Bankrupt French Country Living Folds

Great Falls, VA-based home furnishings cataloger/retailer French Country Living on July 16 filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy release and abruptly went out of business.

Neither Jeffrey Mills nor John Berg, principals at San Francisco-based Dorset Capital, which was a majority owner of the one-time $20 million-plus company, would comment. But Don Steiner, a limited partner with Dorset and a principal with Boston-based Webster Capital, says that the company “never had an experienced catalog person at the helm, although we had some good merchants and other good people.”

Richard Bartl, a partner with Alexandria, VA-based law firm Tyler, Bartl, Gorman & Ramsdell who was assigned the French Country Living case, says that the company is in liquidation and will be “selling all assets in auction.” He says that it’s likely that customers with outstanding orders won’t receive their furniture.

French Country Living was once partly owned by West Chester, OH-based Cornerstone Brands, the $650 million catalog conglomerate cofounded by Steiner. But in a statement, a French Country Living representative says that Cornerstone Brands “is in no way affiliated” with the cataloger, channeling all questions to Bartl. Dorset Capital had acquired its stake in French Country Living in June 2001.

Steiner says he believes a buyer could come along to revive the company. Indeed, catalog companies such as The Company Store had been relaunched by new owners after going out of business. “The business had some good metrics, but all things considered it wasn’t financially successful,” he says.

But Steiner notes that some industry players may be interested in a business like this, in which the concept had some appeal, but the execution needed a better job. “So it wouldn’t surprise me if the right operator wanted to take this company out of bankruptcy and build it into a successful, profitable business,” he says.

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