FARROW & Ball – the Dorset company whose paints and wallpapers are sold around the world – is being sold.
The purchase price for its sale to Hempel Group has not been revealed, but it has been reported that the figure is nearly £500million.
The company is based on the Uddens Estate between Wimborne and Ferndown.
It has built its reputation on a range of 132 paints with offbeat names, from Churlish Green to Arsenic and from Salon Drab to Nancy’s Blushes. Some take their name from the local geography too.
The products are traditional and upmarket. The paints are made using techniques that have been around for generations, while its wallpapers are produced through traditional “block and trough” printing methods.
How big is Farrow & Ball and who owns it?
In the financial year that ended in March 2020 – just as the pandemic was taking hold – its parent company FB Ammonite saw revenue rise 4.1 per cent to £87m.
Its web sales were particularly impressive, rising 14 per cent on top of double-digit growth the previous year – making the internet its highest growth channel for the third year in a row.
What’s more, the company said the first quarter of the 2020-21 financial year had seen trade grow “exponentially”, with sales in the UK up by nearly a third. It was, the company said, the best performance in its 75-year history.
Farrow & Ball’s profile in the US was boosted when its paints were chosen for the redesign of New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 2019.
Millions more Americans encountered the brand name for the first time when it was featured in a Saturday Night Live sketch.
Guest host Aidy Bryant was seen holding up a can of paint produced by the “the high end British paint company that offers unparalleled depth and colour”.
The plug was not a case of paid-for product placement, but it led to a big spike in interest.
But despite the growth in sales, FB Ammonite still posted a pre-tax loss of £26.9m – which it said “reflects how the business is structured and financed rather than being illustrative of performance”.
The company has been owned since 2014 by a Los Angeles-based private equity fund. The Private Equity Group of Ares Management bought it from another investment fund, European Capital Limited.
Now Ares Management is in turn selling it to a buyer who is confident in the Dorset company’s potential for growth.
How did it get so big?
The company was founded in 1946 by John Farrow and Richard Ball. Farrow was a chemist who worked for Ireland’s Agnew Paints during World War Two, while Ball was an engineer who had been a prisoner of war.
They met at a clay pit in Dorset and built the first paint factory on the remains of the Manor Brickworks on Black Hill, Verwood.
They supplied paint to businesses such as the Ford Motor Company and Raleigh Bicycles, as well as to the Admiralty and the War Office.
Ball sold his interest in the company in 1960 and Farrow left three years later. The company became part of the Stevinson Hardy Group.
Much of the original Verwood factory was destroyed in 1967 by a fire which could be seen for miles and which attracted hundreds of onlookers. The company then moved to its current home at Uddens.
The company grew rapidly when Tom Helme, an adviser on historic interiors, and Marton Ephson, a corporate financier, took the helm in 1992 and focused it on providing paints to suit heritage buildings. In 1994, it appointed its first independent stockist, and it entered the luxury wallpaper building the following year.
A store was opened on Chelsea’s Fulham Road in 1996 and within two years, showrooms opened in Toronto, Paris and New York.
The company had an internet presence early on and it made canny use of the internet and social media, with a website called The Chromologist to promote interest in interiors rather than just sell products. It has two million followers online, a million of them on Instagram.
Who’s buying it and why?
Ares Private Equity Group is selling Farrow & Ball after seven years of ownership.
David Ricanti, partner in the group, said: “Since acquiring Farrow & Ball in 2014, we are proud to have partnered with the company during a period of significant value creation.”
The buyer is Hempel Group, founded in 1915, based in Kongens Lyngby near the Danish capital of Copenhagen. The company makes “coating solutions” that protect everything from bridges to homes.
Hempel has acquired a string of other businesses in the past couple of decades, including Britain’s Crown Paints in 2011. It has 6,500 staff around the world.
Hempel’s president and chief executive, Lars Petersson, has pledged to ensure that “Farrow & Ball continues its strong growth journey”.
He sees the acquisition as a big step towards doubling Hempel’s revenue to three billion euros by 2025.
“The addition of Farrow & Ball to our branded portfolio is another proof point that we are going for leadership positions in key segments and geographies,” he said.
Farrow & Ball chief executive Anthony Davey sees the move as an “exciting opportunity to extend our brand in new markets through a strong global distribution network and longstanding trade relationships”.
If all goes to plan, that should mean colours such as Dorset Cream, Lulworth Blue and Wimborne White are known even more widely than they are today.