2002 – Fort Myers, Florida
Helene Gralnick and her husband, Marvin, are the co-founders of Chico’s, a very successful women’s clothing store. Marvin is the CEO, President and Chairman of Chico’s while Helene serves as Senior Vice President, Design & Concept. Helene was born in Miami, Florida. As a high school student, she filled her time with sailing, swimming and other outdoor activities and was active in local charities. Helene attended the University of Georgia, and graduated from the University of Miami. When Helene and Marvin met in Guadalajara, Marvin was designing and fabricating his own leather jackets and accessories. The pair hit upon the idea that the beautiful local folk art and Marvin’s unique designs might find a market in the U.S. They decided to take a chance and started making trips up north in a used van to sell their finds to stores in America. In 1983 their first store opened on Sanibel Island, Florida. They soon realized that the most popular items in the store were the comfortable, imported cotton sweaters. As a result, they switched their focus from folk art to clothing. That focus soon evolved into Chico’s distinctive, private-label designs. Ten years and many stores later, Helene and Marvin decided that it was time to take a break and enjoy their success. Just as they had begun to settle into retirement, sales at Chico’s began to lag. Rather than let a company they had built from the ground up decline, they decided to return in 1994. In the years since the Gralnick’s return, Chico’s has grown exponentially. With sales for the year 2001 at $378 million, the business has grown an impressive 45% in the past year alone. In the Forbes’ list of 200 Best Small Companies, Chico’s was #1 in 2001 and 2002. Chico’s has also expanded into cyberspace, selling their private label designs on their web site, chicos.com. When asked about the formula for her success, Helene simply replies that she loves what she does. She has been able to combine her passion for life, art and design with her work at Chico’s.