Except for two down years triggered by the Great Recession, the Faribault Woolen Mill near Minneapolis-St. Paul has been cranking out blankets and other products to the delight of customers since 1865. Now as the mill’s new leaders work to give the mill a second life at least as long as the first, modern technology is part of the plan.
That includes not only upgrading the equipment to make the products but also capitalizing on the digital tools available to the market and sell the products. “We’re looking to employ the tools and the people to help us get there,” owner Paul Mooty said.
Faribault is one of the few remaining U.S. woolen mills that create its goods entirely in house. Mooty bought and reopened the plant in 2011, two years after its abrupt closure and after a former long-time employee wowed him with the mill’s history during a tour. “It’s a unique and special opportunity for my family,” said Mooty, who lives near the Twin Cities.
A mere 5 people planted the seeds of success in the rundown property, but the business employed 40 by the end of the year. Most of them had worked at the plant before, a particularly satisfying turn of events for them and for Mooty.
National news coverage of the reopening sparked a $100,000 burst in sales, and JCPenney placed a big order the second year after the mill’s rebirth. The company currently has two retail outlets, sells products through specialty stores, and has done work for the U.S. military consistent with the mill’s storied past.
The new Faribault Woolen Mill operates online, too. The first company website listed only a few products for sale, but now the site is generating approximately 30 percent of the sales. The mill places ads on social media sites to introduce the brand to newcomers and reintroduce it to past fans. The current reach is 63,000 followers on Pinterest, 32,000 on Instagram and 22,000 on Facebook.
“That’s the world today,” Mooty said. “Over time we would like to build a significant digital presence… We see the potential because we’ve seen other companies build remarkable companies through the digital world.”
Faribault Woolen Mill isn’t as big as it once was, but Mooty sees the Internet as the great equalizer. “It absolutely helps us compete against larger companies.”