Business Spotlight

Business Spotlight

Fairbault Mill Planning for Growth

When Paul and Chuck Mooty saw Faribault Woolen Mill for the first time three years ago, it was as though time had stopped after the place was shut down. The roof was punctured with holes. Kettles of dye were flooded. “And upstairs there was a little spookiness to the place,” said Paul Mooty, the company’s chief financial officer. “People had set cups of coffee down, dropped their pens on the table. And they were still there.”

Undeterred, the cousins bought the wool blanket factory and set about restoring and building a brand with deep Minnesota roots.

Faribault, founded in 1865, is the only full-process wool textile mill left in the United States. “I guess I fell in love with the story,” Paul Mooty said. “If we can set this on to another 150-year journey, that would be wonderful.” After two years and millions of dollars spent on equipment and repairs, the former blanket supplier to the U.S. Army, Navy and national department stores is cranking again with new leadership, rising sales and high hopes for aggressive growth. Today, its highend blankets once again sell for $100 to $475 each.

“We are approaching $10 million in sales and expect to comfortably roll past that in the next 12 to 18 months,” said new CEO Tom Irvine, who replaced Chuck Mooty as CEO in November after Chuck became the CEO of Jostens Inc. “We now have 70 workers. I think we will be pretty close to 100 by year-end.”

Recently Faribault won a full year of repeat orders from furniture store West Elm, Beams Department Stores in Japan, retailer Steve Allen, and clothing and home goods store Garnet Hill.

It also retained Jack Daniel’s, which uses Faribault’s wool cloth to filter its whiskey. The mill is also seeking partnerships in which to co-brand its blankets.

To ensure the revived brand continues its trajectory, Paul Mooty brought in new partners. In addition to Irvine, he hired Bruce Bildsten, the former Fallon ad agency executive who helped resuscitate Cadillac. Bildsten became Faribault’s chief marketing officer in November.

Since joining, Bildsten scored company features in magazines such as Martha Stewart, GQ and Collective Quarterly. He and his sales team also hit trade shows nationwide for luxury hotels, boutiques, gift catalog firms and upscale home decor companies.

Now orders are pouring in from The W Hotel, the AMC Channel, Target Co., Crate and Barrel’s CB2 division, Dillard’s Department Store, the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and even actor George Clooney. (Clooney ordered the company’s military West Point blanket for the cast and crew of “The Monuments Men,” which he directed.)

Other partners include Duluth-based Duluth Pack, which has turned Faribault’s blankets into backpacks, duffel bags and tote bags. Oak Street Boots in Chicago used the blankets to make boots.

Faribault even turned its scraps into iPod covers and cup cozies for Caribou Coffee. “We are doing dozens and dozens of these joint ventures … so it’s been an impressive year of growth,” Bildsten said.

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