Among the business sectors in North Carolina, the textile industry is perhaps the best example of a sector which has overcome obstacles. Despite changes in customer demands and manufacturing practices, companies like Mountain Rug Mills in Hendersonville, NC continue to remain focused on domestic textile manufacturing. These operations produce goods that utilize local talent while meeting highest standards of quality and precision.
During a business meeting in the late 1940’s, John Boss owner of the Midwest Rug Mill of Amboy, Illinois, traveled to western North Carolina. During his visit, Boss immediately recognized the inherent value of the workforce and the competitive business climate. Shortly after his return to Illinois, Boss announced that a sizeable portion of his business would be shifted to what is now the Town of Fletcher. During the company’s transition to North Carolina, the new operation was given the name Mountain Rug Mills.
In 1973 Gill Morgan joined Mountain Rug Mills. With a background in accounting, Morgan began his career as the operation’s controller. In addition to managing the company’s finances and real estate holdings, Morgan quickly became interested in the craftsmanship involved in the business. Learning from the lead craftsman, Joe Miller, Morgan began to find ways to be more involved in the production process. During an interview with Morgan he stated, “Producing a rug is not unlike any other art form. Like a painter, a rug is a product of years of practice, knowing exactly how to integrate patterns, colors and different fibers to achieve a unique work of art.” In 1994, after 21 years with the business, Gill and his wife, Judy, purchased the business and began to expand the operation’s customer base.
Like most textile operations in North Carolina, Mountain Rug Mills has worked extremely hard to overcome significant market pressures. Mountain Rug Mills has resisted pressures to shift manufacturing overseas. “The manner in which we make our rugs is not easily transferrable,” Morgan explains, “the products produced at the Mill are dependent on the rug makers themselves, not machines.” The operation’s 17 employees each possess years of experience in the textile industry. The reputation of the company rests squarely on their experience and abilities. “You simply can’t train a person, in a short period of time, to produce the type of rugs we manufacture. The learning process takes years.” As a result of this lengthy learning process, nearly every employee has over 10 years of experience. Some employees are even approaching 30 years with the company.
In 1999, due to the widening of Highway 25 in Fletcher, the operation moved to the former Select Foods facility located off of Oriole Drive and Ashe Street in Hendersonville, NC. After eight years of operation at this location the company decided to seek a more prominent location for their outlet store and showroom. In 2007, the company worked with the ownership of Spinning Wheel Rugs to purchase this long-time competitor and move their operation into the Spinning Wheel building in the central business district of downtown Hendersonville. Gill & Judy Morgan completed the move to 609 N. King Street, Hendersonville in March of 2008. “Our facility in downtown Hendersonville has provided our operation the ability to grow. The 50,000 SF facility located on the corner of N. King and 7th Avenue is not only one of the most visible locations in downtown but has enough space to accommodate the company’s various business units including a product showroom, warehouse and manufacturing wing,” says Morgan.
According to Morgan, the operation is focused on residential and commercial applications. Within the residential segment, the Mill caters to interior decorators and individual customers. Over the past 60 years, the company has developed an incredible network of interior designers located across the country. “Many of these design professionals routinely travel to Hendersonville to work with our craftsman to develop custom rugs.” Mountain Rug Mills can create rugs which are highly customized. Customers are able to specify the exact yarns, styles, sizes and colors of the final product. According to the company’s ownership, “customers are often surprised to learn that we dye our own yarns, and can match nearly any color sample.” According to the company’s design team, the operation can produce nearly any style rug, ranging from very primitive Early American to carved multilevel plush rugs or extremely complex needlepoint rugs in a low tight loop construction.
Separate from the operation’s residential focus is a commercial product line. Unlike the residential market which places a high value on handcrafted pieces of art which utilize traditional materials, the Mill’s commercial business is technology driven. Over the past two decades the Mill has been involved in the manufacturing of floor carpets for private and corporate aircraft and bulkhead logo tapestries for commercial airliners. Their products can be found on carriers such as American and Delta Airlines. To successfully compete in this sector, Morgan and his staff have been heavily involved in the development of advanced fibers. Through partnerships with companies like Dupont, GE, and Sabic Innovative Plastics, Mountain Rug Mills has helped pioneer the dyeing and manufacturing process for several materials including Nomex and Ultem. “These materials are very different from those yarns which we utilize for our residential customers.” Fibers like Nomex are approved by the FAA and have been specifically engineered for applications which require above average tolerances for heat resistance, abrasion and wear.
In addition to these advanced commercial applications, Mountain Rug Mill has a unique history in the development of commercial grade products. According to Morgan, “Mountain Rug Mills produces a wide range of carpets which are ultimately installed in office buildings and commercial developments. Other products include pieces of art displayed in greeting areas and corporate offices. “Just as a company or organization would commission a painting to commemorate an achievement many of our commercial customers commission rugs/tapestries to display in their offices.” For example, when Sonopress (renamed Arvato) launched their operation in Weaverville, NC in 1991, Mountain Rug Mills was asked to produce a tapestry, complete with a mountain scene set against the corporation’s logo. Other works include the reproduction of photos and family crests.
Consistent with every rug produced is a commitment to process. “Our commitment to traditional rug making practices sets us apart from our competitors. We use only the best materials, 100% New Zealand Wool, Mulberry Silk and primary cotton backing.” The majority of the rugs produced by the WNC operation are handmade. These practices have been passed down from generation to generation. “An investment in a rug produced by our craftsmen is an investment in a local art form inherent to our western NC culture.” It is for this reason that the company has been accepted into the Southern Highland Craft Guild and participates in the Handmade in America organization. In 2008, as a result of the company’s dedication to traditional rug making practices, the White House Historical Association, again, selected Mountain Rug Mills for a prestigious opportunity to help design and produce two rugs. The first has now been located in The Old Family Dining Room and the second in The Diplomatic Reception Room.
North Carolina’s textile industry has changed significantly over the past century. While many operations have placed an emphasis on manufacturing abroad, it is important to recognize those textile operations which continue to evolve and keep pace with customer demands while manufacturing their product in the US. Companies like Mountain Rug Mills have simply adapted their products to niche markets allowing them to maintain a focus on their love for traditional textile manufacturing practices while simultaneously providing a valuable service to residential and commercial customers.