BTS: Yankee Ingenuity With a Nod to Merry England
Robin Kershner, owner of Huxley & Kent, knows pet boutiques.
This plush shark is part of Huxley & Kent’s Lulubelles Pow-er Plush line of dog toys designed by Robin Kershner and offered through Pet Palette.
In 1996, with pet boutiques still in their infancy, Robin Kershner founded Fox & Hounds on the strength of a line of hair-on-calf-leather dog collars and leads—the likes of which the pet industry had never seen.
Kershner’s products couldn’t be found anywhere else and appealed to a boutique clientele known for pampering their pets.
“The boutique craze was just blossoming in the mid-’90s when I opened my company; at that time there were a handful of people who could service this new market segment in New York, San Francisco and London,” Kershner said. “The whole cult of mid- to high-level boutiques was mushrooming.”
When she started Huxley & Kent in 2013, Kershner already had a built-in edge as executive vice president of Pet Palette, a Sykesville, Md., distributor of pet products, many of which appeal to independent pet store owners.
“It’s exciting to see a creative newcomer that hits all the right marks. That’s exactly how we view Huxley & Kent,” said Laura Clark, founder of Wylie Wagg, with stores in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia. “The high-quality, innovative and widely appealing products are a perfect fit for independent retailers.”
Pet Product News: How did Huxley & Kent get its name?
Robin Kershner: My mother had a relative in England whose name was Peter Huxley Kent, and when he passed away part of his estate was to go to my mother. Instead, it came down to the four kids in our family. We had never met Mr. Kent before—he is a distant relative—yet I got an inheritance check from him. It was at this time that I was opening up my company, and I had this check sitting on my desk and said, “I’m going to pay homage to him by naming the company Huxley & Kent.”
That was the seed money for the business. I’m very proud of my British heritage, and many of the things I do could be perceived to have a British flair, like the shield in my logo.
PPN: Describe Huxley & Kent’s products.
RK: I started with a line of webbing collars, which then morphed into another line of collars that I used to do at Fox & Hounds that was very successful. Then I pulled in toys.
Lulubelles is a line of plush toys named after my Dalmatian that I lost. Under Lulubelles are several types of plush toys. One is lined with mesh, which I call Pow-er Plush.
A lot of vendors are doing animals or cartoon animals. What I’m doing is taking a hamburger, a hot dog, a turkey, a margarita, a watermelon, a beach ball, a high-heel shoe and a cupcake; turning those into fun, colorful plush toys; and putting an inner liner of mesh in there to actually make them more rugged and durable than your standard plush toy. The Pow-er Plush really is where I am spending a lot of my time developing. You can bring endless toys into this line because I’m taking everyday objects and making them into plush toys.
This year has been an extreme year of growth. It’s my first year with a jacket line—15 jackets and 15 sweaters are launching on Oct.1 along with seven new Pow-er Plush items.
For Christmas last year, I had these great sock monkey toys dressed as an elf, a reindeer or a Santa; this year I added a snowman, and I did a baby version of each one. So I’m adding five new products in the holiday toy line. I’ve brought in another scrunchie to the holiday line, and I’ve also added bow ties and neckties for Christmas. I intend to keep expanding primarily the Pow-er Plush line next year in addition to small neckwear. In the fall of 2016 you’ll see another round of fall apparel.
PPN: Who are Huxley & Kent customers?
RK: Primarily mid- to upscale pet boutiques looking for upscale products not found in big-box stores. I focus on giving them a unique collection of products—mesh harnesses, a variety of toys, accessories and apparel (jackets, sweaters, a new fleece pullover jacket). I also have holiday neckwear accessories like Santa bandanas and scrunchies, Hanukkah collars and bow ties, and long ties.
PPN: How are Huxley & Kent products sold?
RK: We sell exclusively through Pet Palette, which is a nationally based distributor. It also primarily markets to boutiques, so it’s a good relationship from that standpoint. Pet Palette has 14 reps, so if retailers are interested in seeing the product in person they more than likely will have a rep in their area. On-the-road reps are becoming rare; seeing a product outside of a trade show is getting harder and harder.
As an executive with Pet Palette, I automatically had a customer base that I could present the products to, and Pet Palette is interested in having exclusive arrangements with certain companies that provide products they would not find in other stores. Both Huxley & Kent and Pet Palette are very committed to providing the independent retailer with brands that won’t be found everywhere.
PPN: What is the Huxley & Kent Rescue Fund?
RK: I take the names of the retailers that bought my products each month, I pick one at random and I make a contribution on their behalf to their local charity (typically, an animal-related charity). Each month we donate to at least one charity. I started with a $250 donation, and months where I feel I can do more, I do two, three or four. I am happy to make donations to all of these extraordinary groups that rescue, foster and adopt out dogs, and it’s great to have the retailer help me determine who deserves the donation.
PPN: How many employees does Huxley & Kent have?
RK: Just me. I outsource my warehouse fulfillment from Pet Palette. Huxley & Kent product is shipped directly there already.
PPN: Any expansion plans?
RK: I will be traveling to Europe to go over to Interzoo to start looking for a European distribution base, and I’ll be looking for Canadian and European distributors at SuperZoo and Global Pet Expo as well.
This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of Pet Product News.