeal. “They graciously allowed me to come and go as I needed to with my mother…I was gone almost the entire last two weeks of her life…I didn’t have to worry about my job; people stepped in and did my job for me. That’s what family does.”
Many people have been blessed by the Hensons investing in their consumers, their employees, and their community. Cheryl commented, “You can do a lot of things when someone believes in you.” As I observed personnel during this interview, I saw many smiling faces continually working; no one was sitting around waiting for customers. Also, Liz stopped by to discuss adding another hometown young man to the sales staff. Cheryl and the Hensons recognized skills in Dave Enby, who joined the staff to sell automobiles. “His talent is not in selling cars; his talent is being a graphic artist…He builds our ads. He does all our graphic work, all our magazine ads—anything we publish, he prepares. He is a photographer…He drew this vicious looking lion (for the Lovelady Lions football program). The kids went crazy over it when they saw it; they have made it into posters…” Fred and Liz build up this community through offering opportunities to people who desire to work and grow, by sponsoring the activities of young people, and by honoring God through their business and daily interactions.