Women is...: Gun Denhart Mail-order Maven

Gun Denhart Mail-order Maven

Who She Is: Founder and chair of Hanna Andersson, Gun Derharta mail-order children's clothing business. The company is famous for its brightly colored 100% cotton Swedish-style outfits.

Born: 1945

1996 revenue: $50 million

The Biz: Hanna Andersson sends out about 7 million catalogs a year and operates a call center for phone orders in Tokyo that produces nearly 20% of the annual revenue.

Experience: "I didn't know anything about clothing. Or mail order. Or retail. My husband and I were our first customers."

Beginnings: "I wanted a business that had something to do with Sweden." (Denhart was born and raised there.) "My husband and I considered importing Swedish water and Swedish prefabricated houses, but then my son, Christian, was born and I dressed him in Swedish clothes. People would stop me on the streets and ask, 'Where did you get those clothes?' So in the summer of 1983, I called around to children's clothing manufacturers in Sweden. I found only one who wanted to work for us. Our first catalog went out in 1984."

Why Catalogs and Not a Retail Store: "My husband had an advertising background and was familiar with mail order. Plus, it's a business we could do from anywhere and that was very appealing."

Stiffest Competition: "Gap Kids. They started marketing for kids after we did ... but last year they grossed $1 billion in the kids' division alone."

Making a Pick: "First, we look for clothes that let children be children. Comfort clothes that are engineered for maximum kid mileage, in bright lollipop colors. Second, it has to be easy for parents to care for."

Best Sellers: "The Swedish sweat pants, zippers [one-piece toddler outfits] and long johns."
Toughest Year: "1995. Paper prices went up 40% and postage increased by 14%, and that was the year we had tried to grow. We had already bought all the inventory but when the catalog prices went up, we had no time to react."

In the Trenches: "Every Tuesday from 10 to 12, I take any call that comes in. We advertise it in the catalog. I want to set an example for the employees and hear what the customers have to say. If it weren't for the customer, we wouldn't be around."

Family Time: "I have three sons and, recently, a granddaughter. I have lots of time for my family. They're more important than anything else."

On Women in the Workplace: "There's an underutilized work force of well-qualified women who want to work part time. We've created job opportunities that allow parents to balance work and family life."

Naming the Business:"My first name, Gun, is, of course, not a very good name for a children's clothing catalog. My Swedish grandmother, Hanna Andersson ... is a bit easier for the American ear."