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JBH International’s Buttons - Take Your Pick

July 24, 1985

DENVER (AP) _ Jean Howard Barr’s search for excellence often finds her 30,000 feet in the air, flying between her Denver office and one of the 86 factories around the world where her products are made.

″I always work while on a plane, and sometimes people ask me what I do,″ she says. ″When I say, ‘Buttons,’ it’s a real dead-ender for conversations.

″People go, ‘Oh.’ Men start fingering the buttons on their shirts.″

When people see the buttons of JHB International, though, it’s another story.

″People say our buttons make them want to sew,″ Mrs. Barr beamed on a recent tour of her 28,000-square-foot headquarters.

Her wares line the walls of a showroom and there is clearly more to her 3,000-plus designs than just closing a collar.

All sorts of materials. Wood, leather, horn, shell, glass, metal, nylon, plastics. All sorts of designs. Painted, printed, stamped, pressed, faceted. Prices range from less than a quarter to more than $6 each.

You want cute? All around is cute, from pandas and gingerbread men to sailboats and sheep.

JHB has the exclusive license for Beatrix Potter buttons and most of the world’s licenses for the ″Peanuts″ collection, so Peter Rabbit and Snoopy are here, too.

Tiny three-dimensional rosebuds. Ice cream cones. Rainbows. Fish, drums, and skates. Hippos, penguins, and cats. Footballs, alligators, and trains. Everything from A to Z, including the ABC’s and 1, 2, 3.

Plus lots of hearts. ″We have 105 different hearts,″ Mrs. Barr boasts with a grin.

It has been nearly 20 years since JHB International began. Before, she was a sales representative for her brother’s Massachusetts-based company, marketing coffee mugs and other gift items.

Before leaving on a trip to Europe friends asked her to find them some buttons that would work with hand-knit ski sweaters.

″In between other things, I looked for those buttons in Spain, in Italy, in Portugal,″ she recalls. ″I was in Vienna, about to come back, when I walked in a department store and saw the right ones.″

JHB still imports the heart-shaped embossed metal buttons Mrs. Barr found that day in Austria.

In the early days, Mrs. Barr worked out of her basement. Her children were young and the early helpers were mothers with young children, too.

″We had a ping-pong table down there and I used to take the buttons and bundle them up on the table,″ she recalls. ″Then I’d have to move the buttons when the children wanted to play. Then I’d move everything back.″

The company has come a long way since then. There are now about 125 employees. The floors at the company headquarters are light, cheerful Italian tile. Custom-made furniture from Hong Kong graces Mrs. Barr’s office.

Her delight in the miniature beauty of buttons extends to collecting. On the walls are scarce glass specimens edged in gold and glowing examples of Japanese satsuma inlay. A group of British military buttons is tucked away.

″You should always take the mother of pearl buttons off old clothes before you throw them away,″ she advises. ″They aren’t diving as much and it’s getting harder to find.″

On a recent morning, JHB receives a rush order from a crafts company moving full speed toward Christmas. JHB holiday buttons - featuring jingle bells, reindeer, wreaths, and toy drums - need to be shipped as soon as possible.

In other rooms, workers hunker down over tables to attach the buttons to tiny cards. The order calls for 45,000 cards worth of holiday cheer. Supervisors join assembly-line employees to get the job done.

It is that all-hands-together spirit that has helped JHB grow to have what Mrs. Barr calls ″the most extensive collection available in the world market.″

JHB has remained privately held and Mrs. Barr says she is flattered, but uninterested, by acquisition offers.

″I don’t want to sell,″ she says. ″I love doing what I want to do, when I want. Look at today. That’s a good example. You can take an idea, get it through the company and out the door.

″As a company gets bigger, you have to learn to delegate things, but I just love being involved on a day like this.″

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