INDIAN ARTISTRY GROWS INTO BLANKET SUCCESS

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Houston's BBQ Hall of Flame and upscale Barley's Pharmacy in Westbury, N.Y., though worlds apart, share a common thread: They both sell Navi Pesanda Indian blankets, a hot newcomer to the boom in Western heritage products.

In less than a year, the Navi Pesanda line of wool blankets and cotton throws has found its way into Bloomingdale's, the Nature Co. and museum gift shops. At about $200 each, the blankets sell for far less than the handmade Indian offerings that run into thousands of dollars.

How these authentic Indian blankets made it to the retail marketplace is the story of Texas adman David Dozier and Jerry Boucher, a former Colgate-Palmolive Co. executive. Their company is quietly taking on Pendleton Woolen Mills, known for its Indian designs on blankets and coats.

It's also the story of how the duo's company, Boucher Boys & the Indian, helped revive the historic Bates mill in Lewiston, Maine.

So successful is the Navi Pesanda line that the company this year will introduce Indian blanket coats, jackets and pillows.

Credit Mr. Boucher, who lives in Phoenix, for getting the blanket idea going. At first, Mr. Boucher and his brother David, a New York financier, had to convince Jerry's old friend and colleague Mr. Dozier that authentic Indian blankets could even be mass-produced.

It was a hard sell.

After all, Mr. Dozier is a Santa Clara Pueblo Indian who was born and raised on a reservation; he speaks the Tewa language, and he knows about Indian art.

"I told Jerry he was crazy, and I said, `Don't do it,"' Mr. Dozier recalled. "He sent me a blanket, and I said it was absolutely the worst thing I ever saw. It was off-color. The design had no reason. I said I don't think you should do this."

But the challenge was on.

At Jerry Boucher's insistence, Mr. Dozier decided to get involved and they started over. That meant spending time at the Santa Clara reservation in New Mexico with artist Terry Enos. Mr. Enos, a Pima Indian who's Mr. Dozier's cousin by marriage, came up with several designs themed to nature.

After 25 prototypes and a shift to natural colors originally used by the Indians, Mr. Dozier felt they finally had a product they could sell. They decided to call the product Navi Pesanda, which means "my blanket" in Tewa.

In the meantime, the Bouchers had found a mill in Lewiston, Maine, that was desperately in need of work. Bates Fabrics had shrunk from 6,500 workers at its peak to a mere 48 people in late 1992.

It has turned out to be a good fit.

For one thing, Bates Fabrics President Fred Lebel and Mr. Dozier both knew what it was like to be down and almost out.

After running a successful Dallas ad agency, DBG&H, with billings peaking at $68 million, Mr. Dozier suffered in the Texas real estate slump since nearly all his clients were in that industry. The agency was forced into Chapter 7 liquidation, after 15 years of rapid growth that suddenly ended.

In the meantime, Mr. Dozier had started a small agency boutique with daughter Debbie. She runs the shop, called the Dozier Co., and he supplies the "age and wisdom."

Now Mr. Dozier, as a principal in Boucher Boys & the Indian, finds himself in the dual role of both agency and client.

He began by using authenticity as the key positioning for the blanket line. Each blanket carries a card explaining Indian involvement in the product, and a description and meaning of the design.

Mr. Dozier turned to Jerry Boucher to handle public relations-an effort that landed Mr. Dozier on an "NBC Nightly News" feature over Thanksgiving, tied to the boost the blanket business has given to the Bates mill.

And today, Mr. Dozier will be selling his wares on the syndicated show "Can We Shop Starring Joan Rivers."

Some trade advertising in textile publications will run this year. Mr. Dozier said: "We won't be asking for an order-we'll just be creating an image and positioning." Our advertising theme is authenticity and purity of the product."

In the meantime, the Bates mill is producing about 500 blankets a week, and some experts believe the business could grow to $30 million to $40 million in the next five years.

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