Meet Merinos' owner Michael Bay
Michael Bay was on a boat in northern Italy when he got a call. Would he like to buy a huge, long-vacant cotton mill in Mooresville, North Carolina, featuring half a dozen buildings, some dating from the late 1800s? Bay wasn’t entirely sure where Mooresville was. He looked up the property on Google Earth. There stood the 40-acre site on Main Street, in a town near Charlotte best known for its NASCAR race shops.
Yes, he told the caller. I’ll take it.
It took months of replacing the roof, re-opening bricked-over windows, censoring the indoor graffiti and rehabbing the plumbing and electric service. But Bay (doing the construction himself, with a crew) brought the former Burlington Mill back to life as Merinos Home Furnishings, an enormous furniture retailing complex. Bay carefully preserved the picturesque architectural features of the mill, including the original wood floors.
It was the third Merinos for Bay, who also owns stores in South Carolina and Georgia, with a fourth to open in Winston-Salem in 2013. And the continuation of a remarkable American success story.
When Michael Bay was born in Urfa (in Eastern Turkey) in 1961, his family lived in a mud hut. He grew up always seeking a better future. Bay worked in Turkey and Europe, operating a wholesale food business, until 1999 when he came to the U.S. and began his furniture retail career buying and selling antiques on the road from the back of a truck. Soon he expanded the business by becoming a distributor for Istanbul-based Merinos, the largest rug manufacturer in the world.
By 2006, Bay could see that the off-shore flight of American textile manufacturers had opened the possibility for a new business model in furniture retailing. Vacant textile mills, with their enormous space and distinctive architecture, would make possible very competitive pricing through low overhead costs.
There would also be a unique opportunity for energy savings. In the summer, the huge mill buildings can be filled with cool night air, drawn in by powerful fans and circulated during the day as a cooling breeze. Even the merchandise, cooled at night, can help cool showroom air during the day by absorbing heat. The energy savings are large and would be passed on to customers in low prices.
Bay first put the mill-to-retail model to work in Jefferson, Georgia, to tap the Metro Atlanta, Athens and Gainesville/Lake Lanier markets. Soon he added a store in Fort Lawn, accessible to South Carolina's "lake and river dwellers" market.
In 2010, Bay bought the flagship property of the Merinos Home Furnishings chain—the sprawling 40-acre former Burlington Industries mill in downtown Mooresville. Merinos is a natural "furniture tourism" destination and one key market is families visiting Mooresville's NASCAR race team shops and racing museums.
Environmentally conscious, Bay is creating the largest solar photovoltaic complex on a retail property in North Carolina. Shoppers will soon see solar photovoltaic panels on the roofs of the Mooresville store.
Bay has also created a travel fund at the Mooresville South Iredell Chamber to support the town's International Hydrail Conference project, speeding the transition of the world's railways from diesel to low-carbon, renewably-based hydrogen hybrid fuel cell technology.