Michael Noer's vision for backpack business: Make it here, sell it everywhere
From the Minneapolis/St.Paul Business Journal
Written by Alex Wittenberg - Staff writer
Nov 21, 2018, 7:47am CST
The Airtex Group is a textile-manufacturing company that's been based in Minneapolis for the last 100 years. Such a legacy is not lost on Michael Noer, the company's new president. Noer, who joined Airtex last year as senior vice president and was named president last week, is focused on realizing the potential of the company while staying true to the values that have underpinned it since its inception.
Airtex's products run the gamut from high-end window shades to basic black backpacks. The company sells directly to consumers, but it also has notable partners that include Lifetouch, Uponor Corp., Andersen Corp. and Best Buy Co. Inc.
Noer sat down with the Business Journal to talk about his plans for the firm. This conversation has been edited for space and clarity.
What's your background?
I have a degree in mass communication from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and I thought I was going to have a career in broadcasting. It ultimately led into sales and marketing. I worked in sales roles for Imation Corp. and Thule Group before getting involved with Acme.
You were CEO of Acme Made, and now Acme is part of Airtex. Could you explain the relationship?
Acme Made Inc. is a consumer-product brand that was formed in 2002 in San Francisco by an ex-Apple designer. A few years ago, I was working for another textile-type business, and we wanted a brand. So when there was an opportunity to acquire Acme, we did. In the first year of our ownership, we were attracting the attention of some big retailers. We knew we needed a strong team and healthy capital, so when I met Mike Miller, [Airtex's CEO], we decided to bring Acme Made into Airtex.
As president of Airtex, how do you hope to shape the company?
One way is through organizational change, and that is already happening. We've announced a new leadership team. We have a new director of operations, Scott Savitt; a new CFO, Dave Gustafson; and, for the first time, a marketing team, which will be led by Daneen Kiger.
What's on the horizon for Airtex?
The first and foremost goal is to see people at our company fulfill their potential. I love seeing people realize potential and be successful. But on the business side, we see a great opportunity to drive our Made In USA message. We have customers all around the world, but we manufacture a significant amount of our products right at our Minneapolis facility. That helps from a business standpoint, just economically, but there's also an emotional component to it. There's a real appreciation for a Made In USA tag attached to the product. Our growth projection has never been stronger, and I envision double-digit percentage growth in the coming years.
Airtex’s northeast Minneapolis factory, historically a cut-and-sew shop for high-end linen draperies and other home products, added mask-making soon after COVID-19 struck.
Workers started crafting masks by hand, as they do other products at the plant. But to be competitive in the suddenly surging mask market, Airtex invested about $500,000 in new machinery to automate the process.