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Dog Lovers Have Their Day

Robin Kershner loves going to work every morning. Her boss doesn’t mind that she brings her Dalmatians, Zach and Lucy, to work with her.

As the president of Fox & Hounds Ltd., Kershner is her own boss. She designs and sells a line of upscale dog collars, leashes, beds, scrunchies and cat collars. She’s riding a tide that she hope won’t crest any time soon. The latest demographics show that more and more households have at least one and often several pets. Young professionals are willing to spend more and more money to make their pets comfortable and glamorous.

Given the fact that Kershner started her company on somewhat of a whim, she is still somewhat amazed at her success. She came up with the idea of developing collars because she couldn’t find any stylish collars for her Dalmatian. She started developing prototypes and came up with a business plan for Fox & Hounds Ltd. Her company officially opened in July 1996.

When Kershner first started her company, she was selling out of her attic in Syracuse, N.Y. She moved to Alexandria in 1998 and continued working out of her house. She moved into a space on Eisenhower Avenue two years ago and is moving to a larger space next month because she has already grown out of the original office.

DOG LOVERS WHO haven’t discovered Kershner’s products yet are missing out on her many whimsical, creative, colorful designs.

“I have 250 different designs,” said Kershner, as she showed off her products in her distribution center on Eisenhower Avenue. “We keep trying new things.”

Some products and designs sell better than others, but to date she’s had no real lemons. Her products are well-thought-out and strategically placed. Take the Crown Jewel collection, for example, which sells well here and in New York. These collars have embedded Swarovski crystals in the shape of bones, hearts and bones, hearts and solitaire. They retail for as much as $100, obviously appealing to a more upscale clientele. Add the matching leash and a crystal, sapphire, emerald or pearl bone pet tiara, and the bill can total over $200.

Not to fear, Kershner has plenty of lines that are much less expensive. There are several collars within the Town & Country collection that retail for less than $20. These colorful collars come in animal prints, leather flowers, ribbons, denim and preppy stripes. The animal prints are actually stenciled cowhide made to look like exotic animal. Kershner said that she started off with four designs but has expanded now to 10, including red and tan zebra, cheetah, leopard and Dalmatian.

There’s also the Gracie Collection, the Glitter Collection, the Hunt Club Collection and the South Beach Collection. She even has a George Bush collar (red leather with stars) and a Laura Bush collar (black leather with hearts). Seasonal scrunchies come in everything from daisies to hearts to butterflies to snowmen. There’s also one called “Sex in the City.”

Marco Molloy, retail manager for Olde Towne School for Dogs, said that her establishment carries a sampling of everything from Fox & Hounds. “Robin’s very innovative. She makes an effort to come out with something new every year,” said Molloy. “I really like her stuff.” He said that the top-end products do extremely well and said, “It’s amazing how spoiled some of these dogs are.” He also commented that Fox & Hounds has leathers in colors and styles that you don’t really find from other vendors — teal, red, pink and studded.

KAREN IALONGO recently discovered the Fox & Hounds’ collars for her schnauzers, Charlie and Sam. She purchased a red leather collar with matching leash at Olde Towne School for Dogs, where she is a customer.

“It’s so hard to choose because there’s so many styles to select from,” said Ialongo. “They’re very well-made and great quality.”

Christi Ehrett is the co-owner of Evening Star Cafe and has known Robin Kershner since she moved to Del Ray. Ehrett said that she’s has several of Kershner’s products for her white boxer, Rosie, and her pug, Petunia. “They are good-looking but are also very durable. I used to go through two collars a year, but these hold up so much better,” said Ehrett. “The collars are full of character, and you can find one to fit the personality of your dog.”

Alice Manor said that she has collars “for every occasion” for her two shih tzus, Petie and Lucy. For Christmas, there’s the plaid scrunchie with wings and for the summer, a nice plaid with daisies.

Manor’s son, Jody, who owns Bittersweet Catering, grew up with Kershner, and they both attended J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, Va. They have remained close friends, and Alice has several Fox & Hounds’ collars and leashes.

“They’re unique. People stop me on the street and ask me where I got them,” said Manor. “Robin’s very together.”

Actually, Kershner’s whole family has its act together. Her father, is partner of Kershner, Wright & Hagaman, an engineering design firm. One of her sisters own Ship’s Hatch, a gift store in Crystal City, while the other owns Woodburners Two, a fireplace store in Arlington. In Churchton, Maryland, her brother runs Beaux-Artes, a home decor store.

Kershner said that family get-togethers are interesting and they don’t have typical conversations. Instead, they’re talking about ratios and where to find a good PR person. Kershner said it’s a great support having her family in the business as well. Although she questioned at first how Kershner could give up a well-paying job to sell dog collars, her mother especially gives her moral support.

Kershner believes in giving back to the community and has donated countless products to the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. When the League had a fund-raiser to educate people about the effects of domestic abuse on dogs, Fox & Hounds donated the purple collars that were placed on the dogs up for adoption.

After 9-11, Kershner said that she was down in the dumps thinking that “nobody would want to buy dog collars.” The company decided to send stars-and-stripes collars to the rescue dogs working at the 9-11 site. “It made us feel better. Everybody wanted to do something.” It also made them feel better when their sales didn’t lag but kept booming.

With sales reaching over a million dollars this year, Kershner said that the possibilities are endless. “It never ceases to amaze me the amount of interest in the retail market,” she said. Fox & Hound products are currently sold in over 300 retail markets around the world, including Harrods, which Kershner said was one of her first accounts.

Fox & Hounds Ltd. products can be found at Olde Towne School for Dogs, 529 Oronoco St. and ProFeed in the Bradlee Shopping Center. For more information, call 703-461-6001 or visit the Web site at www.foxandhounds.com.