The traffic heading south this weekend may not just be for the fall leaves.
Faribault Woolen Mill, the revived maker of fine woolen blankets, is putting up a tent and holding a sale on Friday and Saturday — a first in what company executives say will become an annual tradition.
The sale is a chance to find blankets at 50 to 85 percent off normal prices, which can reach $400 and more for larger sizes.
Bargain hunters familiar with the brand may recall sporadic warehouse and tent sales and short-lived outlet stores in Woodbury and Medford in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
This weekend marks a new milestone in the return of one of Minnesota's historic manufacturers. While major clearance events often mark a company's need to get rid of overstocks, the sale at the Faribault mill is a sign of the strength of its turnaround.
The company reopened in 2011 after being closed for two years. And its sales — around $10 million this year — have now reached the stage where it has more scraps and trimmings to recycle, along with more irregulars that naturally result during production. Wool shrinks at different rates when washed, and sometimes it absorbs dye differently, creating seconds that are an inch too short or a color that ran.
"Every Soho throw needs to be exactly the same in color and weave as the others when we ship it to the retailer," said Bruce Bildsten, Faribault's chief marketing officer. "We want consistency, but the nature of some of the materials we work with is inconsistency."
The result: a score for people who don't care that a Soho blanket or throw is less than perfectly plaid.
Most customers probably won't notice what makes it a second, said Bildsten, but the defect is always superficial and does not affect quality.
And not all items have slight imperfections. Some are first-quality that were made exclusively for retailers such as West Elm. For those products, Faribault's strategy was to wait a year after a seasonal line was removed from stores and then bring the leftovers to the tent sale.
The sale in Faribault, Minn., contains more than 4,000 pieces. Discounted prices range from $15 to $20 for unisex scarves, $20 to $80 for throws, $20 to $55 for twin-size blankets, $30 to $100 for queen sizes and $40 to $80 for king.
Tent sales are one of the few times when the brand gets discounted. Seconds get sold year round at the store and some discontinued items are on sale at Faribaultmill.com, but the company never sells seconds online.
The Faribault brand continues to charm customers with quality, heritage and resilience. Founded in 1865 and in its current location since the 1890s, the mill was rescued by Edina businessmen Chuck and Paul Mooty in 2011 after closing in 2009.
Retailers say they rarely need to discount the line because they have little trouble selling it at full price. Erick DeLeon, store manager and buyer at Martin Patrick in Minneapolis said Faribault items sell well, especially accent scarves and throws. "It's a multigenerational product that attracts parents and their kids," he said. "They're looking for a good quality product that will last through the years."
Susan Zdon, owner of Corazon gift shop in Minneapolis and a second store to open next month in St. Paul, said customers understand that they have to pay more for a quality woven. "It's a keepsake heirloom. You don't buy it on a whim. It's a special purchase," she said.
In 2012, the company was featured by ABC's "World News Tonight," for its "Made in America" series. Actor George Clooney put the company in the spotlight again after he ordered Faribault's West Point blankets for the cast and crew of a movie he directed.
Boutiques and premiere retailers such as Nordstrom, J. Crew, Madewell, Club Monaco, West Elm, Garnet Hill, and CB2 sell its scarves, throws, blankets and accessories.
For the holidays, Target will offer several exclusive online-only items from Faribault, including 100 percent wool scarves, throws, handbags, and cellphone sleeves from $13 to $80, starting Nov. 2.
"We couldn't be more proud of the final product," said Stacia Andersen, senior vice president of apparel and accessories at Target. "The quality is remarkable and the fact that it's the result of two Minnesota companies coming together, we feel, is very special."
Bildsten is thankful not only to premier big-box retailers selling the line, but also to small shops in Minnesota, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City that picked up the line after 2011. More than 20 Minnesota shops carry Faribault.
The company's plant, year-round retail store and this weekend's tent sale are at 1500 NW. 2nd Av. in Faribault, 50 miles south of the Twin Cities.