Stylish collars, leashes feeding growing pet market

'People are spending so much more on their pets.'

“This is good. Did your husband write it?” More

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BUSINESS WOMEN

Stylish collars, leashes feeding growing pet market

'People are spending so much more on their pets.'

PBN FILE PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
PET PROJECT: Up Country founder Alice Nichols with her new puppy, Minnie. She started the company 30 years ago, growing it from a one-woman startup to 30-person firm.
Posted 6/4/12

“This is good. Did your husband write it?”

That was the response Alice Nichols received when she presented her business plan to a consultant for what is now an internationally successful pet-accessory company with products designed and manufactured locally.

The year was 1984 and, Nichols said, things were very different then.

“I was so insulted,” she said. “This was a long time ago and people didn’t take women as seriously. Things have totally changed.”

Much has changed for Nichols in the nearly 30 years since she founded Up Country, which is housed in an East Providence studio with 30 employees.

In that time she’s taken the company from a single-woman startup with a couple of cute products to one that has produced items for well-known retailers such as Crate and Barrel, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus.

“Everybody thought the collars and leashes were really cute but they felt it wasn’t a practical idea. I always felt that [it] was,” Nichols said. “I had no idea, however, how big this would be.”

Getting to the beginning is half of Nichols’ story.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, she moved to Massachusetts to attend Wheaton College in Norton for her undergraduate work and then ventured to Washington, D.C., to attend American University Washington College of Law.

That ended up a brief venture.

Nichols had by then met her future husband, Jack, and with him in New York City, something to had to give.

“It was love. We decided we wanted to get married,” she said, adding they then moved to Boston. “When he got out of [Harvard Business School], I said, ‘Wherever we go next, we’re staying.’ ”

The family – they have two sons – settled on Providence. Nichols went back to school at Brown University and earned a master’s degree in modern British and American history.

She started work on her doctorate – which she still hopes to complete – but found the demands of motherhood fit better with teaching.

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