The Fall Of Martha Stewart Empire Signals New Era In Design

marthastewartOn Monday, June 22, news broke that Martha Stewart finally sold her media and home design empire to Sequential Brands Group for $353 million. Although that’s an impressive sum, it’s less than a third of the New York City based company’s former value. When Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia went public in 1999, her company was valued at $1.8 billion.

By Friday, it looked like the deal might fall apart. In an ironic twist, Sequential’s CEO leaked insider details on the deal, giving Stewart the option to continue shopping around. But no matter what happens, it’s clear the Martha Stewart era of home design is drawing to a close.

In the 1990s, Martha Stewart was the most influential home designer in the world, with books, TV shows, merchandise, and magazines all bearing her face and name. After a stint in prison for insider trading, Stewart was forced to take a five-year hiatus from the company. After returning to the board in 2011, she faced more legal challenges.

Stewart spent three years fighting in court after Macy’s Inc. claimed she violated an exclusive agreement by signing a deal with rival department store J.C. Penney. But legal challenges weren’t the design maven’s only business problem in the new millennium.

Like many industries, the interior design and home decor industry struggled during the Great Recession, when many people put off home improvement projects. Even now, interior design companies estimate that 47% of Americans haven’t updated their home decor in at least five years. And though Martha Stewart was once the most high-profile name in home design, design experts say the DIY set no longer relies on the tycoon in the digital era.

“The days when people looked to one person to tell them how to entertain, live tastefully are gone,” says Allen Adamson of brand research firm Landor Associates. “Today, there are many voices. She can’t go back to retaking that mantle because that mantle is gone.”

Many U.S. consumers are more likely to get design tips from sites like Pinterest or DIY websites than from a celebrity designer. Of course, $353 million is still a significant sum of money for the businesswoman.


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