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Part 1 - Born To Trade
Chapter 1 - The Natural
As long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be
a trader. As a little kid, one of my favorite games was to
drag out all the canned goods from the cupboard and
play store. I was never much of a mathematical whiz, but
I was proud that I knew how to make change before the
other kids my age did.
Chapter 2 - Texas Wheeler-dealer
By 1957, Daddy was operating the big store and had
also opened three drive-in groceries, called Quickways,
in three different parts of Abilene. We didn’t realize it at
the time, but Daddy was pioneering the concept of the
modern day convenience store. That year Daddy leased
out the big store and sold the Quickway drive-ins.
Chapter 3 - Leaving Texas
Texas was home and she had been good to us. As
far as I know, none of my ancestors died in the Battle of
the Alamo, which is the ultimate bragging right if you’re
a Texan, but our roots went deep and I had always been
proud that all four of my grandparents were born in Texas
in the 1800s. My granddad, C.J. Henson—or Old Man Henson, as he
referred to himself—moved to Abilene in the early ’40s from Seymore,
Texas. He first worked as a produce peddler in Abilene and later owned
a small neighborhood grocery store that became quite an institution.
Aside from his grocery store, he traded in produce and junk, and built
and sold cheap houses in North Abilene.
Chapter 4 - The Colorado Rancher
We renamed the ranch Fun Valley, and while
life was different, it was never dull. The first summer we
built a cement miniature golf course. The locals were
very confused by the strange foundations and forms we
were pouring. We had a lot of fun telling them it was a
brand new type of motel. After working on the cement crew, I knew
right then and there that I would NEVER again be in construction, or
any other business that involved manual labor!
Chapter 5 - Valentine’s Cakes and a Pile of Dirty Laundry
We only lived year-round in Colorado for
two years. After that, we spent summers at Fun Valley and
spent the school year in Abilene. My family has continued
to do that since 1959.
Chapter 6 - The Old West Hotel
My family’s business—Fun Valley Resort in
South Fork, Colorado—has always been geared more
toward the middle class family vacationers rather than
the jet setters or the rich and famous. But we did get
some famous guests through the years. Back in the mid-
1960s, Texas Governor Preston Smith from Lubbock was a regular Fun
Valley guest, before, during and after his term. He was a nice man and a
good tipper who really liked fly-fishing.
Part 2 - The Business Partnership
Chapter 7 - Tying the Knot
The good-looking woman who came into the
Old West Hotel in the summer of 1974 was a schoolteacher
from Iowa. She was doing advertising work for
a development in Pagosa Springs, which was just across
Wolf Creek Pass from the Old West Hotel. Bonnie came
into the hotel and asked me if I’d let her put cards advertising
the Pagosa real estate development in every hotel room. The deal
was that if someone went to listen to their pitch, they’d get a free round
of golf, or a camera or some other prize.
Chapter 8 - The New Navajo Rug
We we're mostly still focusing on jewelry when we
stumbled into something that would change our business
forever. It was just a routine trip across the river to restock
some silver from a wholesaler named Mauricio in Juárez.
Chapter 9 - Guatemala
Just when our business was really taking off,
we hit a snag. We couldn’t get our beautiful new rugs out
of Mexico. The administration of Mexican President
Escheveria was decidedly anti-American and anti-trade.
Importing from Mexico became almost impossible. Just
when we had discovered the perfect product, our source was cut off. We
had to find new weavers in a new country as fast as possible. That country
Chapter 10 - On the Road Again
After we got back from Guatemala, we rented
an apartment on the west side of El Paso. We started up
production again in Juárez and put out our first catalog
mailing. It was three color sheets, a lot smaller than the
fifty-six-page catalog we put out these days. But I was
thrilled to get back into using the mail to make sales.
Chapter 11 - The Arizona Showroom
In our new Chevy Suburb an with customized
horse trailer, we continued to work our way around
the Southwest hard-selling our products. We decided to
set up a showroom in the Phoenix area. We quickly set
up three showrooms. One was a wholesale showroom for
saddleblankets and Mexican rugs. Another was the Navajo Rug Gallery
in Scottsdale where we sold high-end Navajo rugs handwoven by the
Navajo. The third was a wholesale gold jewelry distributorship.
Chapter 12 - Alameda Street Store
Our new warehouse on Alameda Street was
actually in the first strip shopping center ever built in
El Paso, right across the street from the old Del Camino
Motel. It wasn’t a luxury location. Our landlord was
an older Greek/Mexican gentleman named Miguel
Papadopolous. His family was from Torreon, Mexico. He was a tough old
character. One time, when I was negotiating to rent some additional space,
we stood inside the warehouse property and talked about air conditioning.
Chapter 13 - World Famous Trading Post
In 1987 we moved El Paso Saddleblanket from Alameda
Street to downtown. At our new 36,000-square-foot location
on Oregon Street another fascinating change took
place. For the first time THE PUBLIC WALKED IN!
Although we really liked the wholesale part better, we
readily adapted to the retail business. We quickly became one of El Paso’s
major tourist attractions. The downtown location became famous for
offering reservation Indian jewelry, fine Oriental rugs and decorative items
from every corner of the world.
Chapter 14 - Making Deals
We’ve be en trading merchandise every day
for over forty years. But we have always kept our eyes,
ears and noses open for new products. Merchandise is
like the weather in Texas—it changes constantly. What
sells today won’t necessarily sell tomorrow, and that means you should
jump at the chance to make money today.
Photo Gallery - Scrapbook
Part 3 - Worldwide Adventures
Chapter 15 - International Markets
One of the best thing s about being in the
import/export business is all the pre-tax dollars you can
spend running around the world buying and selling. I
think travel makes people more aware of what’s going on
in the world. We never travel just to sightsee. We travel to
trade, both selling and buying. There’s no more fascinating way to get to
know a culture than through trade. It gives you a way to meet people, a
way to deal with them, a way to get to know about their customs and
their economy. And it can also make you money. What could be a better
Chapter 16 - The Wild, Wild East
Bonnie and I figure that over the years we have
traveled to forty-nine different capital cities in Central
and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa,
Australia and Asia. Some of the wildest trips we had were
in Asia. I call it the wild, wild east.
Chapter 17 - Politics is Good Business
Travel is a great way of finding out what’s
going on in the world. Politics is a great way of finding
out what’s going on at home. And El Paso, Texas has some
of the most interesting politics in the world and has had
for some time. Back in the 1880s, Wyatt Earp visited El
Paso, spent one night and left the next day for Tombstone, Arizona. He
thought El Paso was too dangerous.
Chapter 18 - Rancho El Cid
In the early 1990s, American politics got a little
too crazy for Bonnie and me. We felt like we couldn’t
operate any more without getting sued. El Paso had become
the center for a large number of sleazy lawyers known
as “sewing lawyers” for all the suits they filed against local
clothing manufacturers. In 1992, for example, one out of every four of the
workers at a major El Paso clothing manufacturer was collecting workman’s
compensation but not working.
Chapter 19 - The Wholesale Experience
It was about mid-May 1999 by the time we
were completely out of El Cid. Sold, moved, and out!
The ’90s had been good, particularly the early ’90s.
Those were recession years in America, but El Paso
Saddleblanket has always done very well in recessions.
We sold to a lot of folks who were unemployed or needed extra income.
It’s one thing to sell to the “hobby” or “fun” vendors who enjoy selling
our products at craft shows, fairs, home shows, and such but who do not
have to sell.
Chapter 20 - Hillsboro
After we sold El Cid in 1999, we really missed
having property in a rural area—the open spaces, room
for the dogs (four German shepherds by this time) and
just a place to go to. Business was good and we had made
some money on the actual sale of the El Cid property
(not the overall business venture), so we decided in 2001 that we wanted
to buy a large ranch within easy driving distance of El Paso.
Chapter 21 - The New El Paso Saddleblanket World Headquarters
In late 2004 and early 2005 we were looking at
several expansion possibilities. We had some blue prints
drawn up for a huge new “Highway Store” Trading Post
we wanted to build west of El Paso on Interstate 10.
Tanny Berg—a long time friend and very successful
real estate developer (among many other things)—was building his
second Microtel motel franchise on a large parcel of land he owned.
We planned a joint venture partnership deal on a building to be built
next door. El Paso Saddleblanket would do a long-term lease with an
option to purchase everything at a later date. We designed this huge
forty-thousand-square-foot trading post to look like an Aztec village. It
featured an eighty-foot observation tower with a viewing platform at
the top that would enable people to see three states and two countries.
Chapter 22 - Trading Post Events
About four to six months after we opened
we started making major changes. Our initial theme
was a plain warehouse outlet with minimal selection of
goods and mountains of products stacked high. Our new
concept would be a colorful trading-post atmosphere with
Spanish guitar music, great displays and more variation of merchandise.
Once we decided on that direction, changes came very fast. We
removed the partition down the middle and the registration desk at the
front door. The Oriental & Persian rug inventory doubled.
Chapter 23 - The El Paso Saddleblanket Family
More than the trade goods , the travel or
the deal making, the most amazing thing about El Paso
Saddleblanket has been our employees. Bonnie and I don’t
have kids. Our employees are our family.
Chapter 24 - Retire? Never!
I’ve been called a lot of things over the years, and
many of them I can’t put into print. But one thing I have
been called is one of the best marketers on the border.
That means a lot. The border is a tough place to cut a
deal and a tough place to survive. We’ve not only survived
on the border—we’ve thrived. I guess by most people’s definition
we are self-made since we started out selling saddleblankets and rugs out
of the back of a pick-up truck and built that into a multimillion dollar
Appendix - A Tribute to My Dad,Mack Henson
Maxie Aquilla Henson was
born in a tent in Ranger Hill, Texas on
July 10, 1920 during the Ranger oil
boom. Mack, as his parents called him,
was the third of five children born to
Claude Jackson Henson and his wife
Olive Lutrell Henson. Both C.J.—as
he was called—and Olive were born
in Texas in the 1800s.
||In a world where the art of horse trading has withered to a handful of diehards, and the old time drummer has all but disappeared, the Henson's maintain a little of both traditions…Here are the characters, the deals, and the story of two interesting lives that are still a work in progress
Charlie Daniels, Nashville Musician, Singer & Songwriter
Rugs to Riches, The Amazing Story of El Paso Saddleblanket Company
Copyright © 2001, El Paso Saddleblanket Co.
All rights reserved. No part of this book covered by the copyright hereon may
be reproduced or used in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic, or
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information please contact El Paso Saddleblanket Co., 6935 Commerce Ave., El
Paso, Texas 79915, or e-mail to email@example.com.
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Exception is also granted to a trade association or other industry organization
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Rugs to Riches, The Amazing Story of El Paso Saddleblanket Company available from
El Paso Saddleblanket Co., El Paso, Texas.”
This publication is intended to provide accurate and authoritative information
in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that
the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional
services. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a
competent professional person should be sought.
Revised and expanded
20 19 18 17 16 15 14 13 12 11
Publisher’s Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Rugs to Riches, The Amazing Story of El Paso Saddleblanket / by
Dusty Henson and Bonnie Henson. – 1st edition.
ISBN-10: 0-9636577-9-8 / ISBN-13: 978-0-9636577-9-4
1. Business. 2. Sales and Marketing. 3. Arts.
Book design, cover design & typesetting by Vicki Trego Hill of El Paso, Texas
Edited by John William Byrd of El Paso, Texas
Printed and bound in the U.S.A. by McNaughton & Gunn, Inc.