retail watch | Sep 7, 2023 |
Who stands to benefit from the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams bankruptcy?

The sudden collapse of Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams came as a shock to many in the industry. But after the surprise wore off, the news kicked off a scramble to see where there might be opportunities to pick up the pieces of the upscale upholstery and furniture supplier and retailer—and some business, too.

A few caveats: In an interview with The Business of Home Podcast, co-founder Mitchell Gold expressed hope that a white knight investor could restart the business for $20 million to $30 million. Yesterday’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing suggests he couldn’t find one, but the documentation indicated that the company had secured debtor-in-possession financing and had appointed a chief restructuring officer. At the moment, it’s not clear whether Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams will be scrapped and sold for parts, or whether an energized buyer will come in to preserve some version of the company.

In the meantime, the company is not manufacturing at its plant in Taylorsville, North Carolina, nor shipping finished product to customers. Gold told BOH that there were as many as 4,000 customers with orders still in process, their fate on hold given the company’s unknown future. A look through the windows of one of the MG+BW stores in Atlanta showed a state of suspended animation, with furniture still arranged in room settings and lighting still turned on waiting for shoppers who may never set foot inside again.

It’s the company’s distribution strategy—one that focused on its own 24 retail stores and assorted outlets—that complicates the question of who might pick up MG+BW’s market share. A large percentage of the company’s estimated $150 million to $200 million in annual sales was reportedly generated by its own locations—Furniture Today estimated that those stores did about $160 million in sales last year. It is hard to know if that total number included sales in retail dollars versus wholesale, making an accurate breakdown of business difficult to estimate.

But it’s likely that the opportunities to pick up its business lie more with retailers than manufacturers. Although vendors would supply the actual product to those retailers, revenue would be most noticeable at the store level, meaning competing vendors will have to see which retailers were picking up share.

Candidates for capturing MG+BW’s business include RH, Arhaus, Ethan Allen, Crate & Barrel, CB2 and Pottery Barn, as well as its online-only stablemate Williams-Sonoma Home. The MG+BW price points were higher than those of West Elm, Ikea, Rooms To Go and other more moderate banners, largely precluding them from being gainers here.

Interior Define might pick up business too, although it has shut down many of its physical stores after its financial struggles and sale to Havenly. Other contenders include regional furniture chains like Nebraska Furniture Mart in the central part of the country, City Furniture locations throughout Florida, and Jordan’s Furniture in New England, along with smaller one- and two-unit retail operations around the country.

Another group of winners could be the interior designers whom consumers occasionally bypassed to work directly with in-house MG+BW designers—though designers who did a lot of purchasing through the company are likely currently busy, wondering if they’ll be able to recover in-process orders.

MG+BW might be resurrected and could even reopen its stores under new investors. It’s happened before. But more often, the returning company fails to capture the essence of the original, and doesn’t succeed. Across the furniture industry, as other fallen companies like Klaussner and Lane are seeing their remains divvied up, the MG+BW business will be in play over the next year or so if it isn’t revived.

And as the industry struggles with soft business conditions, will there be more?

Homepage image: A collection by Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams | Kevin Lau for Business of Home


Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.

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