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Biddeford looks to emerge from Ch. 11

Andrea Lillo -- Home Textiles Today, March 18, 2002

It's been almost a year since Biddeford Blankets filed Chapter 11. And if things go Morten Brunvoll's way, then Biddeford will soon emerge as a manufacturer with more than a century of experience combined with a state-of-the-art factory and a renewed product focus.

"Now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Brunvoll, ceo of Biddeford and head of global sales and marketing for MicroLife, the Taipei, Taiwan-based manufacturer of controllers and heating electronics that is the majority owner of Biddeford.

With Biddeford's long history of textiles experience and the support of the 21-year-old MicroLife, which sees annual sales worldwide of about $75 million, the burgeoning company can nurture its business in the electronic blanket market. Brunvoll hopes that the company, which will do business as Biddeford Blankets, will be out of Chapter 11 by next month.

The textiles manufactured by Biddeford, which has about $25 million in annual sales, are "superior to other blankets on the market," he said, in terms of napping and such. MicroLife had already been providing the electronics for Biddeford's electronic blankets before it purchased the company, and its technology has the heat distribution, safety and performance to rival its competitors, he said.

Blending the electronics with the specialized textiles will result in flexible heating products with tremendous opportunity, he said, and the new products will also have brand new packaging.

"We're remaking the whole brand of Biddeford," he said.

By Oct. 1, Biddeford will also move into a more efficient and technologically advanced factory in Biddeford Industrial Park, which will combine manufacturing and warehouse functions into one building.

MicroLife is essentially financing the Biddeford operation, but not running it, Brunvoll said. However, it did make one key decision — to drop conventional blankets, about 8 percent to 10 percent of its business. "They are not our specialty," he said. "We have more interest in developing the category of flexible heating products." The conventional blanket business is also not a growing segment overall, he added. Biddeford will still fulfill all of its remaining conventional blanket orders, with conventional blanket production expected to shut down mid-year.

Several categories will be expanded in the new company, however, including throws, about 15 percent to 20 percent of the company's product line. The company has targeted the youth market for Back-to-School, for example, with its Hot Wraps line of heated throws, in vibrant, neon colors and with transparent digital controllers. This idea mixes the traditional throw with "adventurous colors," he said. It will also generate brand awareness for that category, he added.

In addition, Brunvoll wants to more clearly define its product to its different distribution channels, which include discounters, department stores and catalogs.

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