Paul Mooty owes it all to a former worker at the shuttered Faribault Woolen Mill, who in 2011 convinced him that the historic plant with a leaky roof, flooded basement and vestiges of vagrants, pigeons and rodents was worth saving. Mooty and his family reopened the plant and spent nine years resurrecting one of Minnesota’s oldest and most cherished brands. In early February, Mooty’s family sold most of their shares in the business to an investment team led by Paul Grangaard, known for his turnaround of upscale shoe maker Allen Edmonds. Grangaard, the company’s new CEO, brings some cash to the enterprise and a plan to update the designs, add more men’s and women’s clothing and expand nationally.
Q: Why bring in a new investment team now?
A: We’re back on the map. People know we’re here. Things are working. But it takes time to build a business like this. To build this brand, to design new product lines, we need the kind of skill sets and fresh approach of Paul Grangaard and his team. We can invest in new equipment, yes, but they bring expertise to work with supply chains [and can] design new products and add a little flair with Paul’s clothing line, Circle Rock. Paul shares the same passion I do in American manufacturing, heritage, quality and maintaining the culture within the business with the employees.
Q: You received a business and law degree from the University of Minnesota, yet found yourself gambling on retail and manufacturing. How did that come about?
A: I worked at a big accounting firm after law school in the tax department, then practiced law. I found myself always wanting to be on the other side of the table — wanting to be the client. I spent about 13 years in specialty concrete construction and manufacturing starting in the early 1990s. We sold that business, Custom Rock, in 2008 and I spent a year as an executive-in-residence at the [University of Minnesota’s] Center for Integrative Leadership. I began looking for “life’s next great adventure” and came across the mill in early 2011.
Q: Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?
A: I do not see myself as an entrepreneur. I’m a businessman — investor is maybe better. I like small businesses where you can be hands-on and roll up your sleeves. I have worn virtually every hat at the mill over the years — some fit and some did not. I like the jack-of-all-trades approach and working as a team. Faribault Woolen Mill was a combination of a business opportunity and an opportunity to do something good — to try to bring back a great American business and U.S. manufacturing.
Q: You and your cousin, Chuck Mooty, still own the building, and you have kept a minority share in the brand. And you are still on the board of directors. It sounds like you are not ready to walk away.
A: I’ll do whatever is needed. I’ve worked the cash register at the Mall of America during the holidays. My wife, Jean, and I think of the mill like another child of ours. Without the love and commitment of the former employees who came back to the mill, this never would have happened. I’d like to list all their names but I would forget someone. In 2017, we went to a Made in America showcase at the White House and brought Mary Boudreau, a weaver who came back to the mill in 2011. Mary retired last year at age 83 with over 63 years of service. Dennis Melchert, now retired, gave me the tour on March 8, 2011. He lived in a house on the property and helped watch over it after the shutdown. I was ready to leave after 5 minutes of seeing the condition of the property. But Dennis brilliantly shared the story of the mill and helped me see through the mess — to see that there was an opportunity. Two hours later, I left with a completely different perspective. I went home and told my wife: There’s something special down there.