We live in an era of remote working, office pool tables and CEOs signing off emails with smiley emojis. But beneath the fluff, many people still believe deep down that fun and work do not go together – that fun is expensive and a distraction from the DEADLY SERIOUS business of running a company. In these people (you know who you are!), the spirit of Scrooge lives on, albeit heavily disguised by team away-days and office chill-out zones.
However, there’s no secret war on unprofitable jollity at Fairfax & Favor’s HQ in rural Norfolk. Here, fun is regarded as absolutely essential and is a central tenet of the culture created by co-founders Felix Parker and Marcus Fountaine. The most recent embodiment of this ethos is the purchase of a company racehorse – you can read more about ‘Mayheblucky’, the five-year-old hurdler, below…
Why is fun so important at Fairfax & Favor? Felix says: “We think that having fun inspires people, energises them and leads to rapid growth. Also, if you’re not having fun, you’re probably not good at what you’re doing. So fun is a big reason why people like working with us, and pretty much the only rules at Fairfax & Favor are: do your job, be nice and have fun.”
Based on the evidence, it’s hard to argue with Felix’s theory that fun leads to growth: Fairfax & Favor (the middle names of Felix and his old school friend Marcus) has become a £30m British country lifestyle fashion brand in nine years.
But while fun plays a big role, there’s more than LOLs behind Fairfax & Favor’s place in the FEBE Growth 100: the company’s other core values of ‘live and learn’ and ‘be independent’ play a large part, too. And so do the co-founders’ inspirational levels of belief and motivation.
“We’ve always had confidence and hunger,” says Felix. “In year one, I told our supplier factories in Spain and Portugal that we’d be their biggest customer. They laughed – but now we are. Today, I’m saying the same to bigger factories, and I hope we’ll soon be having the same conversations with them.”
Such conviction gave the luxury fashion brand an excellent start. By year three, the friends had hit their first milestone: £1m turnover. More growth and expansion overseas followed.
Live and learn
However, a change of strategy was soon needed, and here we see Fairfax & Favor’s second core company value – ‘live and learn’ – in action. Rapid expansion abroad started to suck time and energy out of the business. Turnover increased but profit did not, and the duo realised they were on the wrong track.
“That first million felt amazing, but as the business grew, we learned lessons,” says Felix. “Chasing revenue isn’t as important as tracking EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation], and increasing territories is only beneficial if you’re making money from it.
“We expanded into France and Germany, which generated significant extra work, yet we grew by only 11%. Our expansion plan needed rejigging, so we refocused solely on the UK. Revenue doubled. That showed us the importance of doing things properly – concentrating our efforts and not spreading ourselves too thinly.
“Today, we’re looking at expanding into the US, but rather than targeting the whole country, we’ll focus on areas with an equestrian culture.”
Starting the business aged 21 has led to other steep learning curves for Felix and Marcus. But there are also benefits to founding a company at such a young age. With fewer responsibilities, it’s less risky, and this duo were able to reinvest every penny. “I lived with my parents at first,” Felix says. “It wasn’t a ‘cool’ thing to do, but it meant we could start Fairfax & Favor with £5,000 each and no external investment.”
By reinvesting profits, the co-founders have retained 100% control, which means they can indulge their third key company value: independence.
“Being independent is important because it means we can create our own unique culture,” says Felix. “Independence enables us to live and learn in our own time and have fun.”
And nothing better demonstrates Fairfax & Favor’s unique fusion of independence and fun than its recent decision to buy a company racehorse – Mayheblucky – and launch a racing club for customers.
“If we’d run that idea past a board, they’d probably have shut it down. But we make the calls, so we’re able to give these ideas a go,” says Felix. “Our racing club means customers can join us on special race days, with picnics and free-flowing Champagne.
“We have an amazing community of customers and we want to bring them together. I’m certain Mayheblucky will be a strong marketing ploy because a racehorse fits our brand – it’ll be fun for our employees, customers, and investors. Fun, I believe, creates community.”
The 80,000 people in Fairfax & Favor’s Facebook Club would agree. Felix says: “Our Facebook Club has become this incredible space where like-minded people share highs and lows and support each other. It allows us to be so much more than a faceless brand.”
Hitting the high street
Fairfax & Favor’s emphasis on fun and community also shines through in its bricks-and-mortar expansion. With four shops trading and more planned, they provide another way to connect with the brand’s community. The stores offer standard and exclusive birthday appointments, including Champagne, coffee, cake and a special birthday gift.
This physical presence is nothing new – the brand started out trading at county shows, horse trials and game fairs as well as online. When the pandemic struck, they reverted to online only, allowing them to grow 120% during Covid. Now they are refocusing on their offline offering. It’s an omnichannel approach that has paid dividends.
So, what next?
The co-founders have ambitious plans. Having recently unveiled a 60,000-square-foot fulfilment centre in Snetterton, Norfolk, they want to open six more UK shops in three years, taking the total to ten. Simultaneously, they plan to develop their presence in parts of the US – so much so that they project America will generate 15% of total sales by 2025. And, of course, they will keep having fun.
Felix says: “Ultimately, we set out to build a £100 million company. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve got a lot more to give.”
Fun and fearlessness
Marcus and Felix are the epitome of fearless entrepreneurs – their enviable combination of drive, conviction and high standards got the ball rolling nine years ago. But their long-term momentum – a £30m success story with more to come – stems from their unique company values.
Firstly, ‘independence’ allows them to express themselves, experiment and flourish, accountable to only their team and customers.
Secondly, their humble’ live and learn’ attitude accepts – embraces, in fact – mistakes because they result in valuable lessons and evolution. Similarly, ‘live and learn’ enables the whole team to act freely, fearlessly and decisively.
Finally, we come to the golden rule; Fairfax & Favor’s raison d’être – to have fun. Fun is not only life-enhancing, argue Felix and Marcus, but also attracts and retains talent, inspires, energises and leads to creativity. For them, fun is a precondition for fast growth.
So, Scrooges observe, repent and hear the gospel according to Fairfax & Favor: enjoyment is not a mere foolish frill on the starched shirt of efficiency. And business does not have to be deadly serious. Felix and Marcus suggest that the truth is this: fun leads to profit, and profit leads to more fun! That’s entrepreneurship, the Fairfax & Favor way.