John Henry III’s energy is palpable. Knowledgeable and personable, he gives a guided tour of the wunderkind business he started at age 20 in his college dorm room. Fifteen years later, it’s in a 17,000 square-foot office with a team of over 30 diversely talented people.
Henry starts the tour in the showroom of JH Specialty, where a plethora of promotional products—t-shirts, jackets, mugs, pens—line the walls and shelves.
He picks up ball caps for some of today’s largest country music acts. Miranda Lambert was the initial contact and word spread in the country music scene. That’s networking and that’s how his team rolls.
We continue through to the Professional Services Department, where web designers and developers work. The room has a huge shark hanging from the ceiling. “The web is constantly changing and we ask a lot of this team to be one step ahead of the curve for our clients. The least I could do was give them a fun and functional space,” says Henry.
We pass the bullpen, offices where ideas go from concept to action plans. Upstairs, a fun space features a ping-pong table and the Bean Bag Room with a Wii and comfy seating. The employees of JH Specialty are encouraged to work hard and play hard.
In the break rooms, lunches are catered bi-monthly to “keep everyone connected,” says Henry. Nurturing the mind and body is clearly a strategy. High tenure and being awarded for “Best Places to Work” the last seven years by Counselor magazine proves that strategy is working.
So what factors contributed to this young entrepreneur’s success story?
Business is in his blood. His dad ran a successful marketing company. Other family and friend businesses include restaurants, dry cleaner, refinery, trucking companies, etc. “I asked a lot of questions,” says Henry, “and they took time to answer.”
After growing up in Fort Wayne, he was accepted into Indiana University’s competitive Kelley School of Business. During his sophomore year, student loans mounting, Henry wanted a way to pay for school outside of the norm. His business sense kicked into gear.
As a Pi Kappa Phi fraternity member, he observed the constant need for custom printed t-shirts. He figured out how to buy shirts wholesale and get them printed with a two day order-to-delivery turnaround...and JH Specialty was launched. He continued marketing and networking to sell promotional products wherever and however he could. Even in college, his clients were all across the country through his networking activities.
After graduating in 2001 with a degree in business with a computer information systems focus, Henry moved back to Fort Wayne and ran the business from home. In 2002, he moved into his first office (a 600 square-foot space) and started surrounding himself with great people. One of his first employees, Tim Diefenbach, who started as an intern, is now the company’s chief technology officer. Henry’s wife Tara (married in 2005) started full-time after their engagement. Eventually, full-time turned to part-time and now she is at home raising their four children; the couple is expecting number five in December.
JH Specialty has continued its climb. “We’ve had double digit growth every year except for two,” says John. “We constantly pursue new business and keep increasing the existing.” Over the years, they have had large clients come and go like Centennial Wireless (which was acquired by AT&T in 2009). “Centennial really pushed us and allowed me to ramp up staff. It was sad to see them go, but I am proud that we were able to diversify and grow the business enough to continue growth momentum even after losing our largest client.”
Today, JH Specialty’s clientele is very diversified and includes local and national customers. The majority of its business has come from referrals. Its strategy is to go above and beyond in relationships with clients, asking, “What ways can I help your business?” Henry says “We try to create positive influence for people internally and externally.”
JH Specialty has grown step-by-step based on time-tested business principles. John Henry III has led his team using his high-energy, continually seeking new ideas and clients, while placing a high value on his team and customers.
Did he expect to be a business owner?
“Yes,” he says, “but I just didn’t think it would be so early. I wouldn’t change a thing though.”