MacKenzie-Childs Lays Out Growth Strategy

Lee Feldman

Lee Feldman

By Allison Zisko

The new Manhattan flagship that MacKenzie-Childs opened last month capped a year of growth and expansion for the whimsical tabletop company.

Last year’s revenues totaled more than $40 million, up from $37 million in 2011 and $20 million in 2009. It has significantly increased its number of SKUs; operates catalogs, a Website and retail stores in New York, Palm Beach, Fla., and Aurora, N.Y.; and also runs shops at upscale department stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue. Its new flagship on West 57th Street in New York offers 4,000 square feet of selling space, a 20 percent increase over its previous location a few doors down.

The company was founded in 1983 in Aurora, N.Y. by husband and wife team Richard and Victoria MacKenzie-Childs (they are no longer with the company). It changed hands and then was purchased in 2008 by private equity firm Twin Lakes Capital, which later purchased tabletop company Jay Strongwater in August 2011 and created the parent company Aurora Brands.

When first founded, MacKenzie-Childs made majolica pottery, began handpainting furniture and then expanded into glassware and enamel dinnerware. It grew into multiple categories and has become a home furnishings company with a unique point of view—“tradition with a big fat twist” is how Creative Director Rebecca Proctor describes it.

The growth of MacKenzie-Childs is “primarily attributable to staying true to our unique design perspective while aggressively pursuing new categories,” said Lee Feldman, CEO of Aurora Brands and a managing partner in Twin Lakes Capital. The company is now known for its home decor, furniture, garden, holiday and personal accessories, as well as its tabletop, all sporting the signature MacKenzie-Childs look, a blend of quirky, bold and yet whimsical designs. Furniture, home decor, garden and holiday are particularly strong, according to Feldman.

Both longtime collectors and new customers of MacKenzie-Childs are passionate about the brand, Feldman said, and that has spurred the company’s expansion. The term “lifestyle brand” tends to be overused, Feldman said, but MacKenzie-Childs truly does represent a lifestyle, he said, and “stands for something unique in the market.”

Well known for its black and white checks, stripes and bold patterns, its more recent introductions have mellowed into softer palettes and a lighter hand. For example Parchment Check enamelware, executed in cream and off-white checks, is “a softer way to get into people lives,” Proctor said. Parchment Check is MacKenzie-Childs’ version of a neutral palette, according to Feldman. “It speaks to what is different about us,” he said.

The company’s newest dinnerware pattern, which launches this month, is called Aurora, and it’s a tribute to its upstate New York headquarters. A toile-like scene includes both the buildings on the company’s campus as well as some of the most beloved characters there, such as the groundskeeper and Simon, the tame duck who roams freely around the grounds.

MacKenzie-Childs’ direct-to-consumer business is its fastest growing channel, Feldman said, but “we are true believers in multi-channel businesses. Our philosophy is ‘the consumer decides’ [where she wants to buy]. We try to optimize all the channels.”

The new Manhattan store, he said in an interview last month, is performing well. “The numbers are comping real well right now” versus the same time last year.

Feldman has “very aggressive plans” for 2013. His strategy is to expand the depth and breadth of MacKenzie-Childs collections and aggressively grow the furniture, garden and holiday businesses. After adding a handful of personal accessories such as bags and jewelry in the past few years, the company wwill actively expand that category too, Feldman said.