SJ Denham Has a History with Cars
By Sandie Tillery
Photo: James Mazzotta
The Denham family knows the automotive industry. More than 70 years in business in the North State has tested and proven their ability to keep going strong with a clear vision and savvy marketing strategies despite years of economic challenges in the country. Ryan Denham joined the team in 2001 and represents the third generation to carry on the family business; he works now with his father, Randy Denham, who started working with his father in 1974 doing everything from auto mechanics to cleaning toilets. Stonewall Jackson Denham (known to all as Stoney) launched the dealership in 1945, passing responsibility to his son Randy when Stoney retired in 1987.
Stoney sold DeSotos and Plymouths at his first dealership on Pine Street from 1945-1949 and employed six to eight people. They completed a major new building project and celebrated the grand opening in March 1949 at their current location on North Market Street (Highway 99), which was the main thoroughfare through Redding.
Of the many auto dealerships that began in the 1940s carrying a family name, SJ Denham is the last. When Interstate 5 rerouted traffic in the 1970s, the Denhams’ commitment to invest in progressive trends in the industry kept loyal and new customers returning. Unlike real estate, Randy Denham says location doesn’t seem to make a difference for auto dealerships. What keeps people coming, he explains, is their confidence in brands like Chrysler and Dodge and the honest service provided by their business that now employs 68 people.
They have matured with societal and industry changes, something that Ryan Denham has helped to facilitate. He earned his degree in business finance from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, then spent three years with Chrysler Corporation. Ryan says SJ Denham has become a one-stop shop for automotive needs, handling sales to service “seamlessly in one location” and employing the latest in technology innovations, from marketing to diagnostics.
SJ Denham added a collision center in 1993, a Hertz Car Rental franchise, and a recent expansion for work on larger vehicles and a tire service center at the Market Street location. Under Ryan’s guidance, the showroom has been renovated to “make it more comfortable for customers” with nostalgic decor reminiscent of the business’ beginnings. In 2004, they expanded to Mt. Shasta with another dealership. Today they sell and service Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Ram vehicles.
Since it’s their name on the sign, says Ryan, they employ a very hands-on leadership style. Randy gives Ryan credit for bringing his corporate experience into their business decisions, creating and maintaining good relationships with corporate representatives.
Now the two men bounce ideas back and forth, old-school business sense and new ideas forging a future for the family business. Randy and Ryan continue to model a servant-leader work ethic. Ryan says he is not averse to using a broom and dustpan to help clean the showroom or do any other jobs that need attention.
Family, fatih and community are high priorities for the Denhams. It is one of the reasons Ryan returned to the North State to join his father in the family business. Both men serve on a variety of community boards and have a long relationship with Redding West Rotary. They agree that they live in a very giving community and give back as part of their business and life philosophy.
Two organizations Randy helped to start prove the Denhams’ dedication to caring for others. In 1987, Randy helped establish the Top of the State Junior Golf Scholarship for North State students who want to pursue higher education with golf as their means to get there. This year, 23 students will receive a total of $25,000 in scholarships. They also support the Luis Miramontes Foundation that contributes to cancer research and provides help to families living with cancer.
SJ Denham endures as a Redding landmark, a flourishing family business where the second and third generations now oversee the business established at the end of World War II and where Ryan hopes one day his two daughters might carry on in their great-grandfather’s footsteps.