Acumen Brands For Sale, and John James is Negotiating


Acumen Brands For Sale, and John James is Negotiating
John James

Fayetteville online retail sensation One Country, formerly known as Acumen Brands, is up for sale.

Co-founder John James said he is in negotiations with the private equity firm General Atlantic of New York City, which invested $83 million in Acumen Brands in 2013. Acumen Brands, founded by James and Terry Turpin in 2009, flourished on the backs of such branded online stores as Country Outfitter, which sold western wear, and Scrub Shopper, which sold medical uniforms.

Turpin did not return phone messages and there was no answer at the company's headquarters. 

James said he is no long affiliated with Acumen in an official capacity, and he declined to say whether he still owned any percentage of the company.

"All I feel comfortable saying is in that [official] comment," James said, referring to a statement he texted to Arkansas Business. "I've been so distant from the company for the last little bit, it was surprising to me to hear a lot of the news. They're still trying to figure out the best way forward, and I am in talks to maybe be one of the ways forward."

On Tuesday, Talk Business & Politics cited anonymous sources who said the company was headed toward liquidation or sale, possibly closing this week. Turpin told the website that he couldn't comment but hoped to reveal plans for the company this week.

With the successes of its online stores, specifically Country Outfitter, Acumen Brands moved into a 200,000-SF facility on North Shiloh Drive where it filled approximately 7,500 weekly orders in a high-tech warehouse that used automated robots to retrieve merchandise. 

James resigned as CEO of Acumen Brands in 2014 to focus on Hayseed Ventures, which works to help startups become successful companies. Turpin, previously the COO, succeeded James as CEO at Acumen.

James remained on the board of directors of Acumen Brands until about three months ago, he said.

"There haven't been a lot of board meetings," said James, explaining how Acumen's struggles was news to him. "There's a majority owner in New York City, and I haven't had a lot to do with the company since I left.

"What I want, ultimately, is to find a great home for that business and save as many Arkansas jobs as possible. That is where it gets challenging."

James bought Scrub Shopper for an undisclosed seven-figure amount in 2016 to operate under Hayseed Ventures' umbrella. He said Scrub Shopper had been an overlooked "stepchild" at Acumen and would be a strong foundation for Hayseed’s growth.

James said he heard recent rumors about Acumen closing, but added that the company was still filling orders Tuesday. 

"I hear rumors like everyone else; I'm still just a little flummoxed by it," James said. "It is kind of — I don't know, it's just weird.

"It hasn't been the same since the sale to the private equity firm. Maybe there is your quote from me. I'd love to give my opinion more freely, and I will when I get a little more clarity."

Acumen Brands' initial rise was one of the driving forces behind the startup ecosystem that sprouted in northwest Arkansas. James said that will live on even if Acumen Brands doesn't.

"The legacy of that company … it changed Arkansas," James said. "I couldn't talk to anyone seven years ago about startups. [On Monday] I sat down with 80 people — people who actually matter and who can do things. I hate what has happened but, boy, I hope the legacy lives a lot further."

John James' Full Statement on Reports of Struggles at Acumen Brands 

"I recently learned of the difficulties at Acumen Brands. Though I left the company in 2014 I know a lot of the current employees and wish them the best. After the company sold to a private equity firm in 2013, the company lost many of the incredibly talented people who architected the success. Despite this outcome the impact of the company has been far-reaching. In addition to bringing a hundred million investment dollars to the Arkansas economy, the legacy of the company lives on through several successful startups created by the early employees. The northwest Arkansas startup scene simply would not exist without the path blazed by the early team."