The year was 1912 and the place was Maine. After a long day of hunting, an avid outdoorsman returned home with three things: his game, his damp feet and a new idea. Leon Leonwood Bean soon enlisted a local cobbler to bring his concept to life. The Maine Hunting Shoe — an innovative boot combining leather uppers to rubber soles — was born. Bean's goal: To keep feet dry and warm even in unfavorable conditions.
Today, Bean, the man TIME magazine once called “The Merchant of the Maine Woods,” is known more for building a retail mecca for outdoor enthusiasts than for his footwear design. And what a destination L.L.Bean is. The flagship store in Freeport, Maine, is a tourism hotspot that attracts nearly 3.5 million visitors a year — second only to the state's Acadia National Park, according to the company. The +100,000-sq.-ft. store is located at the original site where Bean's business began in 1917 and is open 24/7, 365 days a year.
Bean's grandson Leon A. Gorman joined the family business in 1960 and was named president in 1967 following the death of his grandfather. Since his appointment, he has led L.L.Bean from a $4.75 million direct marketing company to a $1 billion-plus organization in 30 years. In 2000, net sales exceeded $1.1 billion; $878 from international catalog and Internet sales and $229 from retail sales. “L.L.Bean is a multi-channel retailer providing superior products and services for people who love the outdoors,” says Janet Wyper, the company's manager of community relations.
L.L.Bean retail stores and outlets can be found sprinkled across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The outfitting company currently has three retail stores, 13 factory outlets and one L.L. Kids store. Bean also has been lucrative in Japan, where more than 20 stores do business. The company says it will remain private/family-owned and has no plans on going public.
Reinforcing its original retail expansion plan, Bean plans to open three to five stores in three to five years. “We are on track,” says Wyper. “Tysons Corner in McLean, Va., opened in July 1999, and we'll announce the location to open in August 2002 in greater Philadelphia this summer.”
So far, Bean's retail stores are found exclusively in regional malls. Though the merchant is always open to other sites, provided they serve its target audience. Some characteristics of L.L.Bean's ideal customer include: active family members, well educated, upper-income, interested in the environment/committed to conservation.
The retail stores measure from 30,000 sq. ft. to more than 100,000 sq. ft. “All stores include visual designs intended to evoke outdoor family connections,” says Wyper. The stores have a strong presence of natural elements including trout ponds, waterfalls, outside casting pools or outside rocks with water features. Taking outdoor family involvement a step further, the company has created the Outdoor Discovery Schools where students may choose to learn kayaking, fly-fishing or wildlife photography.
L.L.Bean is proud of its history and its commitment to community efforts and conservation projects that encourage stewardship of natural resources. For example, since 1980, L.L.Bean employees have volunteered nearly 20,000 hours toward the ongoing maintenance of an 18.5-mile section of the Appalachian Trail. “These are all things that make L.L.Bean special,” says Wyper.