JACKSON TWP. – A familiar family name has launched a Stark County business that will focus on combining e-commerce retailers within a single company.
Brothers Michael and Justin Sirpilla have raised $204 million to launch Society Brands in the Canton area. Most of the funding is coming from i80 Group, an investment firm that provides capital for breakthrough technology companies.
The brothers are grandsons of John B. Sirpilla, who with his brother Art turned a gas station that rented campers into a recreational vehicle supercenter in Green. The business was sold and is now part of Camping World, which has 180 locations in 46 states.
“We wouldn’t be here if not for the foundation our grandfather built,” Michael Sirpilla said. “Our family has been creating jobs here for many years and it started with our grandfather.”
Society Brands is operating from buildings on Whipple Avenue NW that are tied to another family business, Laura of Pembroke. The brothers anticipate growth and are looking at locations in the area.
What is Society Brands?
Michael Sirpilla, who serves as chief executive officer, started the business in October 2020. He saw some traditional brick-and-mortar retailers closing stores, but maintaining sales on the internet.
There were also thousands of businesses selling through Amazon and other online marketplaces.
Meanwhile, investors were approaching online retailers and offering opportunities to consolidate. Michael Sirpilla said he wanted to offer online retailers the option to consolidate, but with a twist.
The Sirpillas’ business plan is to bring together successful Amazon retailers and help them grow, but they want to keep the people who started the businesses involved with their product after they join Society Brands.
Many Amazon retailers are mom-and-pop or family-owned operations. The Sirpillas believe they can help the businesses grow by providing marketing, logistics and other services.
The idea is that Society Brands can become a conglomerate of consumer brand names, making it the Proctor & Gamble of e-commerce, Justin Sirpilla said.
The brothers want to be “founder friendly” and offer a place where entrepreneurs who started a company remain on board with their brand and join a community of founders in a similar situation.
Many e-commerce retailers aren’t ready to sell their business and retire, the Sirpillas said. Society Brands offers business founders a chance to join “the society” as a brand president and access shared resources that can scale the business to new heights, the brothers said.
E-commerce aggregator companies growing
Investing with Amazon aggregators is considered by some as the next big thing coming to e-commerce.
According to SellerRocket, an e-commerce and digital public relations marketing firm, during the past year more than $11 billion has been invested with companies that are aggregating online retailers. Meanwhile, a website that tracks web-based start-up companies, dealroom.com, lists 80 e-commerce aggregator companies worldwide.
Society Brands’ key financial backer, i80, has also invested with Dragonfly Commerce, a Boston company that describes itself as an acquirer and developer of e-commerce businesses.
Asher Hochberg, managing director with i80 Group, likes the “founder friendly” approach that the Sirpillas are offering.
“Society Brands is one of the first to encourage the founder to stay on board and be part of something meaningful in the future,” Hochberg said in a prepared statement announcing i80’s investment. “With this unique model and its well-equipped executive team, we are confident in Society Brands’ ability to take acquired companies to the next level.”
Who are Michael and Justin Sirpilla?
The Sirpillas were on different career paths and working for companies outside the area when Michael Sirpilla began developing his idea for Society Brands.
Michael Sirpilla already had met with dozens of Amazon retailers and had started lining up potential acquisitions when he described the business plan to his brother. Michael Sirpilla wanted his younger brother on board, because of his experience in mergers and acquisitions with a privately-held company that closed 26 deals over a two-and-a-half year period.
The brothers both have worked in mergers and acquisitions, but believe they have complementary skill sets. After reviewing the plan, Justin Sirpilla signed on as company president.
“He has a strong and clear vision for the business,” Justin Sirpilla said.
Another Sirpilla family member — Johnny Sirpilla, uncle to Michael and Justin — with experience in mergers and acquisitions is on the Society Brands board.
After John B. Sirpilla sold the recreational vehicle business, his son Johnny remained with the new company. Johnny served as chief business development officer at Camping World and Good Sam, helping it grow to a $4 billion business.
Agreements in place
Society Brands has agreements with 10 companies selling on Amazon and expects to close the deals within the next few months, the Sirpillas said. The capital from i80 Group allows Society Brands to use a combination of debt and equity to bring in brands.
The company has also added a marketing agency that will manage different brands that join.
Damn Near Kilt ‘Em, a company that sells kilts, belts and accessories, is among the 10 brands prepared to sign with Society Brands. Others aren’t being named because the agreements are pending.
Society Brands will focus on Amazon retailers. The Sirpillas said most retailers have a website that generates 20% to 30% of their sales, with the rest of their sales coming through Amazon. The feeling is the retailers have hit a ceiling with sales. The goal is to help them move to a new level.
In addition to marketing and logistics assistance, Society Brands wants to help companies move into other online marketplaces, the brothers said. Walmart, eBay and other online sites are options, and Society Brands wants to help entrepreneurs connect with the sites.
“We’re creating an ecosystem of like-minded entrepreneurs and lifting each other up,” Michael Sirpilla said.