Pendleton Woolen Mills
Q&A: John Bishop, President & CEO
By Jan Mitchell
President & CEO
Describe what your company does. How many employees do you have?
Pendleton creates quality products that embody craftsmanship, enrich lives and connect generations. Perhaps best known for its original product, blankets, Pendleton currently offers merchandise across the spectrum of textiles and related materials. Augmented by licensee partners, the assortment runs from socks to pillows to shirts to hats, even dishes and home furnishings. It owns and operates six operating facilities and 40 Pendleton stores across the U.S. There are more than 850 employees across the company, 640 in the Pacific Northwest.
How long have you been in operation? How did your business get started? Why Oregon?
Pendleton Woolen Mills began weaving operations in Pendleton, Ore., in 1909. The company, now in its sixth generation of family ownership and management, traces its origins to Thomas Kay, a weaver from England, who came to Oregon in 1863. He was recruited by Oregon businessmen who were looking for individuals to help develop the woolen textile industry in the newest state in the Union. Oregon had an emerging consumer market, an ample supply of wool and an abundant resource of water important for wool manufacturing.
What makes your product unique?
Pendleton is a consumer brand founded on woolen textile manufacturing from the purchase of raw fleece to the point of sale: Fleece to Fashion. Pendleton’s distinction is its vertical manufacturing—controlling wool manufacturing from wool purchase to finished product. Wool fabrics are woven in Pendleton’s mills in Washougal, Wash., and Pendleton, Ore.
What other businesses are dependent on what you do? How has the local community benefited?
Pendleton sources approximately 40 percent of total raw wool purchases from the Pacific Northwest; that’s nearly a million pounds per year. Our hearts belong to the places where we live. We especially proud of our support for the American Indian College Fund, the Fisher House™ Foundation program for military families, and the National Park Foundation. Our relationship with the Pendleton Round-Up goes back to its founding in 1910. Our relationship with our Native American customers remains, since day one, in many ways our most important asset. We also take the opportunity to connect with each other outside the office and to better understand the Old Town Portland community by volunteering at the Blanchet House, a long-time provider of meals to any and all.
How has your business changed since it began?
From the beginning we focused on building Pendleton as a consumer brand, which was unusual for a woolen mill at the time. Initially we made only Indian Trade blankets, but we’ve broadened the assortment over time to include men’s and women’s apparel, bed blankets and other home products, accessories and others. Our wholesale business model has grown to include omni-channel distribution with the web being our largest channel. There have to be significant changes when you are in business for 110 years.
What do you think your business will look like in five years?
That current trends will continue. Product will be more comfortable and casual. The Web will continue to gain market share. Consumer concerns about sustainability will increase and become better informed.
What are your thoughts on the current state of manufacturing? Thoughts on the future of manufacturing?
Technology will continue to be critical for manufacturing in the first world economies, but improved wages in the third world businesses will narrow the gap between domestic and offshore sourcing, to the benefit to American manufacturing.
Why is it important to have manufacturing in Oregon?
In addition to supplying direct employment, manufacturing provides a market for local service providers and for raw material providers. Due to these add-on effects, manufacturing has increased economic impact and should be supported and appreciated.
What makes you excited to come to work every day?
That changes every day but I always take great satisfaction from being around our finished product. It amazes me that we have a team of people who can start with raw fiber and produce an assortment of beautiful merchandise that is coordinated across multiple product categories and offered across all the major consumer sales channels. I am humbled to be leading a team of such talented and dedicated individuals.