Miss Management: blanket policies and class actions

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In 2012, the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) will celebrate 100 years in business. (Specialty Fabrics Review magazine, a mere hanger-on, won’t celebrate its centennial issue until 2015.) This morning, at our staff meeting, the creative team—a bunch of Starbucks-crazed editors and a few correspondingly wary graphic designers—met to talk about ways in which we can help to commemorate this seminal occasion, both in our publications and next year at IFAI Expo Americas 2012 in Boston.

Not surprisingly, one of my co-editors (who shall remain nameless except to say that it was Chris Tschida) opened the discussion with a frank, innocently inquiring expression and the question: “So how did you celebrate YOUR 100th birthday, Galynn?” I gave this so-called sally [sál-ee; noun; a clever, witty or fanciful remark] the bare eye-roll it deserved, but now that I think on it, I wish that I’d replied with: “I put some new tires on my ’95 Saturn, drank some ’83 Bordeaux, and gracefully accepted the reading public’s gratitude for my having stayed on top of a century of change in the specialty fabrics industry. I put all my money into polyester back in the ’50s, and now I pretty much control the entire world’s bowling attire.”

(You never think of these things when you need them. I’m going to have to start writing these things down.)

Today’s headlines in MinnPost.com, however, brought us back on topic: at 1:00 p.m. today, Minnesota celebrated the grand (re)opening of the Faribault Woolen Mill factory, one of the state’s oldest manufacturers. The company began operating in 1865, and was closed in July, 2009. Workers at the mill will resume production of one of the state’s best-known products, “Faribo” woolen blankets and throws. According to MinnPost reporter Dave Beal, new CEO Chuck Mooty says the rebirth of the mill is representative of a trend to bring back to the U.S. work that has been outsourced in recent decades.

“We will focus on quality positioning and the relevance and support for domestic product. The environment has changed in the last two years, with consumers being more devoted to U.S. brands and product, and the cost of importation and the inconsistency of overseas supply play well for our cause,” said Mooty.

The Faribault factory is a vertically-integrated operation, controlling production from start to finish—a departure from most U.S. mills today. And amongst those tradition-laden products, the company will also produce blankets and throws made partly from Ingeo™ fiber, made from corn, produced by Cargill’s NatureWorks plant in Nebraska. It’s a mix of tradition and technology that I think characterizes many, if not most, readers of the Review and members of IFAI today—and that’s the kind of information I think we should be using as we plan our centennial celebration for 2012.

Henry Ford said, "If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have said a faster horse." I’m wondering if the business trends that have resulted in the rebirth of the Faribault Woolen Mill are generally applicable—or if there are as many routes to success as there are 100-year-old companies in the specialty fabrics industry? (If not 100-year-old senior editors.) If you have your own success story to tell, why not share it with a 100-year-old trade association?

—Galynn Nordstrom, senior editor, Specialty Fabrics Review

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