mergers & acquisitions | Aug 16, 2022 |
After a rough patch, Maker&Son is acquired

Maker&Son, the U.K.–based direct-to-consumer furniture brand, has been acquired. The purchaser is Inc & Co, a British business group founded in 2019 that owns a wide range of retail and digital companies. The price was not disclosed, though a release accompanying the news referred to a “multi-million-pound” deal.

“We came up with this brand that stands for so much more than a sofa company, and I want to see that as big of a success as it can be,” says Felix Conran, who founded the company alongside his father, Alex Willcock, in 2018. The sale, he wrote in the release, will allow Maker&Son to “continue our vision.”

The acquisition comes at the end of a rough patch for the DTC company. A slew of recent online reviews of Maker&Son refers to lapses in communication and interminable delays, while commentary on the employer-review site Glassdoor mentions a precarious financial situation.

Conran says the company came into 2022 on a high, with robust sales in January. Then, following the Russian invasion in Ukraine and a cooling of the market, Maker&Son ran into trouble. “The reality is we were built for growth. In an economic downturn—we weren’t prepared for that,” he tells Business of Home. “We are still a startup, and we didn’t have bucketloads of cash lying around.”

The resulting money crunch, combined with pandemic-era supply chain chaos, created long delays. Those issues, and the uncertainty around their resolution, led to breakdowns in communication with customers. “We haven’t had huge amounts of clarity [about the resolution to ongoing issues]. That has made communicating very difficult,” he says. It was a striking blow for a company that looked to build its brand in part on transparency. “That’s the thing that’s been so hard, [because] everything we’ve done with the businesses [until that point] has been about giving people information and being open.”

To cut costs, Conran says the company laid off roughly 10 percent of its U.K. employees. More staff members left the company of their own accord due to the financial uncertainty of the business. Maker&Son also filed a declaration to appoint administrators—a legal status that allows British companies a reprieve from creditors without formally entering into bankruptcy proceedings. Meanwhile, the company launched a crowdfunding campaign through a platform called Seedrs—an initiative that was ultimately abandoned when offers to purchase the company began trickling in.

Now that the business is recapitalized, Conran says that Maker&Son is back up and running, and working on fulfilling outstanding orders. He adds that the company has a new manufacturing partner in the U.S. “The orders are flowing out there,” he says. “It’s turned on a dime, and we’re working with them very closely. Things are moving; things are going out.”

After a rough patch, Maker&Son is acquired
Maker&Son's signature product, a pillowy sofaCourtesy of Maker&Son

The company’s new ownership, Inc & Co, is a Manchester, England–based group founded by three partners, including CEO Jack Mason. In three short years, it has acquired a wide range of companies, from the Chop’d chain of salad restaurants to sports analytics firms to an on-demand laundry service. Conran says Maker&Sons is still in the early stages of integrating with its new owners—for now, the level of involvement he and Willcock will have in the company going forward is still to be determined. “The main focus is getting back to normality with all the customers and making sure that every promise that we’ve made is kept,” he says.

Conran hopes that the father-and-son-founded brand can emerge from a difficult period stronger. Indeed, Maker&Son was born from a difficult time. After a divorce and the dissolution of a software company he helped found, Willcock began reading Julia Cameron’s creative practice guidebook The Artist’s Way. The book’s exercises led to a revelation: He wanted to make furniture. To help him launch the venture, he enlisted Conran, who happens to be the grandson of legendary retailer Terence Conran.

The two pursued a unique strategy. They would keep the line extremely limited—for most of Maker&Son’s existence, the company has sold essentially one product, a distinctive pillowy sofa built for maximum comfort—and manufacture with local partners instead of relying on the global supply chain. To get their wares in front of consumers, Willcock and Conran relied on a small fleet of vans that would drive directly to potential customers to show off the merchandise in person. After launching in the U.K., the brand quickly found manufacturing partners and built out its fleet in Australia and then the U.S., eventually hiring Ralph Lauren veteran Jim Hardy to run its stateside operations. (Hardy has since moved on.)

This novel strategy, paired with some savvy social media marketing, allowed Maker&Son to quickly grow—even after the layoffs and departures, the company employs more than 150 worldwide. Now, with new ownership in place, Conran is eager to see that growth continue. “I want to get the furniture in front of as many people as I can,” he says. As for the biggest lesson learned from a turbulent period? “Overprepare.”

Homepage photo: Courtesy of Maker&Son

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