BUXTON AT 100: BUILDING ON HISTORY
Byline: Karen Parr
NEW YORK — Buxton, a personal leather goods company that concocted useful products in response to historic trends, is eyeing the next century with hope as it celebrates its 100th anniversary.
The $50 million firm, 60 percent of its products aimed at women, plans to propel growth by gaining market share and buying other firms. Buxton tried to buy AR Accessories Group in May, but found the price too steep.
Buxton, based in Chicopee, Mass., was the eighth-most-recognized accessories brand in last year’s Fairchild 100 consumer survey and continues to rely on a heritage of developing products based on social changes.
For example, after the Depression hit American households in the Thirties, women took off to work in record numbers. Buxton responded by offering its first product for women — brightly colored, two-toned Lady Buxton billfolds.
“We’re a functional product that needs to meet the needs of the consumers,” said chief executive officer Russ Whiteford, who came to the firm in 1991. “We watch the trends of the consumers very closely.”
When French fashion took off in the U.S. following Christian Dior’s 1948 “New Look,” Buxton created the “French purse.” This small, metal-framed wallet was not just la folie du jour — it became a bestseller and sold well throughout the decade.
For many years, the ownership of the firm — founded in 1898 by husband-and-wife team Dana and Julia Buxton of Springfield, Mass. — was kept in the family. Then in 1972, with no family members in the management wings, the firm was sold to Gillette Inc. by Julia Buxton, the 89-year-old treasurer and chairman.
The firm was acquired in 1977 by Beatrice Co., which sold Buxton the rights to “DOPP” — a name used to describe World War II travel kits used by the U.S. servicemen and women. It introduced DOPP, a unisex line Whiteford considers part of Buxton’s current brand-building strategy.
The firm is now making the most of its 100-year anniversary. It has put together a slide program of its history, Whiteford said, which it has shown to various partners, from its sales force to its leather suppliers and manufacturers in Hong Kong and its manufacturers in India.
Whiteford said the slide presentation illustrates what the firm’s “mission is today.” In October, Buxton plans a cocktail party and slide presentation in Springfield.
Whiteford mapped out Buxton’s strengths going into its second century. The firm works with a factory in China that manufactures exclusively for Buxton in the U.S. Whiteford considers this the company’s competitive edge.
The firm completed a management buyout in April, which was done in part to restructure the company and provide capital to strengthen the Buxton brand and buy new companies that would be good vehicles for the Buxton and DOPP names.
Continuing to change its product line to fit the times, Buxton has focused on business-oriented leather goods that work more in the information age, but these have been largely targeted at men. In 1999, it will introduce more business and travel accessories for women.
Whiteford projects the firm can become a $100 million business in the next five years. “We make functional leather products at prices people can afford,” he said. “I think that has been a key ingredient of our success.”