Saving Our Family Business From the Government

Amy Herrig
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Posted: Jan 03, 2015 12:01 AM
Saving Our Family Business From the Government

(Editor’s Note: The author is vice president of Gas Pipe, Inc., a Texas company faced with extinction because of a civil asset forfeiture to the federal government of more than $16 million. Neither Herrig nor her father, Gas Pipe founder Jerry Shults, have been charged with any criminal offense. The U.S. Department of Justice has alleged that people associated with their business were selling what it calls ‘synthetic marijuana,’ an allegation Shults and his daughter deny.)

My dad, Jerry Shults, was born and raised in San Antonio, TX. He was the youngest of seven children and came from very humble beginnings. After graduating high school and attending college for a short period, he volunteered for the Air Force and served in Vietnam. There, he defended the American base at Khe Sahn during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Following the battle, he was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the Army Accommodation Medal for his support of the Army Air Cavalry.

After coming home from the war, Jerry moved to Dallas and began selling novelty items - clothing, pipes, and so forth - at pop festivals throughout Texas. Soon after, he opened the first Gas Pipe store on Maple Avenue in Dallas, using as venture capital the money he saved while in Vietnam. The first location had the gas pipes exposed in the ceiling, accounting for the store’s name.

Jerry was always an entrepreneur and in 1980, the second Gas Pipe was opened in North Dallas. He also started slowly acquiring real estate around the Dallas area during that time, expanding his investment and income possibilities. Gas Pipe also added two more stores, in Arlington, TX and Austin.

An avid fisherman, Jerry made several trips to Alaska over the years, staying at various lodges. Combining his love of fishing and entrepreneurism, he built Rapids Camp Lodge in 1994, realizing his dream Alaska wilderness fishing experience. At about the same time, Jerry also achieved his goal of opening the first Gas Pipe outside of Texas - in Albuquerque, NM. That was followed by additional stores in Austin and a second Albuquerque outlet.

The Gas Pipe did start out as what many people in the 1970s would call a “head shop,” but over the years the product lines increased to include casual clothing, sporting goods, gifts and novelties, cards and candles, and yes, smoking supplies. Our slogan, “Your Peace, Love, and Smoke Headquarters,” reflects the unique lifestyle of our stores and patrons must be over 18 years of age to enter. It was my father’s business and it thrived.

By the late 1990s, Jerry had accumulated more real estate, seven Gas Pipe stores, a distribution company, a five-star lodge in Alaska, and had managed his money well through wise investments. He employed about 70 people and, understanding that people are the key to any successful business, provided an excellent work environment. The benefits offered by the Gas Pipe were unusual for the time; full health care insurance that is 100% employer-paid, and an employer-funded pension plan amounting to 10% of an employee’s salary, along with paid vacation, paid maternity leave, and an employee incentive program. The whole culture of the Gas Pipe and Jerry’s other enterprises is for employees to feel like they are part of a family, part of the success of the company.

During the mid-1990s, I was studying hotel and restaurant management at the University of North Texas in the School of Hospitality. I spent many years in the restaurant industry, working for Brinker International doing training and development while traveling to open new restaurants for the Macaroni Grill franchise. I later became a mother to boy/girl twins and after a while, Jerry and I decided together it was the right time for me to work in the family businesses. I officially joined the company in October, 2005.

Gas Pipe underwent rapid expansion, and has since grown to 14 stores, the newest opening in December, 2014. We also began to expand into other businesses. Jerry bought and renovated the historic Ridglea Theater in Ft. Worth, TX, in 2010. This was a real labor of love for Jerry, who poured his heart and soul into the project. The building was saved from demolition and thanks to his hard work, it was added to the National Historic Registry and will never face the threat of demolition again.

The Ridglea Theater is connected to a large office and retail building, which meant we also became property managers to about 20 tenants. This led to the creation of Ridglea Complex Management, Inc., which subsequently grew over the years, acquiring an office building and two shopping centers.

The lodge business also prospered. We added a Chilean lodge destination in 2008, and a group of successful lodge properties in British Columbia, the Bahamas, and an additional property in Alaska in 2013. Due to the limited road system in parts of Alaska, and with two lodges in that state, we purchased several aircraft over the years. Because airplanes are a primary means of transportation in Alaska, we purchased an existing charter airline company/certificate in 2013, operating a small charter airline business serving Alaska.

My father has been in business for nearly 45 years. He started with nothing except for his savings from the war. Everything he has accomplished has been on his own. He attributes much of his success to the outstanding group of people he has been blessed to work with over the years. Today, our businesses provide jobs for nearly 200 such people and we are grateful for being accepted in the community wherever we operate.

For someone to start with virtually nothing and build a multi-faceted organization like this, providing such an economic impact over nearly a half-century, is a pure example of “The American Dream” and true free enterprise. All we want is to keep that dream alive, free of unwarranted government intrusion and intimidation.