Darn Tough Vermont expands footprint to former Keurig facility

  • Darn Tough is expanding into a building on Pilgrim Park Road in Waterbury. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger VtDigger — Mike Dougherty

  • Ric Cabot, president and CEO of Darn Tough. Photo by Anne Wallace Allen/VTDigger

  • “Boarding” machines at the Darn Tough plant use heat to set the fibers in each sock. Photo by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger

  • Cabot Hosiery Mills employee Pamela Dickinson of Brookfield, Vt., checks a machine that is knitting a wool sock, which is better for cold weather use, for the Army. Each machine takes 10 minutes to make a pair of socks at the Northfield, Vt., plant on Jan. 31, 2008. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Published: 12/14/2019 10:26:22 PM
Modified: 12/14/2019 10:26:20 PM

NORTHFIELD, Vt. — Darn Tough Vermont is getting darn big. The nationally known sock-maker will add a new 50,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Waterbury, Vt., to its production next year, and it expects to have 100 people working at the new site in 2021.

The leased space is part of an ambitious five-year growth plan for Cabot Hosiery Mill, Darn Tough’s parent company. The company is growing 25% to 30% year-over-year, said CEO Ric Cabot, and expects to sell 8 million pairs of socks in 2020. There are 360 people working for the company in Northfield.

Darn Tough has leased space in former Keurig Dr Pepper buildings in downtown Waterbury, and in February will start renovations to create an additional 17,000 square feet of office. Manufacturing will start in Waterbury sometime late next year, Cabot said.

The company’s headquarters and existing sock factory will stay in Northfield, said Cabot, whose father started Cabot Hosiery Mills in 1978. Cabot said the expansion in Waterbury will help strengthen the company, including its facility in Northfield, which turns out about 34,000 pairs of socks each day and sells socks online from its website and in stores in 30 countries.

“We’re doing this to fund our growth, but it’s also for the long term,” said Cabot, who started the Darn Tough brand in 2003. He declined to release the privately held company’s revenues. “It’s for the prosperity and job security of the people who have been with us all these years.”

The expansion is good news for Waterbury, which has seen a tough few years. Flooding from Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 badly damaged 49 historic buildings and displaced 1,300 state office workers. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, once a major employer, became the nationally known Keurig Green Mountain in 2014, acquired the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, and has been slowly leaving Vermont over the last few years.

Darn Tough has a folksy name and produces a familiar product, but it’s a major Vermont employer with a large impact on central Vermont’s economy. The fact that it’s growing within Vermont “really expands the Vermont brand in so many ways,” Gov. Phil Scott said. “We’re very fortunate to have them.”

The company this year hired its first sustainability manager, as well as a chief technology officer and human resources director, Cabot told Footwear News last summer.

Darn Tough needed to move to a different area of the state to reach a larger labor pool, said Brooke Kaplan, Darn Tough’s marketing director. Waterbury is about 20 miles northwest of Northfield. She said the company looked at buildings across Vermont and out of state.

“Waterbury is just far enough where we feel comfortable we can tap into a new labor pool as well as some existing workforce that had been employed by Keurig,” said Kaplan, who once worked at Keurig herself. “This is going to have an impact on all those people who lost their job or saw it move out of state. We’re breathing some life back into Waterbury.”

Business leaders often say Vermont is an expensive place to do business, blaming high taxes and utility prices as well as complex permitting and other regulation.

“I certainly hear that each and every day when I am speaking to businesses throughout the state,” Scott said. “We can’t ignore the impact of the decisions we make in Montpelier. We have to be realistic; we’re competing with other states. So when a company like this decides to expand and stay here and values Vermont as part of its branding, it’s just really good news for all of us.”

Cabot noted that the state’s name is in the company name.

“Everything that is challenging about Vermont makes us a stronger brand,” he said. “We like the weather. Our employees are here. The best people in the sock industry in the whole world are in Northfield, and hopefully, soon, Waterbury.”

As they prepared to announce the expansion, Cabot and Kaplan focused on assuring residents of Northfield that the existing headquarters and manufacturing company would stay put. The town of 6,000 is also home to Norwich University, which employs about 860 people, but lacks other major employers. Kaplan said the company will add jobs in Waterbury and in Northfield in future years.

Darn Tough recently spent $2.5 million updating the 100-year-old Nantanna Building to increase the company’s space for manufacturing and internet fulfillment in Northfield. Cabot Hosiery Mills, the parent company of Darn Tough, still makes some socks under its own label, Kaplan said.

State Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, said she was relieved to learn that Darn Tough’s headquarters and factory would stay in town. In recent years, three major companies have pulled up stakes, said Donahue, noting that Northfield Savings Bank built its large new headquarters in Berlin, Vt., in 2015.

“They still have a little branch office in Northfield, but they moved the corporate headquarters and all the staff that went with it to Berlin,” Donahue said.

She added that she’s heard Darn Tough treats its employees well.

“They pay decently, and I know a guy who was having some medical issues, and they basically told him, ‘Whatever time you need to take, we’re behind you.’ ”

Darn Tough socks have gained fame from the company’s unconditional guarantee that consumers can return their socks anytime, for any reason.

Scott, who wears the socks for hiking and biking and to work, said he has returned a few to stores over the years.

“I’m fairly religious about Darn Tough socks,” he said.

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