Closers

Made in Minnesota: Durable goods

The Faribault Woolen Mill Co. weaves a rich history into its products

By Brittany Trevick

Long noted for its high-quality woolen blankets, the Faribault Woolen Mill Co. has nearly 150 years of history  and an archive to prove it. The company's vault stores antique blankets from various eras, including one that ventured to France and back during World War I, surviving the trenches in a soldier's backpack.

Surviving international competition proved trickier for the company, which was nearly lost to history  before being saved by it. in 2009, the plant ceased operations. The equipment was slated to be sold to a textile maker in Pakistan. Then along came the Mootys.

"Chuck and I were looking for something to take on that would be meaningful," says Paul Mooty, now the company's president. His cousin Chuck, now the CEO, had recently played that same role for Edina-based international Dairy Queen.

An initial tour of the plant convinced Paul of its historical value. "Even though the place was kind of an awful-looking site," he says, "you knew it was special."

The company, it turned out, had been the oldest manufacturing business in Minnesota, having started in 1865 (the year the Civil War ended) and operating at its current site along the Cannon River since 1892. The cousins decided to restore the historic plant, about a mile outside Faribault's quaint downtown. In the summer of 2011 the business reemerged as a fully integrated textile manufacturer.

Today its products are sold nationwide, and business partners include major hotels, retailers, and even cruise lines. In addition to wool blankets, it makes throws, scarves, and iPad and coffee cup sleeves. It's sold about 100,000 blankets and throws to J.C. Penney alone, and the employee count has jumped from five in July 2011 to about 80 now.

Without a doubt, the company's inspiring made-in-America story gives it a feel-good marketing edge, but the Mootys know quality is still paramount. As before, products from the mill are above all durable. "There's something about the story that adds to the products. Everybody likes a story," says Paul, "but at the end of the day, you have to have a quality product, something that lasts."

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