To Ross Widmoyer, Faribault Mill is part of Minnesota's rich fabric of legacy brands. After rapid growth, the forward-thinking chief executive hopes to weave a new chapter in the blanket maker's story.
This year, for the first time, Faribault Mill will expand its stores outside of Minnesota as it pushes to make itself a household name. Armed with new equipment and a larger array of products, including items made of cotton, the nearly 158-year-old company is ready for a wider platform, said Widmoyer, who became Faribault Mill's chief executive a year ago.
"This is an unbelievable heritage brand," he said. "It has a great legacy here not only in Minnesota but ... a following across the country. Our job is to expand that following and introduce the brand to new consumers, not only here still in Minnesota, but across the country and eventually throughout the world."
Faribault Mill, which says it is the longest-standing manufacturer in Minnesota, has endured wars, the Great Depression and historic floods. Little more than a decade ago the company shut down during the recession, leaving its mill empty and in disrepair.
After being reopened by local businessmen and cousins Paul and Chuck Mooty in 2011, Faribault Mill has slowly rebuilt itself by centering on its legacy as one of only two remaining vertical wool mills in the country: meaning it oversees the manufacturing process from raw wool to finished product. The other such mill is Pendleton in Portland, Ore.
"There's a real heritage to it," said Bruce Bildsten, a Twin Cities marketing executive who is an equity partner and board member of Faribault Mill. "For me, it was that quality. It was something that lasts."
In February of 2020, Faribault Mill merged with upscale men's clothing startup CircleRock, which Widmoyer started with Paul Grangaard, the former chief executive of Wisconsin-based men's shoe company Allen Edmonds.
Similar to Allen Edmonds, they thought Faribault should invest heavily in e-commerce, open brick-and-mortar stores and create new products.
"What we really wanted to do was take this long-run primarily contract manufacturer and make it a full-fledged consumer brand," said Widmoyer who was chief operating officer until he took over for Grangaard last year. Grangaard serves as chair.
The pandemic pushed more consumers to spend money on home goods like bed and throw blankets. "We just saw a real resurgence and renaissance," Widmoyer said.
Over the past few years, Faribault introduced more than 100 new products and released special licensed products such as a Peanuts collection as well as artist collaborations.
Faribault Mill also opened new stores in Edina and Excelsior since the pandemic began.
In March, Faribault Mill made a big investment by adding cotton products with the acquisition of Brahms Mount, a legacy company making cotton blankets. As part of the acquisition, Faribault which had gone by the full name Faribault Woolen Mill Co., rebranded as "Faribault Mill."
Another change last year was that Faribault updated some of its machinery, including a new industrial dryer and a fleet of higher speed and higher capacity looms, which allows the company to weave fabric 50% faster.
Faribault Mill's investments have already paid off.
December was the best sales month in Faribault's modern history, capping a record year for the company. Last year was its third consecutive year of double-digit sales growth. Faribault Mill's employee count has doubled since 2020 to 110 employees.
Looking ahead, Faribault Mill intends to open the first permanent store outside Minnesota this fall in Portland, Maine, about an hour from the Brahms Mount facilities. The company plans to open two to three stores per year across the country.
Still, Faribault Mill's path ahead won't be easy as consumers tackle inflation. Sales of home goods have stalled.
"The challenge here is how do you stay top of mind for consumers if they are pulling back from a budgeting perspective," said Carlos Castelán, managing director of local retail consulting company the Navio Group.
Luckily for Faribault Mill, many of its customers have higher incomes and are less sensitive to inflation, he said.
Widmoyer acknowledges "some softness in the home category," but remains optimistic.
"There may be other headwinds on the horizon from a macro-economic standpoint, but we feel the opportunity is just to continue to introduce this brand because when people find us and experience this brand, they love this brand."