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October 1, 2018
Next 2018

Next 2018: Pete Roberts creates new jobs while restoring the 'Made in Maine' label in Farmington

PHOTo / Meagan Littlefield
PHOTo / Meagan Littlefield
Pete Roberts started selling imported jiu jitsu gear online in Franklin County in 2011. Today, his company, Origin USA, has 35 employees and is reviving Farmington's manufacturing economy by bringing age-old martial arts gear into the 21st Century.

Pete Roberts

Founder, Origin USA, Farmington

Origin USA

125 High St., Farmington

Founded: 2011

What the company does: Manufactures and sells martial arts gear

Contact: 888-858-1416 www.originmaine.com

Pete Roberts began what is now Origin USA in 2011, selling imported jiu jitsu gear online in Franklin County. Since then, the company has grown to 35 employees, making it a significant employer in Farmington. It manufactures both the textiles used to make the gear as well as the gear itself. Its martial arts gear and related goods are sold online to customers around the world.

Mainebiz: The road from martial arts to owning a manufacturing business is not often taken — how did it evolve?

Pete Roberts: As a long-time athlete, I noticed how gear changed over the years as technology improved. With martial arts though, the same uniform had been used for over 200 years. It was an opportunity to build a brand and create a 'blue ocean strategy.' I wanted control over research and development, textiles and the design process, but when looking for U.S. manufacturers, we kept hitting dead ends. I knew Franklin County had a rich manufacturing heritage and didn't believe manufacturing was dead just because everyone said it was — so I took action.

MB: What's the philosophy behind the vertical strategy?

PR: We coined a term, new vertical, and developed a factory-to-consumer [F2C] strategy. Maine once had large mills that specialized in individual aspects of the manufacturing process: one spun yarn, another wove fabric, dyed fabric, etc. Manufacturers purchased raw goods to make products. I asked whether we could bring everything under one roof and cross-train people to work within those processes on a smaller scale. The answer was absolutely yes, and new vertical was born.

We also are tapping into a new level of customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction. Twenty years ago, craftsmen built products that left their hands and [they never saw it again]. Through social media, we've connected our workers to the end user, providing fulfilment and also seeing the enjoyment and emotional response of the consumer. This strengthens the relationship between the worker, the consumer and ultimately the brand. This is how F2C was born.

MB: What role does Origin USA play in Farmington?

PR: Origin is Farmington's only manufacturing company, which puts us in a unique position. Working with your hands to build products is intriguing and satisfying, and millennials are some of our best employees. For the older generation who worked in the old factories, it often brings a tear to their eyes to see the rebirth of something they thought was lost. The community embraced us with open arms; the postal service has increased their staff by two full-time employees. The economic impact on our small downtown has ushered in a vibrance not seen in many years.

MB: What would your 10-years-younger self say?

PR: It would be a dream come true. I grew up in an old farmhouse down a dirt road in the western Maine mountains. We could access two local channels, so most of my youth was spent watching 'Made in Maine' on PBS. I remember waiting to see which factory they'd feature, and believing that Maine-made products were truly the best made products in the world.

MB: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

PR: We're America's next big brand. Vermont has Burton, Maryland has Under Armor. Maine will have Origin. We'll continue eating market shares, creating jobs and we'll build a brand that'll transcend this generation.

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