Monday - Friday
Monday - Friday
The Wisconsin duo didn’t intend to start a business out of the American steel flag they made in their garage, but they struck a nerve. Then they did it again.
With Father’s Day and the Fourth of July just around the corner, the story of Shane Henderson and his son Justis embodies not only the American patriotic spirit but the loving relationship between a father and son.
It all began in 2013 when Henderson, a former welder and machine salesman from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, started working in his garage with his 10-year-old son to create American flags made of steel.
Henderson put the steel star spangled banner he created with Justis on Instagram and created a website showcasing the duo’s patriotic artwork. To to their surprise, the homemade American flags instantly went viral.
“We woke up Monday morning and we had 500 orders for these things, and we didn’t realize there would be such an interest in these flags,” Henderson said. “We didn’t mean for it to happen; it was all by accident because it was just a father and son project.
“It was a two-foot flag made out of steel with tattered edges and after we put it on Instagram, practically overnight it was a million-dollar business. It was absolutely the American dream.
“Every father’s dream is to make something with their 10-year-old son, but we never thought it would turn into this. I had a 9-to-5 job, no shop, no employees and no way to fulfill these orders, and they just kept coming in and coming, so we had to buy equipment, get a shop, hire employees and start making a lot of flags.
“It was crazy. It all happened overnight. There was no plan, it was just an absolutely, overnight viral business.”
Henderson and his young son spent three years establishing the business and trying to get caught up.
“We got a couple of machines, and I had a couple of employees, but by 2017 we were making all kinds of flags – wood flags, steel flags, hand-painted flags, burnt steel, powder coated flags and we sold thousands of them,” Henderson said. “I grew up welding, but I was a machinery salesman before this, so it wasn’t like I had training in the metal arts. I had to teach myself and Justis, too.”
The company he founded, Metal Art of Wisconsin, manufactures flags anywhere from 10 inches long to 10 feet. In 2017, Henderson invented a product called the Freedom Cabinet, which hangs on the wall and opens to reveal storage space. Henderson recently installed a Freedom Cabinet at the Texas home of rock and roll bad boy Ted Nugent.
“You can put your guns, your booze, your handcuffs or whatever it is, all your dirty little secrets inside and then you close the flag and the cabinet locks with a biometric fingerprint lock,” Henderson said.
Like the original steel flag, the Freedom Cabinet quickly took off.
“We put it on Instagram, and we sold a million dollars’ worth of them in one month. I had three employees and no way to fulfill these orders,” Henderson said. “It went viral again, and we ended up moving shops three times in a year-and-a-half, so we ended up in our current shop which is 20,000 square feet. When we are cooking at certain times of the year, we have 30 employees working two shifts, and we’re shipping $25,000 a day worth of product.”
Henderson quickly caught the attention of media outlets and was travelling from Wisconsin to Minnesota and Iowa to promote his product on local morning shows. In November 2019, Henderson flew to New York to do a feature on the Fox News show Fox and Friends with morning anchor Pete Hegseth.
“He saw me and said, ‘I already have a couple of those Freedom Cabinets in my house’ so it was a huge endorsement, and the rest is history,” Henderson said. “In that two-minute segment, we sold so many Freedom Cabinets that it took us 8 months to build them.”
Since 2017, Metal Art of Wisconsin has seen $17.5 million in gross business –while sourcing all materials in Wisconsin. Henderson quickly realized the demand for American-made products with a patriotic bent, and in 2022 he decided to start another company called Patriot Crates.
Patriot Crates is essentially a unique gifting box packed with all American-made items. The crates are made of wood or steel and were born out of an idea when Henderson’s wife ordered a Christmas gift product called Man Crates to fill with golf balls as a gift for her father.
“We opened it up and everything inside said made in China and we were like that sucks,” Henderson said. “I was thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do something similar but have it all made in America?’ After a few days I came up with the idea for Patriot Crates.
“It was tough at first to find American-made products that would fit in a 12 inch by 12 inches by 12-inch box, but today we are dealing with nearly 100 American-made vendors for the crates.
“We went to a promotional trade show in Las Vegas to find American-made buyers and companies and we walked around for three days where there were thousands of vendors and could only find a dozen or so companies that were making stuff in the U.S. It was all China, all India, all Pakistan, and all Vietnam. I have nothing against any of that stuff, but that’s not what I was looking for.
“So, I came back to Wisconsin, and I built this company one vendor at a time. I call these companies, vet them, get to know them, check out their story, check out their products and have them send me samples.”
Patriot Crates offers 30 different gift packages with a wide variety of American-made products. Whether it’s grilling equipment, barbecue-themed products for tailgating, cocktail items, jewelry, or food items, there is a wide selection for all tastes with products made by small, American-made manufacturers.
“We had a choice to go with big brands like David sunflower seeds, but we intentionally didn’t want that, so we went with small batch, family-owned, mom and pop blue collar businesses and it resonated quite well,” Henderson said.
“Again, with Patriot Crates we were having a hard time keeping up filling orders at first but now we have a pretty solid supply chain and all the vendors and all the companies we are working with kind of understand what we are doing,” he continued. “So unintentionally, this thing had turned into almost like a movement. It wasn’t meant to be, but now we have this whole gang of American small businesses, and we are all fighting for the same thing by putting small American company products in our Patriot Crates.”
Patriot Crates come in both wood and steel boxes and retail for anywhere from $45 to $300 and up, depending on the choice of products included in the gift boxes. Summertime and Independence Day are what many people consider the most patriotic time of year, as more American flags are displayed than at any other time of year.
Metal Art of Wisconsin gives consumers alternative ways to show their love of the Red, White and Blue, while Patriot Crates gifting is a commitment to Made in America small batch products.
Metal Art of Wisconsin has grown by leaps and bounds, and Henderson has learned the importance of sourcing American-made products.
“We have like a half a million dollars of CNC machinery and we’ve got lasers, press brakes, powder coating booths, and great laser engravers,” Henderson said. “It’s a pretty serious outfit but it’s not just the machines, it’s my employees. They’ve all been with me since the beginning, and they take so much pride because with all these flags you can put a message or different color stripes. Nothing is mass produced. Everything is made with love.”
Henderson’s primary business remains Metal Art of Wisconsin, where they construct with all American steel, aluminum, billet, carbon fiber and wood.
“We source everything from Wisconsin,” he said. “Patriot Crates was started with all U.S. material. I wouldn’t even start the company until we had it all right. From day one, it’s always been Made in America products.
“It’s a struggle every day because battling import products is difficult.”
But the Hendersons are not about to give up.
“American small business is the backbone of America,” Henderson said. “My son Justis and my story, this has been our legacy for the last 10 years. Our story is an amazing American dream story, but it’s not unique. There are thousands of small, American-made businesses that just don’t get the attention of the American public. With Patriot Crates, we are trying to being attention to the fine American-made products and encourage people to buy American again.”