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From the ashes Featured

7:23am EDT June 30, 2003
You just can't keep Jerry Henn down.

When Henn, founder and president of Henn, a mail order retailer of handmade collectibles, launched his company, he had just closed his van conversion shop due to the early 1980s economic recession.

So Henn, a fifth generation entrepreneur, returned to his roots, selling the same type of handmade baskets, pottery, candles and Shaker woodenware that his family had sold generations before him.

"Country decorating was really taking off at that time," Henn says. "Back then, in 1982, there were no country decorating magazines, there were no mail order houses, there were no antique stores selling reproductions on every corner."

Warren-based Henn launched with four independent sales consultants and a handful of products, and in its first years expanded faster than Henn had anticipated. The independent craftspeople who handmade the woodenware and baskets couldn't keep up with the demand, so Henn started manufacturing the products in-house.

That decision helped stabilize the product supply, but posed its own set of problems. In 1996, Henn's basket manufacturing plant burned to the ground, and a year later, as he was negotiating to buy the facility that produced his pottery, that plant burned as well.

"Here we are, 50 percent of our product line is now pottery -- we have no suppliers," Henn says. "I was wondering if we were going to pull out of it. We were in a dive. But we finally did, and it started taking off again.

"Now we're in a growth spurt, and we just had a record sales month for the month of February," he says.

Today, Henn has more than 2,400 consultants nationwide and 500 products. He owes much of that success to using a direct sales structure for the company.

"Direct selling tends to be an anticyclical business," Henn says. "When times are bad people, tend to flock to home-based business opportunities.

"Direct Selling Association says most companies don't make it 20 years without a major plan change. We're still using our same plan today." How to reach: Henn, (330) 824-2575 or www.hennworkshops.com