June 20, 2017 / 12:11 PM / 2 years ago

Dutch stroller maker Bugaboo up for sale after founders throw tantrum

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Bugaboo, the Dutch company that transformed the market for high-end baby buggies after one of its strollers featured on TV show “Sex and the City,” is up for sale in a deal that could fetch 200 million euros ($223 million) following a row between its co-owners, people familiar with the matter said.

Bugaboo brand strollers are displayed in a specialty shop for babies and infants in Paris, France, June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Long-standing tensions between the company’s founders - former brothers-in-law - first became public during a court hearing on March 7.

Businessman Eduard Zanen, who provided seed capital for the company, had become frustrated after co-founder and inventor Max Barenbrug continued to influence strategic direction after agreeing to a design role. Zanen invoked a 2012 agreement that either could trigger the sale of the company to a third party.

That disagreement was settled without a ruling, a spokeswoman for the Amsterdam District Court said. But Het Financieele Dagblad first reported on Thursday that the partners have now agreed to a sale. Zanen and Barenbrug’s sister divorced a decade earlier, the paper said.

Founded in 1999, Bugaboo’s breakthrough came after one of its strollers was shown on in an episode of hit TV series “Sex and The City” in 2002, when the character Miranda had a baby.

The strollers, which can cost more than $1,000, have been snapped up by celebrities including Gwynneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham, and Elton John.

Designers Viktor & Rolf, Bas Kosters and the Andy Warhol Foundation, among others, have crafted limited edition designs, and the company recently made a foray into luggage.

The company made a pretax profit of 16.8 million euros ($18.75 million)on sales of 95 million euros in 2015, according to its most recent filing with the Dutch Chamber of Commerce.

Jelena Sokolova, analyst at Morningstar, said Bugaboo could be valued against luggage makers Samsonite (1910.HK) and Rimowa, recently acquired by LVMH (LVMH.PA), which both trade at 2 times sales.

Rabobank, which has been given the commission to sell the company, will approach both strategic and private equity buyers for Bugaboo.

“Selling is the wisest decision in a situation like this: when the owners start to fight, that can be the beginning of the end for a lifestyle brand,” said Dutch marketing specialist Paul Moers.

Moers noted that while Bugaboo’s image of sturdy quality and versatility has spawned many imitators, its reputation is still solid and the market is fragmented.

“It’s not too late for Bugaboo, not by any means,” he said.

“Find a buyer with knowledge of sales and marketing and the power to invest behind advertising and you can grab market share, become a much bigger player.”

Competitors and possible buyers for Bugaboo include Britax, owned by Nordic Capital, Stokke, owned by Korean investment firm MXMH, Quinny, owned by Canada’s Dorel Industries, Graco, owned by U.S. firm Newell Brands, and LVMH, among others.

Bugaboo has 1,200 employees and models are sold in most developed markets.

Reporting by Toby Sterling, editing by Louise Heavens

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