Wool blankets are a tough sell in summer, but that’s not stopping Faribault Woolen Mill.
The 155-year-old company opened its third retail store last week. The Linden Hills location at 3413 W. 44th St. joins the downtown Minneapolis store on Washington Avenue and the mill store in Faribault.
“Selling wool on 80- and 90-degree days is a challenge,” Paul Grangaard, chief executive of Faribault Woolen Mill, said, laughing. “We’ve opened the store, but we’re delaying grand opening until fall.”
With more than 8,000 vehicles driving by the new location daily, the company is hoping to attract many of them to what was an iconic little red house. It is now painted Faribault blue.
Merchandise in the new store is a mixture of classic throws in frontier stripes, blankets in cabin wool and accessories such as drink sleeves.
In the fall, ponchos, vests, sweaters and capes will augment the assortment. Some of the woolens will get a softer hand as the company looks at other formulations of merino wool, which Grangaard considers more desirable in price, functionality and softness than cashmere.
“It would be cool if Faribault could do cashmere-silk blends,” said Becca Klippenes of Minneapolis as she shopped the new Faribault store on Tuesday. “I’ve been a fan for a couple of years, so I toured the factory last year. The charming and cute little house the store is in goes really well with the product.”
The company also has plans to open stores outside of Minnesota, including Chicago in the fall and New York City after COVID is under control. The expansion will be financed as part of a $1.7 million infusion of cash from partners and an investment group.
The venerable company isn’t resting on its history. It can’t afford to. Sales since the company celebrated its 150th anniversary five years ago have been soft.
“There’s not a lot of demand for luxury pricing in blankets,” Grangaard said. “Our pricing was too high, and many of our wholesale customers didn’t reorder.”
Those customers included Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, West Elm, J. Crew, Restoration Hardware and Bloomingdale’s. Locally, Martin Patrick 3 in Minneapolis and Ampersand also carried the products.
Grangaard said Faribault recently lowered wholesale and retail prices by about 20%.
“We’re taking tighter margins and hoping to make it up in volume,” he said.
Sales suffered because of a lack of new products in a line concentrating too much on stripes and plaids. That has changed now, and customers will see more color and design in the fall lineup.
Faribault is bringing back designs from the early 1990s by local textile designer Laurie Jacobi. She created American Indian pictorial designs and a Viking dragon ship.
Twin Cities graphic artist Adam Turman will contribute three Minnesota scenes of canoes, loons and campfires. An artist from the Southeast will contribute African American designs.
The company has benefited from strong sales of maps and flags on throws including Lake Minnetonka maps and flags of the U.S., Norway, Sweden, Arizona, Colorado, Texas and California.
“People have been beaten down by COVID and social-justice concerns,” Grangaard said. “Tough times have always brought out bright colors in fashion. Faribault is making sure it doesn’t miss a bright-color trend.”
In addition to new products, the company’s new digital strategy has boosted e-commerce sales 170% since the beginning of the year. Grangaard also plans to mail catalogs in the fall, a move that paid off when he turned things around for Allen Edmonds.