Babywear and maternity wear retailer JoJo Maman Bébé, whose high-profile clients include the Duchess of Cambridge, has been taken over by trading company Next and a group of investment firms.
Laura Tenison, who started the business in 1993 from the kitchen table of her shared flat and built it into one of the UK’s leading retailers of mother and baby products, said the new owners had “exciting plans to expand and grow the brand much faster than we ever could, giving us the opportunity to open up in new markets”.
However, as part of the deal, she will leave the business.
Next has acquired 44% of the firm’s shares, the remaining 56% being acquired by investment companies managed or advised by the hedge fund Davidson Kempner Capital Management. The shares were purchased from existing JoJo shareholders, including Tenison.
In addition to its websites, JoJo Maman Bébé has 87 outlets and employs over 950 people in the UK.
The company told staff that the new owners “are keen to keep our stores where they are profitably traded,” adding that “there may be opportunities for more stores” in the future. [and] new international websites”.
The value of the deal has not been disclosed, and it is not known how much Tenison received for his majority stake in the deal.
Tenison started the business after a serious car accident while living in France left her in the hospital. In interviews, she has said that her ward roommate was a young mother with two young children who entertained herself by ordering mail-order catalogues.
“[Living in rural France] I couldn’t help but notice how well dressed the children in France were. You would see them walking down the beach with their grandparents no matter the weather, in their big waterproof overalls and fisherman’s jackets, picking things up from the sand,” she told an interviewer in 2020.
Having been thus inspired, in 1993 she started JoJo’s business from her shared flat in London, with her “warehouse”, her parents’ shed in South Wales.
The Duchess of Cambridge was photographed several times in a white maternity coat from the brand and is also said to have bought a number of items for her daughter, Princess Charlotte.
Commenting on the deal, Tenison said: “My priority over the last 30 years has been to grow JoJo from a kitchen table startup to being the UK’s leading specialist mum and baby boutique brand. I am exceptionally proud of our accomplishments and excited about the opportunities this new partnership will offer for the future of the brand.”
He told staff that it was important to Next and the other companies “that we retain the brand identity, values and talent, while allowing JoJo to benefit from the economies of scale of its larger umbrella… Next and DK [Davidson Kempner] We believe, as we do, that our stores have great value for the business in general”. He added that he would maintain his own dedicated website.
Gwynn Milligan, who joined JoJo Maman Bébé in 2017 as Chief Commercial Officer, has taken over as CEO and the other directors will remain in their positions.
Next said the company would retain its managerial autonomy and creative independence. Next will also make a £16.3m investment in the brand, financed from its own cash resources.
Simon Wolfson, CEO of Next, said: “We are excited to see what can be achieved through the combination of JoJo’s exceptional product with Next’s infrastructure and Davidson Kempner as our investment partner.”