There’s so much to talk about with Kristina Henderson.
You can start with her multimillion-dollar business, Henderson Promos, which offers thousands of promotional items that companies and organizations can put their logos on — everything from pens to cups to backpacks to blankets. She is the co-owner and CEO of the Red Bank-based business.
Or you can talk about how Henderson Promos — following a pause caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — pivoted to become a manufacturer of personal protective equipment, producing more than a million masks for businesses, nonprofits and health care organizations in need.
Don’t forget about her volunteer work and her company’s connection to the Giving Back Forum, Fulfill food bank, Tigger House Foundation and the Applaud Our Kids Foundation — not to mention her work with the Girl Scouts.
Then there’s this: Henderson, 29, is the reigning Mrs. New Jersey American. She was crowned in August and has pledged to spend the upcoming year showing women-owned businesses how they can be success stories, too — all while serving as an example of what a modern-era pageant winner can represent.
“Being Mrs. New Jersey allows me to be a voice for all of these organizations,” she said. “I can raise awareness for charities and help women in business. Most of all, I get to meet the other titleholders. These are women out in the community making a difference. They’re not strutting on a stage. These women have substance.
“Being the 2020 Mrs. New Jersey is about being out there in the community, being independent, being confident — and helping others gain that confidence. It’s all about helping others.”
ROI-NJ recently talked with Henderson about all this, and more. Here’s a look at the conversation, edited for space and clarity.
ROI-NJ: Let’s start with Henderson Promos. Give us your elevator speech?
Kristina Henderson: We offer thousands of promotional products and apparel. We can put logos on just about anything, like T-shirts and hats or surfboards and golf bags. We embroider, we etch, we screen print. This allows us to work with pretty much anyone. We do a lot of work with large businesses, which want to increase their visibility, but, then, we also work for a Realtor who just wants to get their name out by putting it on pens.
The company started in 2013 as Thrive Promos. When I took over in 2017, I decided to rebrand it with the family name. I tripled sales in my first year, and we’ve just been growing ever since. We have clients nationwide, from New Jersey to California.
ROI: This seems like a company where you would be out networking and promoting your business. How did COVID-19 change everything?
KH: Pre-COVID, we were at events, four to five days each week, whether it be breakfast, lunch or dinner. When the pandemic hit, everything stopped. Our business took a big hit. I knew we had to pivot. So, we had our manufacturers overseas that normally make PopSockets and tumblers start making masks and gloves and hand sanitizers. And our factory in Santa Ana, California, is now making three-ply masks and N95 masks.
We took a big risk, but we were able to use our resources overseas to source masks and gloves for major hospitals. I never thought I would be in the PPE business, but here I am. We’ve produced millions of masks.
ROI: Let’s talk about your charity work. You are the co-founder of the Giving Back Forum. What does that do?
KH: The Giving Back Forum is an event we started last year at Bell Works. We work with a lot of nonprofits at Henderson Promos. We thought it would make sense to have a space where all these nonprofits can get together, because so many don’t know of each other — even though they had plenty in common and possibly could work with one another.
We were able to bring more than 80 nonprofits into one space to raise awareness and make introductions. It was a big success. We obviously had to skip it this year, but we’re really hoping to bring it back next year.
ROI: Talk about the Tigger House Foundation in Monmouth County, which raises awareness for opioid addiction?
KH: My husband lost his brother to an overdose, so it hits close to home. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, overdoses have increased 17% in the state of New Jersey, which is awful.
One of the reasons why I decided to do the Mrs. New Jersey pageant was to be a voice for organizations to raise awareness for these important causes. It’s important that we educate the youth on the dangers of addiction.
ROI: How else are you giving back?
KH: I’m on the advisory board of the Applaud our Kids Foundation, an organization that funds the arts for children whose families can’t afford it — things like singing, dancing, acting, instrument lessons. It’s so important for children to have an outlet, especially during these times, while they’re at home. We’re also working with Fulfill, the food bank of Monmouth and Ocean counties, where they’re helping feed the hungry, another important cause especially during these times.”
ROI: Helping women in business and the next generation of female leaders also has been a mission of yours — how are you having an impact there?
KH: I’m working with the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore. I’m on their Phenomenal Women under 40 committee. Our goal is to help raise young women to be leaders in the community. It’s so important during this time, to not be a follower, but to be a leader in the community and to believe in yourself and have confidence. And all those are very important.
And, during my reign as Mrs. New Jersey, I’m going to be traveling throughout the state and talking with women-owned businesses. I’ll be sharing my knowledge of entrepreneurship and best business practices with women who are starting a business or looking to be certified as a women-owned business.
Being WEB certified is really important. It gives you access to leads for bids and proposals, you have opportunities for mentorship, educational programs and some businesses have goals to subcontract a certain percentage of work to certified women-owned businesses. Most of all, you know, it’s a valuable network that increases in visibility.
ROI: Visibility. That brings us back to Mrs. New Jersey. Talk about how the title gives you increased visibility and how it will impact all of these efforts?
KH: Being Mrs. New Jersey can help me meet the right people, but that only goes so far. It gets me in the door. I feel when people talk to me, get to know me, (they) see that I’m genuine and I’m here to make a difference — and see that I’m running a company that’s not only adapting during this pandemic, but it’s also helping so many people in need. It also gives me a great platform to raise awareness for the organizations I’m passionate about, the Tigger House Foundation, Applaud Our Kids Foundation, Fulfill and the Girl Scouts of the Jersey Shore.
We’ve come a long way in pageantry. I feel the modern-day pageant winner is changing the stereotype around being a pageant queen. There’s so much that goes into it. You have to be an incredibly hard worker and give back to your community.