Gun Denhart and Hanna Andersson
Gun Denhart started Hanna Andersson with her husband in 1983 at the age of 38 in the garage of her home. If you are a parent or grandparent who has been to the Polar Express or some other event requiring matching pajamas, you’re probably familiar with the brand. What started as an exclusively mail-order catalog retailer expanded to many brick-and-mortar stores all over the U.S.
I was delighted to interview Gun, originally from Sweden, now focusing on many philanthropic causes. She is able to do this because of bootstrapping Hanna Andersson, then selling it in 2001 for $175 million. Quite impressive! You will enjoy hearing about the “Hanna Downs” and also how she enjoys spending time with younger women, encouraging them to not give up and to keep enough cash in the business. She has a keen mind for business and a huge heart for giving. Here, we will focus on three takeaways that will apply to both your business and life!
One: Never Give Up
This is a principle that comes up again and again. You will hear how important this is from many leaders, entertainers and entrepreneurs with overnight success happening after 10 years! One reason people give up is they are overwhelmed and stressed, thus feeling stuck. This is verified by a study which states that 83% of U.S. workers suffer from work-related stress.* (see: Preventing Burnout)
Gun was told she was too old when starting Hanna Andersson. She was 38. She was also fearful that working side by side with her husband would ruin her marriage. (see: Working Side by Side) Neither one of those fears held her back. Many are grateful she did start the business as they continue to enjoy the products she created. However, in working with her husband, I’m assuming that healthy fear created a pro-active approach to communication and focus where they both ended up using their individual strengths that complimented each other as well as the business. Gun worked mostly in the business details and her husband, marketing.
Gun takes daily hikes in the woods and keeps up with an exercise routine. Exercise and physical activity are wonderful stress-relievers, especially when feeling like giving up. Take small breaks and get away from what you’re working on. You may not be in a place where you can walk in the woods or see the ocean but find a place where you can mentally and physically break the stress pattern. I’m a big believer in the power of adding music and that’s one of the reasons I started the Learn Music Again membership. Find something that will work for you.
Two: Keep Enough Cash
When Gun and her husband started Hanna Andersson, they sold their home and put half their earnings into the business. They had no outside investors and started to look for vendors in Sweden, as they wanted the simplicity of the Swedish design. After a number of calls, Gun found a single vendor who would work with them. That vendor would end up staying with them throughout the years they owned the business.
Gun’s background in financial management helped in establishing a strong financial plan, but that doesn’t always guarantee financial stability. Since there are so many unknowns, especially in today’s economic climate, rework your budget a number of times if needed. Even though Gun and her husband watched the cash, they did not compromise on quality. At first, they looked what their vendor was already making and sold that.
As they grew, they began expanding with a local designer in Portland who helped them gradually change the designs. They also committed to using organic cotton even though it was expensive. Quality of product is an important point here. The quality of your work will end up standing out. That doesn’t guarantee success, but it will increase your chances, especially in gaining repeat customers.
Three: Verbalize and Give
Giving was always central to the soul of Hanna Andersson. When Gun saw that 25% of the children’s population were living below poverty level, they instigated a program that if a family didn’t have anyone to pass their used hannas down to, they could send an item back for 20% credit. Gun and her team then donated the second-hand hannas to a home for abused mothers and to the kids who needed them. This became the soul of the company—giving back, and over the years they gave away a couple million pieces of clothing.
The giving didn’t stop there. Gun saw that many women-owned businesses had a hard time obtaining credit or venture capital. In fact, this statistic was at 3-4%. She started supporting organizations like Ninety-nine Girlfriends, which gathered a group of 99 friends to each put up $1,100, totaling $100,000 to give to a cause of their choice. As of 2019, their award impact reached half a million dollars which supports both the women and the community.
Gun also is on the board of Ecotrust which supports many issues pertaining people, planet and profit. She has a lifelong learning mindset, especially about our nation’s history as she was 30 years old when moving to the U.S. She is excited about the chance to use the crises we are in to make some big changes. As crisis brings opportunity, that is entirely possible! (see: Take Opportunity) This should inspire all of us to realize it’s never too late to make a difference. Don’t hold back because of age, nationality or skill. Be committed to learning, moving forward with quality and prudence and most of all, never quit!
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