Nine years after being brought back to life, the Faribault Woolen Mill Co. has a fresh infusion of cash and a new leadership team that pledges to bring more sales and perhaps a bit more flair to the 155-year-old company.
Former Allen Edmonds turnaround chief Paul Grangaard is leading a new ownership group that plans to add more apparel and accessories to Faribault, which is one of two woolen manufacturers in America.
Grangaard will join forces with Paul Mooty, who reopened the mill in 2011 and, with his family, has worked to shore up the decrepit factory and relaunch the label known for its signature wool blankets and throws. The name has been tweaked to add a tagline: Faribault Woolen Mill Co. — Since 1865.
“I call it a broadening of the brand rather than pulling it up,” said Grangaard, who is taking over as chairman and chief executive of the company. “It’s already got a great reputation for quality and an incredible heritage.”
Grangaard has spent the past two years trying to build his own upscale American-made menswear line, CircleRock, from scratch, which he said proved difficult and expensive.
He and Mooty met over a business deal several years ago, Grangaard said, and the two have spent the past year discussing a partnership in which Grangaard could bring more capital as well as his marketing, retailing and product development experience to the Faribault Woolen Mill brand.
Mooty said he loves Faribault Woolen Mill “like another child,” but acknowledged that the business is solid but not profitable. The time was right, he said, to bring in additional local investors who respect its history; it was founded at the end of the Civil War.
“We’ve done a great job of getting this business back on its feet, building visibility and investing in the infrastructure around it,” Mooty said Friday. “We’ve been building the foundation. Now Paul is coming in to build on top of that.”
The historic plant sits on the banks of the Cannon River just outside of downtown Faribault, about an hour south of the Twin Cities. The entire manufacturing operation happens on site — from the washing, dyeing and spinning of the yarn to sewing the fabric. It has about 60 employees, some whose families have worked there for generations. With Oregon’s Pendleton Woolen Mills, it is one of the remaining vertical production mills in the country.
The plant shut down in 2009, but Mooty and his cousin Chuck Mooty bought the factory and the brand name and spent “millions and millions” to make repairs, buy new equipment, upgrade the wiring and replace or add heating and air-conditioning systems. The two still own the building and real estate.
Although Faribault Woolen Mill has had partnerships with national retailers such as J.Crew, West Elm, Restoration Hardware, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s, it has struggled to break out of its regional appeal.
Grangaard plans to expand its product line, introduce finer wool fabrics and seek new markets, such as boutique hotels. Women’s scarves, wraps and ponchos also may soon be part of the mix.
“We’ll put some more attention into how a product feels,” he said. “Living room and family room throws made out of softer wools that you’ll like pulling up around your chin and bare skin.”
Grangaard plans to decommission CircleRock as a consumer brand but will continue selling its line of men’s vests, sweaters, shirts and leather jackets under the Faribault label.
Grangaard is credited with getting upscale shoe maker Allen Edmonds, based in Port Washington, Wis., through the recession and back to growth. He launched CircleRock a year after he retired as Allen Edmonds’ CEO.
CircleRock co-founder Ross Widmoyer will become president and chief operating officer at Faribault Woolen Mill. He also is one of the eight investors in the ownership group.
Grangaard and Mooty declined to discuss specific financial terms of the deal, other than to say that the two carry a combined majority ownership share. Mooty plans to remain involved in shaping the company’s future as vice chairman of the board of directors.
“We want to do whatever we need to do to help this business,” Mooty said. “There’s no reason that 150 years from now this business will not still be going strong.”