Cass Art - feature image

December 2013

In December 2013 BGF invested £3.2m for a minority stake in Cass Art, one of the UK’s leading independent art materials retailers. This was BGF’s 11th investment in London and the South East.

Founded in 2001 by CEO Mark Cass, an avid art promoter and entrepreneur, Cass Art strives to encourage as many people as possible to create art, believing that art is a fundamental human need, with an emphasis on nurturing talent, expression and art as freedom.

Cass Art’s first store was on Kensington High Street. Since then the company has expanded and now has six stores across London in Hampstead, Charing Cross, Kingston, Soho and its flagship store in Islington. The company now also has a national presence with stores in Bristol, Liverpool and Glasgow.

The business and brand has grown from strength to strength over the past five years and now employs over 130 staff. BGF backed the Cass Art team to roll out new stores in major cities across the UK and to develop its e-commerce platform ( which presents a significant opportunity to grow on a national scale.

Since BGF invested, Cass has opened three stores and significantly increased its e-commerce operations.

Cass Art attracts a wider and younger range of customers than traditional art stores by making art accessible with its high street locations, workshops and relative affordability.

Typical customers include a mixture of beginners, hobbyists, art students, vocational artists and professional artists, as well as children through the launch in 2009 of the award-winning Cass Art Kids range of products.

Management have also established many partnerships with London’s cultural institutions and art universities, including the National Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal College of Art, Design Museum and the Institute for Contemporary Arts, all of which are heritage institutions looking to appeal to a younger audience well-represented by Cass Art’s customer base.

The UK art materials market is highly fragmented with a handful of retailers accounting for just over a quarter of sales. Approximately 10% or 180,000 of all UK university students are enrolled in an Arts course with enrolment growing by 25% between 2004 and 2010. The market’s fragmentation and growing customer base both offer considerable opportunity for Cass Art to professionalise the UK market.

Mark Cass has been an avid art promoter and entrepreneur throughout his business career firstly as Managing Director of Craftsmith which his family bought from WH Smith in 1979. This was the largest arts and crafts retailer in the UK and was sold in 1984.

In 1979 Mark and his father Wilfred Cass OBE co-founded the Image Bank UK, the world’s largest film and stock photography library which was sold to Getty images in 2000. In 2001, he turned his attention to creating Cass Art, expanding the Company to six stores today.

Stuart Rose, the former Chairman of toy group Hamleys, ex-Managing Director and deputy Chairman of The Body Shop and former Chairman of Agent provocateur joined the Cass Art board as Non-Executive Chairman. This appointment was made by BGF through its Talent Network.

BGF was introduced to Cass Art by the company’s bankers Barclays.