IT is one of the handful of Dorset brands that is recognised around the world.
Don Henshall, CEO of premium paint and wallpaper Farrow & Ball, intends to grow the business by large but “sustainable” margins over the next few years.
Turnover has grown from £32million to £72m in the last five years and double-digit growth is set to continue.
“Our goal in the shorter term is that we will become a £100m turnover company but our goal is to become a £200m turnover company,” he said.
The firm was founded in 1946 by John Farrow and Richard Ball. “They were very much a business-to-business company. They made paint for Raleigh bicycles,” said Mr Henshall.
Under the ownership of Tom Helme and Martin Ephson 20 years ago, Farrow & Ball began to sell to consumers. “They opened the first showroom in Chelsea and we started to make painted wallpaper,” said Mr Henshall.
The paints and papers are made with traditional techniques, with tighter quality control than most competitors. A pot of paint you buy two years from now will match one of the same colour you buy today, Mr Henshall says.
While this places their paints at the more expensive end of the market, the “premium leisure” category is bigger now than it was 20 years ago, he adds.
“As the western world has developed, people are increasingly either wanting premium added value products in some form or they’re wanting value,” he said.
For some consumers, “price is everything”. At the other end of the scale, people want “something that has some design elements”.
Mr Henshall became CEO in 2010. Born in the US and raised in New Zealand, the 54-year-old father-of-two was the man who brought Krispy Kreme doughnuts to the UK.
“I suppose my job has been to try and make us a mid-size company that’s a little more profitable and sustainable,” he says.
The aim was to ensure the Farrow & Ball could support a five to 10-year vision.
“It was this great business but they needed the infrastructure to become a middle sized company. They were run really well by the directors but I would ask people what the company values were and you would get lots of words and phrases but no one had written them down,” he said.
The key words associated with the brand are now excellence, honesty, team, quirky, passionate and courageous, he said.
At the end of 2014, the company was acquired for £275m by a fund managed by private equity group of Ares Management LP. In 2015, Mr Henshall was named CEO of the Year in the South West by the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association.
Its base at Uddens Industrial Estate near Wimborne employs around 280 people. Research and development, manufacture and quality control all take place on site, while around 90 of the staff are in head office support functions such as finance, IT, HR and sales.
The Farrow & Ball palette of 132 colours – far fewer than lower-priced competitors – is managed by a small team led by the company’s head of creative. They will pay attention to trends at events such as the Milan fabric show to see how tastes are evolving.
The same paint is sold from Japan to California – which means that not only do the colours match, but that they are all made to the regulatory standards of the strictest market. Where the environment is concerned, that is California.
“That makes our products more expensive to make but we’re making the best,” said Mr Henshall.
Standards of customer service at the 40-plus showrooms also have to be high, he argues. “We work hard to offer a much higher level of service than a mainstream brand will,” he said.
“We’re not just competing with other paint companies. People who are spending money on Farrow & Ball will also be spending money on other premium products.
“John Lewis has great customer service. Our customers shop with John Lewis and they’ve got to have the same quality of service.”
He added: "You're only as good as your last tin of paint."
The company has also been shrewd in its approach to the internet and social media. Its accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube have all proved popular. It cultivates the interest of bloggers in the field and runs its own online interiors ‘magazine’, The Chromologist, which seeks to encourage an interest in colour and decor rather than promoting the company’s products.
All this feeds into the “macro trends” that Mr Henshall believes have created opportunities for the business.
“Since 2008 there has been a lot of change in the world. Therefore you go home and you have your sanctuary. Home decor and interior design is crucially important for leisure,” he said.
“It’s not for everybody but there’s more and more interest in that.”