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Biddeford reinvents line and image

BIDDEFORD, ME After emerging from Chapter 11 and regrouping under a new owner, 160-year-old Biddeford Blankets is making over its product line and its image, trying to carve out a new niche in the relatively staid market for automatic blankets.

And for the first time in several years, since the bankruptcy and sweeping overhaul, Biddeford plans to show off a re-vamped product line at this fall's New York market.

"It's been a couple of years since we've shown in New York, so we want this to be a major reintroduction," said Robert Van Jones, newly named vp of sales and marketing.

Striking a radically different, ultra-hip note for what has historically been a deeply conservative company, Biddeford is taking on the youth market this fall with a group of Hot Wrap automatic heated throws in bright, vivid colors and packaging aimed at Gen-Xers and young adults. "Everything has changed," said Jones. "This is no longer the same small company it used to be. The new owners and the new management really want to revitalize this company. Instead of continuing with the same old blanket, we're taking the flexible heated category and putting it into new channels of distribution with new technology, new design, new looks and new packaging. We're really going to make a statement."

A case in point, he said, is the new Hot Wrap program. In addition to vivid colors, the product sports "a see-through control aimed at the tweener and youth market." The Hot Wrap heated throw is priced to promote at $39.95, said Jones.

Breaking more new ground Biddeford is launching what Jones calls "an under-blanket," in effect a heated mattress pad. "It's a product designed to be used, as it is in Europe, with a down comforter. You turn the under-blanket on to warm up the bed, and then you turn it off when you get into bed and let the down comforter work. It's a great one-two punch. It's a very common approach in Europe, and we're going to work hard to make it catch on here. We think the under-blanket is one of our greatest opportunities. This can be a real growth vehicle for us."

At the same time, Biddeford is trading up its core warming blanket business, said Jones. "That business has really plateaued in traditional fabrics and traditional price points. So we're trading up to a micro-denier step-up fabric that we can take to department stores and big boxes, expanding our distribution."

And using technology developed by its new parent, Microlife Group of Taiwan — which brought Biddeford out of Chapter 11 — the new line of trade-up warming blankets will use highly flexible, ultra-thin Microbore wiring to complement the micro-fiber fabric. As an additional plus, "there's less concern about safety issues as you go to thinner and thinner wire," he said.

In addition to the product itself, packing gets an overhaul, said Jones. "Packaging is another area where we're really going to concentrate. We want to create packing that will jump right off the shelf."

As a temporary showcase for its new product lineup, Biddeford will exhibit during the September market at the Le Marquis Hotel at 12 East 31st St. "It's adjacent to 295 Fifth Ave., so the location is perfect. We'll have a couple of suites together to show as much new product as we can."

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