Pine Cone Moves Into Retail

Carole Sloan, June 6, 2005

Lenox, Mass. — Moving from a role as a designer of rugs, fabrics and home textiles and tabletop products, Pine Cone Hill founder Annie Selke and her husband Whitney have now become retailers in a big way.

Last month, the couple opened a Pine Cone Hill store in this quiet Berkshires community to showcase all the products she designs, with product supplements from the few home merchandise categories they are not yet involved in — furniture case goods and home accessories.

“The store was planned as an ever-evolving test laboratory to show how to put things together as our customers would in their home,” she related.

The new home store occupies the same 7,000-square-foot space in a local shopping center as the outlet did, which has

been moved to another store in the center.

Selke comes to the home furnishings design world via a varied background: formal training in fine arts; an apprenticeship in various elements of the home business on the Saks Fifth Avenue training program; and in licensing, retailing and private label home textiles design for companies like L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer and Garnet Hill.

Selke’s signature is color, lots of color, and brash color, rather than a specific design theme. “How many places would you find a sofa in lavender or a leather chair in lime green?” she asked. Current color favorites are turquoise, lavender and orange.

The core business for Pine Cone Hill is home textiles, which began in 1994, followed by Dash & Albert in rugs in 2003 and Pot Luck Studios — a 15-year-old tabletop company the couple bought in 2001.

In October ’04, Lee Industries signed on as the licensee for upholstered furniture, and Corsican became a licensee for metal beds, “because I always needed something different, and they are making beds in 10 colors for me.”

Pine Cone Hill produces its own home textiles, rugs and fabrics offshore, with Whitney Selke in charge of sourcing. The company has a staff of 35 in India for the fabric business, which is centered there, as well as some home textiles and rugs. Rugs also are produced in China.

“The rug business evolved from placemats I designed but didn’t work,” she said. Selke then translated the same constructions into rugs. Bedding is sourced in 10 countries including China, Israel, Portugal, Brazil, Italy, Vietnam and Austria.

With a wholesale account roster of 2,500 plus, the company works with 35 to 40 retail partners in developing shop-in-shop concepts, including the one opened last year at Lillian August, South Norwalk, Conn.

With the store here opened barely a month, Selke sees customer service as being one of the key challenges now that the merchandise mix has been dramatically expanded.

“But what we’ve found early on is the Berkshires are starving for this kind of store.” Interestingly, the company’s strongest consumer market is in North Carolina. “And we sell very well in California — they love color,” Selke said.

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