This Man Gibson
by Greg Riley
After I published parts 1 & 2 of this story, I heard from many people formerly connected to Gibson's, including Gibson family members, numerous former employees and franchisees, and many customers who remembered the stores fondly. Parts three and four are based on the new information I've discovered.
READ PART 1 HERE: The Story of Gibsons
READ PART 2 HERE: Herb gits the Big Head
Scroll to the every end to hear Herb Gibson in his own words tell of his philosophy of business success.
Like many successful entrepreneurs Herb Gibson, by all accounts had a complicated life with his family, friends, and associates. A self-professed lifelong Christian and member of the Church of Christ, Herb at times had the opinion that rules applied more to others than himself. That seems to be the case with many successful men whose business lives take a back seat to personal considerations.
For all the years I've been involved with Gibson's I had only heard of his wife Belva. I was recently stunned to learn he had a prior wife Dalta May Nicks with who he appeared to have maintained a close, and perhaps even intimate relationship throughout their lives.
H.R. Gibson was born Sept. 16th 1901, in Berryville, Arkansas. His first wife; Dalta May Nicks was born in Missouri August 3, 1903 and her mother died during childbirth. Dalta's father seems to have been a poor parent with her mostly raising herself with occasional help from others working on the family farm.
In 1919 Herb and Dalta met in Missouri and they married in 1920, and shortly thereafter moved to Wichita, Kansas. In 1922 they opened a barber shop together with Dalta cutting hair, and Herb barbering and giving shaves. That one barber shop soon became five. By 1925 they began selling hair care products out of that original shop, which soon became a full fledged retailer of beauty and barber products. Their daughter Pauline Annah Gibson was born in 1930.
Free weight scale outside that first store in Wichita.
The timing is a bit foggy, sometime after the 1929 stock market crash, in the early 1930's that business failed. In April 1932 the little family relocated to Little Rock, Arkansas and opened a novelty business "The Gibson Novelty Company." This business was originally located in a tiny 10X14' space, which quickly expanded several times.
According to Herb, "Well I looked around an' finally found a little old building'--just a whole in the wall, ten by fourteen feet! I went 'round' back 'n' saw a rent sign on it, so I looked up the man that owned it 'n' told 'm I'd like to rent it. He was a banker, an' he said, 'What in the world are you gonna put in there?' I said, 'I'm gonna open up a b'iness.' He said, 'What kind?' He couldn't believe it. I talked to 'im 'n' talked to 'im, an' finally he said, 'How about ten dollars a month?' I said, 'I'll take it,' an' paid him the first month's rent."
Shown below is the first Gibson's Novelty Company in downtown Little Rock Arkansas.
Herb soon needed even more space, and that same banker rented him warehouse basement space under the swanky Capital Hotel at 111 W. Markham St. Little Rock, Arkansas. This grand hotel still stands in downtown Little Rock. Herb soon branched into a type of wholesaling he called specialty jobbing. Somewhere during this time he renamed his burgeoning operation "Gibson Products Co." which would be used for the next fifty some-odd years. With unemployment running rampant during the 1930's, Herb had no problem attracting salesmen some of who later became his earliest franchisees for Gibson Discount Center.
Soon Gibson was opening additional branches. In 1933 came Dallas, and Oklahoma City, 1934 Forth Worth, and 1935 Houston, and San Antonio. By 1942 he had wholesale houses operating in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, and Nebraska. At the height of his wholesale business he stocked and distributed over 3,000 different items. Over the years he seems to have had his ups and downs, but like most businesses in the country he did exceptionally well during the post WWII years.
Gibson's delivery truck was named for his eldest daughter with Dalta, Pauline Gibson. He also christened his early beauty products, "Miss Paulines."
Even as a youngster, Pauline Gibson was fashionable in the manner of the wealthiest well-bred young ladies of the day. Pauline grew up in a privileged environment and seems to have been favored by Gibson. This did not always serve her well in later life as she was used to everything coming to her easily. Apparently she squandered vast sums of money, and made many poor decisions during her life.
In 1933 Herb hired the very attractive 24 year old Belva Grace Robertson nee Acklin to be his secretary. Belva was married with a daughter; Mary-Frances Robertson. In short order Belva was pregnant with Herb's child, and both quickly divorced their spouses and married each other in a quickie ceremony on December 25th, 1933. Soon after Herb and Belva decamped to Seagoville, Texas and he left the Little Rock branch in the care of Dalta. This was the start of the expansion of the Gibson empire.
Although in the book This Man Gibson Herb claimed the first ever Gibson Discount Center was in Abilene, some claim this was not the case. They say the first time the "Gibson Discount Center" name was used, was on Dalta's store in Little Rock. Gibson family members dispute this, and stand by the Abilene version. By all accounts Dalta was a shrewd store operator, and made herself and Pauline a very comfortable living from the Little Rock location until 1976. The more cynical might think the discount store concept was Dalta's, and appropriated by Herb. Over the years Herb visited Dalta and Pauline often in Little Rock and stayed in their home, and some claimed Dalta's bed.
The diminutive Dalta Hicks Gibson, and her perpetually fashionable, and smiling daughter Polly Gibson.
Dalta Gibson in the mid-1980's with her granddaughter Penny Pepper
The Gibson family tree was much more complicated than I originally though.
Herb was first married to Dalta, and had a child Pauline Gibson.
Belva was married and had a child Frances Robertson (Gibson.)
Herb and Belva had three children: Herb Gibson Jr. (B1935,) Richard Gibson (B 1937,) Gerald Gibson (B 1939,)
Between Herb, Dalta, and Belva there were a total of five children.
Herb seems to have been financially generous to his children, eventually setting them all up in business. Belva was also immersed in the family company from the earliest days, and she and Herb were often absent from the family home with hired help mostly tending to the children. Herb was reported to be a strict disciplinarian during those infrequent times he was home and not visiting parts of his far-flung empire or attending a nearly endless parade of trade shows. A former franchisee told me a story of an incident at a Gibson trade show where Gibson had a loud verbal altercation with one of his sons who publicly accused him of being a terrible parent.
Regardless of Herb's lack of paternal affection there is no doubt of his business acumen. Over the years he was given legions of business awards, and he seems to have very charitable and interested in education. Over the years Abilene Christian College (Abilene Texas,) York College (York Nebraska,) Harding University (Searcy Arkansas,) The Retina Research Foundation, and Medina Children's Home, and many other were the beneficiary of Gibson's munificence.
Gibson was a lifelong passionate Republican and donate generously the several Presidential campaigns including Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan.
Don't Forget to read Parts 1 & Part 2