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  • Cecile Corral

Echo Design at 85

The Echo Design Group in 1928 had five young years under its belt as an upscale women's scarf company when the founding couple, Theresa and Edgar Hyman, brought on a third partner: their newborn daughter Dorothy.

Officially, "Dot" Roberts — as she is commonly and affectionately known — has spent the past 58 years of her career with Echo Design, based here since its beginning.

"But really, I've been here much longer because I worked on vacations and weekends," said Roberts, chairman of the company. In fact, she was only seven years old when she made her first buying trip, traveling by ship with her parents to Europe.

Echo has earned an abiding position in retail for its women's accessories — scarves, pashminas, gloves, outerwear, beach accessories — and, more recently, home décor items.

Home textiles and accessories became an important and steadily growing facet of Echo's assortment about 15 years ago.

"We were thinking about ways to expand and diversify our product base, so we looked at what our core strengths were and discovered it was print-pattern and color-texture," explained Meg Roberts, design director for Echo Home. "That is how we decided to expand — rather than add more accessories — into the home."

Meg is credited with launching the Echo Home department. Wallpaper was the first product line under the Home umbrella, debuting in 1992.

Today's Echo Home lineup includes full bath coordinate programs — bath towels, bath rugs, accessories and shower curtains — with licensee Creative Bath Products; fabrics and trims with Kravet; kitchen textiles and table linens with Elrene Home Fashions; and other suppliers for paper goods and stationery.

The company is looking to soon expand into beach towels to complement the beach collection of accessories it launched three years ago. After years of business in sheets and top of bed with Revman International, Echo is now also actively looking for a partner to create new, comprehensive bedding programs. Area and accent rugs, decorative pillows and throws/blankets are currently targeted as other category expansion opportunities.

Today, Echo branded home products represent from 15% to 20% of the company's total sales at retail.

And, Meg added of Echo Home, "It does remarkably well on our website."

Long before the innovation of the internet, Dot Roberts said she learned "the golden rule" of running a business successfully: "Treat everyone as you would want yourself to be treated," she said. "We have developed wonderful relationships in our business over the years." Her company has diligently minded that creed for more than eight decades. Echo Design Group — three-generation family owned and operated — this year commemorates its 85th anniversary.

Roberts, whose parents are now passed, will celebrate her 80th birthday this December. Still she maintains her central role in day-to-day operations, along with her daughter Lynn, son Steven, and daughter-in-law Meg, who joined the company before she married Steven 25 years ago.

Further supporting the Echo Home business, Meg and Steven Roberts recently collaborated on a book that demonstrates how color is central to design. Titled "Color At Home: Creating Style with Paint," this 208-page hardcover book features photography of home interiors and exteriors, divided into color-themed chapters.

While the current economic climate is challenging, especially for the home furnishings sector, Echo sees its home business as "a very viable and strategic component on building our brand. We have a strong voice on aesthetics and we bridge what we perceive to be a generational shift in design and how consumers see products," said Steven. "My mother is an amazing mentor to all of us," he noted. "She has helped set the tone for the company and it's a very people-oriented company."

"She is truly amazing as far as a business woman — intelligent, personable," piped in Diane Baker, director of licensing.

"She's flexible, open-minded," continued Meg with a smile.

"And let's not forget she is stylish and elegant," Steven concluded.

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