Post World War II was a different world for our community. Saco-Lowell moved South, Bates Manufacturing consolidated to their operation in Lewiston, and Pepperell Manufacturing was sold to West Point Manufacturing and moved South. What was left? Where do we as a community go from here? Who is going to” answer the bell?” The remnants of Saco-Lowell were resurrected by several local businessmen. Bates Manufacturing facilities became the home for many small business. Pepperell was left with a BLANKET division.
In his interview with Roy Fairfield and Sallie Huot, Francis Spencer explains the strategy of creating a totally unique blanket if they are to be successful in the blanket industry. He first thought “out of the box” by making things simple. Spencer thought of a blanket as simple as insulation. Based on that picture he set out to do something totally new. And the Vellux Blanket was born.
Now he had to use all of the management and people skills he had to move an industry from making a product by mechanical means (looms, weaving, etc.) to making blankets through the use of chemistry! Justifiably, not an easy task. Spencer hired a few key technical staff but broke away from the “ mill management” mentality he and his co-workers had worked under for years. He could not just TELL them what to do because they had to discover it! In many ways they did not know what to do. Spencer solution was what made him stand out as a manager and achieve ultimate success. The decision making process involved the feedback from people who were making the product! He sought the input of all ideas that could move the product forward. The Vellux staff took ownership of the development and product quality. Had it not been for this unique management strategy which was years ahead of its time, it is doubtful the Vellux blanket would have become the world-wide success it enjoyed.
Like so many things that are successful, it made the Vellux Blanket a target for competitors. As we all know the product was sold and the Vellux Blanket left Biddeford and the mill closed in 2009.The Chinese bought the patent and have been trying for years to duplicate the quality of the Vellux Blanket produced here in Biddeford. It is safe to say no company has been able to re-create the original product. Some have even said they have given up and no longer make the blanket. Although this rumor has yet to be verified, it is very unlikely any company that does not use the development strategy employed by Francis Spencer and all of his people will know ALL of the little things it took to make the high quality product.
The lack of success by present manufactures is a testament to the employees and management of the Vellux Blanket defining how to work together to achieve success.