list/jb/mike1st/mark2nd

JOE BEL BRUNO Staff Reporter

Most of the larger women-owned businesses in the Los Angeles area have at least one thing in common: revenue growth.

Of the 100 largest L.A.-area companies owned by women, only 17 reported lower revenues in 1996 than the year before.

As a group, the 100 companies generated $1.8 billion in revenues last year a $300 million increase from 1995.

The figures provide further evidence of the growing clout of women-owned companies in the Los Angeles economy of the 1990s, said Karen Caplan, L.A. chapter president of the National Association of Women Business Owners.

"There are a lot of savvy women business owners out there that are bringing fresh ideas to the marketplace," she said. "They own diverse businesses in what is probably one of the most diverse cities in the nation, when it comes to the kinds of businesses out there."

One of L.A.'s fastest growing women-owned businesses is James R. Gary & Co. Ltd.

The Woodland Hills-based real estate brokerage posted $260 million in revenues last year, up almost $100 million from 1995. The increase comes as the San Fernando Valley's real estate market rebounds from losses suffered during the Northridge earthquake in 1994.

Linda Gary, the firm's president, said she expects women-owned businesses to grow dramatically over the next decade. Many of these firms are fairly new, she said, and have yet to fully grow.

"Women don't have that long of a history," she said. "This company was started 20 years ago, and we've had that time to develop, grow and become known in the community."

The company was started by Gary's husband in 1978. He died of a heart attack in 1992, and she became president the next year.

Another strong showing on this year's List is the Don Kott Auto Center. The Carson-based auto dealership came in at No. 2, despite its revenues dipping from $165.6 million in 1995 to $156.8 million last year.

Company President Margaret Kott, who says she expects revenues to jump back up again in 1997, noted that gender plays no role in determining business success even in the auto industry.

"You'd think this is an industry heavily dominated by men," she said. "But that's a stereotype that we and others have broken. There is tough competition out there, and customers care more about service than who runs the company."

The company was founded by Don Kott in 1978, but he has given 51 percent control to his wife, and is now pursuing other businesses, she said.

(To qualify for the List, a woman must own an equity stake of at least 50 percent.)

Finishing in third place on this year's List is AmericanTours International Inc., posting $150 million in 1996 revenues, down from $160 million the year before.

The company is one of four travel-related businesses listed in the top 10. Last year, there were three travel agencies making the List's top 10.

Marie S. Bluebond, who co-owns APA Travel Center Inc. with founder Karen Canter, said travel agencies historically have attracted female workers. However, as more women entered the workforce, many of them opened up their own agencies.

"Many get into this business to fulfill personal desires," said Bluebond. "But as the business progressed and the industry became more professional, women sharpened their skills and took the bull by the horns."

She also said that many women tend to go into service-oriented industries, like advertising, public relations and temporary employment services. Indeed, the List included 10 advertising/ public relations agencies and six personnel service companies.

"If you went into the corporate world 20 years ago, you would find that most women tended to get encouraged to work in certain areas like marketing, public relations and personnel," said Caplan."It's logical to me that when women leave the corporate world to start their own businesses, that they go into the areas they know best."

Though most of the companies on this year's List maintained their positions from last year, there were a few jumps.

Among them: Calabasas-based BreatheAsure Inc., which rose to the 12th spot from 24th last year. The 4-year-old company nearly doubled its revenues in 1996.

"It was a fresh idea, and we've just been expanding and expanding," said a spokeswoman for the company. "Our advertising campaign has really kicked in, and we're getting more attention in markets that we haven't had as big of a presence in."

The company markets and distributes breath-freshner products. This year, BreathAsure is even marketing a product that can be used to freshen the breath of pets.

Another fact driven home by women-owned businesses is that you don't need a lot of employees to generate substantial revenues.

One example is Ad-Sert Group Inc., a Los Angeles-based media consulting firm that specializes in niche advertising in women's magazines. The firm also produces infomercials for beauty and health products.

In 1996, with only seven employees, the company posted $9 million in revenues, up from $8.5 million the previous year. Ad-Sert was founded in 1986 by Elaine Trebek Kares.

"We felt there was a niche in the (advertising) industry, and filled it," she said. "I think you'll find a lot of women-owned businesses coming in with new and very creative ideas like this."

Daniel Taub contributed to this story.

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