Posted: May 6, 2014, 11:30 a.m. EDT
By Clay Jackson
Alice Nichols, founder of Up Country, which designs, makes and sells pet accessories, including collars, leashes, harnesses, toys and pet beds, could quietly mark her 30 years in business by resting on her laurels.
But that doesn’t seem to be her style.
In fact, Nichols is using 2014 to launch:
• Up Country’s first-ever line of dog treats: chicken crisps, a liver-and-vegetable treat and two new cookie recipes (Up Country has sold cookies in the past); and
• A new apparel line for dogs that includes a raincoat (available now), a sport puffer coat, a diamond-quilted coat, a fleece-lined coat and hand-knit sweaters.
The pieces are designed in Rhode Island and manufactured and imported from China.
You don’t go from a one-woman in-home business to a pet accessory line in more than 6,000 pet retailers worldwide by doing things quietly.
The Nantucket Slicker, a rain coat for dogs, is part of Up Country’s 30th anniversary dog apparel line. Up Country
"We wanted to come up with something different and important for our 30th,” said Donna Bodell, Up Country’s director of marketing.
A lot’s happened in 30 years
In 1984, the year Nichols started hand-sewing dog collars out of her home in East Providence, R.I., the notion of paying more for a fashion-forward pet collar as opposed to a plain nylon or leather number was a bit out there for most pet owners.
"Our first few years at Up Country were challenging,” Nichols said.
"We were producing beautiful, very stylish, made-in-the-USA products, but we were just a bit ahead of our time,” she said.
Up Country predates the pets-as-family movement, and pet boutiques, if there were any, were few and far between.
"Back in 1984, it was essentially ‘just the basics’ when it came to pet collars, leashes and the like,” Nichols said.
"Fortunately, we weren’t too far ahead of the trends, and soon, we had a thriving business,” she said.
After her collar-making business outgrew her home, Nichols relied on a belt factory to meet the increasing demand for her collars, says Bodell.
In 1988, Nichols brought manufacturing in-house (rather than in a house) and moved Up Country to a factory in East Providence, R.I., where it has been ever since.
Now in its 30th year, here’s Up Country by the numbers:
• 6,177 retail customers worldwide;
• 30 employees;
• More than 15 million products of all types sold in the last 30 years;
• More than 120 copyrighted collar designs; and
• Retail customers throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe and in Australia, Malaysia, Japan and South America.
Local Design Connection
Coming up with dozens of new designs every year might seem daunting, but Up Country’s relationship with the students and faculty of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence surely helps.
Bodell is a graduate of the school herself and has been with Nichols and Up Country going on 23 years.
"I design all the collars and come up with about 20 new designs a year,” she said.
Alice Nichols, Up Country founder, poses with some of her employees who hand-sew thousands of designer pet accessories every year from the company’s factory in Rhode Island. Up Country
In addition, one of the unique features of Up Country’s collars is its Henley Clip, which Up Country commissioned from Khipra Nichols, an industrial design professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, to design.
"Many of our customers buy holiday collars, or something new, and they like to change tags from collar to collar, so we asked him [professor Nichols] to make this for us,” Bodell explained.
The Henley Clip has a latch that easily detaches from a collar when a button is depressed and a second latch can be opened similarly to add or remove up to three dog tags.
The company has been selling the $10 clips, which it owns the patent for, for about five years now.
Lastly, Up Country freshens up the look of its dog beds by carrying the latest bolts of fabrics, which Up Country incorporates into new-look dog beds every year, says Bodell.
In addition to the new products and categories, Up Country is embarking on its Be Up. Be Up Country. campaign to commemorate its 30-year journey.
"Up Country is a state of mind,” Nichols stated.
And the Be Up. Be Up Country. campaign encompasses lots of emotional elements as it tells the story of the relationships between pets and their owners, including "Be Minnie,” starring Up Country’s own Minnie, Nichols’ rescue dog.
The campaign will tell Minnie and Nichols’ story along with others through photos in the company catalog, a special YouTube channel and a video on Up Country’s website, featuring the its made-in-America collection.
"Since 1984, Up Country has been such an enjoyable and fulfilling part of my life,” Nichols said. "I am very proud to have built a successful business, and I am equally proud of Up Country’s work with the Rhode Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in providing free leashes and collars to all dogs adopted at their facility.”
The new dog treats became available on Up Country’s website this week, while orders for the new apparel pieces are scheduled to be ready for shipping by the time SuperZoo rolls around in July.
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