industry insider | Sep 5, 2019 |
Annie Selke reflects on 25 years in the industry

Annie Selke never meant to become a brand. It just sort of happened after her first two endeavors, Pine Cone Hill and Dash & Albert, started to take off. “We had both brands at a home textiles show,” recalls Selke. “My Pine Cone Hill clients were coming to the booth telling me that some other line [Dash & Albert] was ripping me off. And we had to say, ‘Oh, no! That’s ours too.’”

To avoid continued confusion, someone suggested adding the tagline, “An Annie Selke Company,” below each brand’s logo. A few years later, when the internet went mainstream and the company website needed a single URL, the staff voted (though Selke objected) to simplify and unite all the brands under her name. “It was so complicated because it happened piecemeal over 20 years,” she says. “If I were starting again today, I’d make the branding clearer. But I never thought the company would grow the way it did.”

Annie Selke
Annie SelkeCourtesy of Annie Selke

Selke launched Pine Cone Hill 25 years ago this month, when she bought an industrial sewing machine and began making bedding. She’d started her career in fashion before taking a position at a licensing company that handled product development for Giverny, Versailles and the American Folk Art Museum. “You had to come up with products that made sense for the platform. For instance, what does Versailles mean for sheets? What does Giverny mean as flatware? You got to delve into what would be the right fit for each property,” says Selke. “It was something I loved, and still love: finding the right medium. That job solidified my love of home products.”

Initially, Selke focused a lot of her company’s attention on private-label bedding for companies like Neiman Marcus, Eddie Bauer and The Company Store, among others. But after a few years, she decided to turn her attention to wholesale clients and booked booths at trade shows, hoping that the brand could find its footing with a new customer base. Needless to say, it did—Pine Cone Hill still maintains roughly 4,000 wholesale clients. Her loyalty to those customers is what’s kept Selke’s brands off Amazon. “They’ve done an incredible thing and created a tremendous convenience,” says Selke of the mega-retailer. “But if I have retailers who are putting a real effort into promoting a product in their store, I don’t want someone going in, seeing something and then going home to buy it from Amazon instead. It belittles the brand experience.”

After a decade in business, Selke was playing around with some placemat designs when inspiration for a new line struck. “I put them out on the floor and I was like, ‘These would actually be great rugs.’ That’s how Dash & Albert was born.”

Selke's Lismore chair and Gypsy Rose rug.
Annie Selke's Lismore chair and Gypsy Rose rugCourtesy of Annie Selke

The road to a quarter century in business has, naturally, been filled with ups and downs. Selke cites her divorce from her first husband, who owned a portion of the company, as a notable low. “I had to buy him out of the business,” she says. “That was really hard on so many levels. It was a lot of lawyers and a lot of time.” As for the highs, she still gets excited seeing the brand in the pages of a glossy magazine. “Dash & Albert rugs were on the cover of Real Simple four times in a year once. You can’t pay for that kind of exposure,” she says. “That always makes me feel good.”

While the industry has, of course, transformed by leaps and bounds in the last few decades, Selke’s view on technology is refreshingly positive. “I think you adapt and move with the times,” she says. “I think that tech has, weirdly, placed an emphasis back on the home and the comfort it provides. I think people are more interested in creating environments that are nurturing than they were before.”

With 25 years on the books, Selke is still itching to do more and continue to grow her company. “The future is going to be about self-actualizing the brand,” she says. “So if someone asks, ‘What kind of table would you put with that rug?’ we can offer them the solution. We want to answer the needs of our customers and do it well. It’s ultimately about passion and letting it lead you forward.”

Homepage photo: A room at Annie Selke’s Berkshires inn, 33Main. Courtesy of Annie Selke.

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