By Corey Poole
Linda Henderson left her teaching career to become an entrepreneur. What started with a small, rural gas station in Zwolle with a food sales goal of $100 a day eventually turned into a successful enterprise in Natchitoches; French Market Express which at times rings up Deli Sales of $1,000 an hour.
French Market Express opened in 1996 right off Exit 138 in Natchitoches. Linda was originally drawn to this location because she had the foresight to see that an interstate store would offer an opportunity for her to do many of the things she wanted to do.
“It was difficult going from a small town C-store to an Interstate store,” Linda shared. She grew to love the people in Zwolle, but finally came to realize that French Market Express needed more attention than she could devote to two stores. Linda said she’s now fallen in love with Natchitoches’ history, the food, and the pride taken in the town’s tourism.
Linda has worn a lot of hats in her life. She was raised in a small town; graduated from LSU; tried out the corporate environment in Houston; got married; became a teacher, mother, and grandmother; and now is a business owner.
“Most of all you need to be a risk taker,” said Linda, who really enjoys her work. “You have to live through the bad luck, work around it, and embrace the good luck when it comes as long as you remember that you can’t expect it to last.”
Good or bad, Linda said she doesn’t know when to quit, which can be as harmful at times as it is beneficial. A hard-working rice farmer in Elton, Linda’s father was a big inspiration to her. He was a do-it-all type of person, who learned to weld and served as a B29 mechanic during WWII. She saw in him the right mindset and the right kind of work ethic that will take her far in life.
Being an entrepreneur has become Linda’s true passion. Even if French Market Express can be a bit of a headache at times, there doesn’t seem to be an end to its growth. There’s always a new avenue to explore.
Whenever she has a few free moments, Linda enjoys reading book summaries on Blinkist, which provides people with powerful ideas—30 minutes at a time.
“I’ve always loved to learn,” said Linda. She shared a quote from her mother, who would always say, “If you read, you can know the world without leaving your backyard.”
Her most recent passion is a bed and breakfast with a special occasion venue in Elton called Jackson Point. What makes this newest business venture so special to Linda is that it sits on land that was passed down through her family. In fact, Jackson Point is named after her great great grandfather, William Jackson.
Linda’s proudest moment remains set in her days at Many High School. A French, Speech, and English teacher, Linda loved directing the school plays. Her favorite was Cheaper By the Dozen, a play about a family of 12.
From a large Italian family herself, Linda really connected with the play’s meaning. Ask Linda, and she’ll quickly tell you how important it is to have her husband’s support. Running a pharmacy in Converse at the time, Earl was the first person to encourage Linda to become a business owner. While Earl will say that Linda knew more about the c-store business within the first two weeks than he did, Linda tells it a bit differently.
“I don’t think we’d be where we are today without Earl,” she shared.
After working for the family business in college, Linda’s son Troy moved away after college but eventually returned to help run the store.
“Being the son of the owner is a challenge in itself,” said Linda with a smile. “But he’s taken on a lot of responsibilities and he has a lot of really special gifts.”
Words to live by: If you expect your business to be extraordinary, then why do you expect ordinary problems.
There came a point when Linda was afraid she’d have to sell. She came close to selling, but Earl never doubted her. He told her, “We may be down, but we’re not out yet.”
It’s through lessons learned and mistakes made that Linda has learned to not fear failure.
“No one wants to fail,” she shared. “But if we make a mistake, we just get back up and try again. I always tell my children to make a decision and make it be the right one.”
One of the biggest challenges Linda faces is finding people who are the right fit to work at the store. Employing around 40 workers, Linda and her management team don’t just consider them a number. They take on a mentor relationship with most of their employees and try to nurture a sense of pride in the workplace.
“I’m more easily encouraged than discouraged,” said Linda with a smile.
Everything in the business world is constantly changing and evolving. Linda loves technology and has used it to integrate self-checkout and invest in reverse osmosis equipment to filter all the water the store uses for drinks and food prep. There are also plans to install charging stations for electric vehicles in 2023.
The Hendersons believe the C-Store Industry, like most businesses, will see many changes during the next few years. They often attend Conferences and Conventions to help them prepare for the future. French Market Express was innovative when opened it in 1996, and it is its goal to keep making the store appealing by implementing new ideas. By staying ahead of the curve, she explains, they can better serve the Natchitoches community as well as the many I-49 travelers who have made Exit 138 their favorite stop.