DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — It takes Elaine Draper about 30 seconds to finish a single DuraFresh cloth.
Sitting quietly at her workstation, five large spools of thread feeding the needle of her industrial sewing machine, the GLOBEco Maine LLC production supervisor quickly stitches gold-colored thread along the edges of the rectangular cloth, with the machine also cutting the 9½ x 11 inch material precisely to size.
“You need to get to know the machine. Every machine is a little different. They all have their quirks, just like a car,” Draper said Friday. “You need to learn your machine. It’s very hard to jump from one to the other. But in order to build up your speed and get these perfected, it does take a while.”
Behind her, two other workers stitch DuraFresh cloths. They are on their way to producing what company president Phil Pastore estimated would be about 150,000 packages of the multi-use wipes worth about $400,000 for shipping to more than 300 retail outlets from Millinocket to St. Louis over the next three months.
The manufacturing facility in the front end of the Save-A-Lot supermarket on West Main Street is the latest step in the development of GLOBEco, which Pastore and partner Mark Snyder hope to grow from a five- to a 40-worker company over the next two years.
“It’s been a frustrating process, but I am ecstatic about where we are today,” Pastore said Friday. “We have all the manufacturing components in place, and we’re selling to key customers.”
Pastore estimates that about $1 million in private investment and grants from the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and Coastal Enterprises Inc., among others, have gone into the partners’ 1½-year-old venture. It opened on West Main Street in July.
Pastore estimates that the company has made 40,000 cloths so far and sold about 10,000. The cloths manufactured at the facility in recent weeks constitute the first wave of production at the new facility.
The company’s challenge: to balance sales growth against manufacturing capacity to make enough cloth wipes – and develop more products – to compete in the $5 billion cleaning cloth market and the $2 billion disinfectant wipe sector.
At the moment, much of the company’s assets are spread around the globe. The eight-layer multi-weave wood fiber that allows the cloth to rinse 99 percent germ-free is made in Asia and shipped to Dover-Foxcroft for final assembly, Pastore said.
And the assembly and packaging for retail sale are done almost entirely by hand, Pastore said.
But Pastore hopes to have True Textiles Inc. of Guilford share the load with his Asian manufacturers in producing the large spools of wood-fiber cloth that his workers sew. True Textiles, which advertises itself as a leading North American manufacturer of commercial textiles, such as panel fabric, upholstery and cubicle curtains, is finishing a 29,000-yard run that has so far tested well, Pastore said.
Pastore expects to receive a $62,500 packing machine in late January. With that, “an hour’s worth of packing can be done in three or four minutes,” he said.
Pastore hopes his company’s growth will continue. He estimates that one set of wipes can replace as many as 20 rolls of paper towels.
Clients include Hannaford supermarkets, which has more than 180 stores in five states, and Schnucks of St. Louis, a supermarket chain with more than 90 stores in the Midwest. Goulette’s IGA Foodliner of Guilford, LeRoux Specialty Products, Paris Farmer’s Union of Oxford and several other IGAs around Maine are customers. Restaurants and hardware stores also are stocking DuraFresh, Pastore said. It retails from $4.99 to $6.99 per package of two.
Goulette’s IGA manager Diane Rollins said that so far the product has been received well.
“I have used it myself and really liked them and I have had several other customers say how much they liked them. It stays fresh. It doesn’t get smelly like a regular dishcloth. I like the weight of it. It is a nice bulky cloth. It’s not real thin and cheap,” Rollins said.
Tim Currier, general manager of Maine Hardware, a 27,000 square-foot store in Portland, said he has just started stocking his shelves with DuraFresh.
“I have been a buyer of theirs when they had a different product,” Currier said. “I just got the first few cases of it [DuraFresh] in the store. I think it is a good product. I hope they get their name out there and people understand what they’re all about.”
“It is exciting to see that a product like this is made in Maine,” Currier said.