The Story of the PIERCE history continues with a look into the 1980’s.
In February of 1980, Jeff Pierce married Kathy and they began the new decade in Jeff’s self-made apartment attached to his business office. Kathy embraced the non-stop entrepreneur Jeff was and in no way was trying to be “the one that slowed him down.” Kathy is very supportive and eventually became the CFO of Pierce Sales and still remains in that lead role today. Happily married, Jeff was ambitious to take huge steps in his business. The success of distributing winches and trailers coupled with the discipline of Jeff’s savings, led to a decision to make Pierce Sales more independent.
When the weather started to get warmer, Jeff and George began hiring employees and built shops so they could manufacture their own equipment. Within that same year they were selling their own worm gear winches, slide-in tow truck beds, and farm trailers. Now independent manufacturers with a team of employees, Jeff and George became a dynamic partnership.
Jeff was the very personal and friendly CEO that loved to make relationships. He was available anytime and loyal to his customers. George was also very friendly with anyone who walked through the door and loved to be in a crowd. If Jeff and George were at a social, Jeff would be in the corner catching up with an old friend or making a new life-long friend, while as his dad, George, would be in the middle of the room telling old stories to a crowd of strangers he would never meet again.
George also was the strict disciplinary. The military routine George was used to in the Air Force would not tolerate lazy or moody employees. George was famous for finding an employee sitting down the last ten minutes of work and handing them a broom. George ran a tight ship and it kept the Pierce Sales team efficient. The attributes of discipline and “outgoingness” made George such an interesting man that people loved being around him – even if he was handing you a broomstick after working seven hours. George was a lot to handle in any given day and that is why people loved him, whether it was trouble or fun, you were promised to never have a dull moment while you were with George Pierce.
The early 1980’s
After a few years of success in manufacturing, Jeff and George were open to new ventures. As Pierce Sales continued to manufacture their own trailers they found a company that was selling new tires extremely cheap. The company would customize brand new cars and always replace the new standard car tires with customized tires. Therefore, this company would have hundreds of brand new standard issued tires that were useless to them. Jeff and George started buying these tires and putting them on their trailers. When customers saw the quality, they started asking if they could buy them separately as well. Eventually, enough people wanted so many extra tires that Jeff and George started a tire shop in Henrietta. This pattern continued with other ventures they founded including Pierce Tire and Battery, the Hardware Store, and the Lumber Yard. More stores called for more employees that led to hiring Ginger Schaffner in 1985. Ginger started keeping the books for all the Pierce local stores. This was also the year that Jeff and Kathy’s first son, Wade, was born.
By far, Pierce Sales prospered and became a mercantile for the rural Texas rancher looking for trailers, wrecker equipment and winches. They also began selling a variety of farm and ranch equipment such as dump kits and the Pierce bale spike that Henrietta’s very own Rick Langford developed in 1986. Jeff and George would buy and sell anything in these categories as long as it was a good deal for Pierce Sales and their customers. Jeff was not only extremely flexible in what he would sell; but also very available on when he would sale. Pierce Sales was open on the weekends while Jeff and Kathy still lived in the attachment apartment. On a regular basis Jeff had friends over of a cookout and customers would appear by his fence and ask to buy a trailer.
As Jeff and George ran their handful of businesses, they really wanted to appeal to the commuters of Highway 287. People would drive to Wichita Falls thinking it was the closest place for lumber, tires, batteries, hardware or anything else the Pierce stores were selling for a cheaper price and a shorter drive. The most famous product of the eighties for these commuting consumers was the Pierce twenty-dollar car battery. This pull for 287 drivers to exit to Henrietta led to the Pierce commercials that people still talk about today.
The mid 1980’s
Back in the eighties, there were only three cable channels in rural North Texas. Jeff and George would buy as many spots as they could for only ten dollars per spot. The Pierce’s ended up buying so many spots the local channels had to run them dozens of times a day just to match their payments. If anyone watched television in North Texas they would have seen the Pierce commercials a hundred times. Jeff and George took advantage of their cable takeover and began making numerous commercials so that people didn’t get bored with a single redundant advertisement. Jeff and George started off doing most of the commercials but Jeff didn’t really like the spotlight. On the other hand, acting for the commercials fit George’s personality perfectly. This moved George from the storyteller, the jokester, the public speaker, to a role that combined them all to be the actor. George was naturally confident – only needing one take and a few minutes to prepare. As the commercials took over the three channels, the commuters stopped and shopped in Henrietta.
The new Pierce local stores gained success as Jeff and George continued to direct the commercials. One of the most famous commercials was of a man sleeping with a toolbox. The commercials were a hit and the toolboxes were selling as soon as they made it to the store. The quick turnaround of the toolboxes made for one of the biggest Pierce Sales flops of the eighties. On Christmas Eve, a shipment of toolboxes came in and people from all over poured in from Highway 287 to get their last minute Christmas gift. Unfortunately, the toolbox company sent used toolboxes. Christmas morning, men all over Texas and Oklahoma opened the sealed cardboard boxes to find that their toolboxes were beat up, dented in, and had decals all over them. Despite small flops like the Christmas toolbox disaster, Pierce Sales and the local stores cruised through the eighties successfully with their heavily advertised products.
The late 1980’s
In the late eighties, George’s wife and Jeff’s mom, Nancy Pierce, became more involved in the business. Nancy was a great mom, former school teacher, a proud grandmother, and a decisive confidante helping her son and husband make hard decisions. Ginger recalls Nancy as the “sweet Mother Hen” of the Pierce employees. With George as the disciplinary figure and Nancy as the nurturer, the team felt that they were in a family when they worked for Pierce. George and Nancy started a family environment that still fills the atmosphere of PIERCE today as Jeff, Kathy, Wade, Ginger and other leaders of Pierce continue to treat the team as their own.
While Nancy became more invested in her son and husband’s business, she got to see Jeff and George grow closer than they had ever been. Jeff and George were always close but when their business began their time together was mainly cordial or heated business discussions. In the late eighties, Jeff and George’s relationship deepened. Outside of work, George loved to fly airplanes. Jeff wasn’t too interested in airplanes until he applied it to duck hunting. When duck season began, Jeff would ask his dad to fly over the ponds to see where the ducks were landing. After a short season of co-piloting, Jeff decided he’d fly too. As Jeff and George shared a common love for piloting planes, their friendship and business flew to new levels incorporating their stores as Pierce Arrow by 1988.
Grievously on April 1, George and Nancy were taking off from Henrietta when their plane crashed. The accident was fatal for both George and Nancy. They were the type of people that made the world around them better. Henrietta lost a vital light of their community, customers lost their friends, and Pierce employees lost their leaders who made them feel like family. Most of all, Jeff and the Pierce’s lost their parents – the head and heart of their family.
The loss was almost unbearable and is still a loss felt today. However, just as George and Nancy were the family many of the Pierce team needed, the Pierce employees became the family that Jeff, Kathy, and Wade needed during their time of grief.
The following year a blessing developed and in 1989 Kathy gave birth to her and Jeff’s youngest son, Philip. With a growing family and a supportive team, Jeff was not going to give up on what his mom and dad helped him create. The success and new products developed in the 1990s are a testament to their legacy and the foundation that was built from 1976-1988.