Can L.L.Bean stores succeed outside of the Northeast?


L.L.Bean Takes First Steps Out of Northeast – 2/27/08



L.L.Bean already has a national franchise with consumers placing orders every day from the retailer’s catalogs and website. Now the chain is looking to build on the third piece of its multi-channel strategy by opening its first new stores outside the Northeast. Ultimately, the company is looking to open 32 new locations by 2012. It currently operates 12 stores in nine states as well as a number of outlet locations.

Discussion questions: What role do you see physical stores playing for L.L.Bean, a company that has established itself in catalog and online sales? Should there be concerns that a rapid expansion of its store base will somehow detract from the reputation L.L.Bean has built with consumers? What must it do to keep the brand experience consistent across all channels?

My post:

L.L.Bean’s terrific reputation and customer loyalty will be put to the test as they expand out of the Northeast.  The key will be how they train the far-flung managers and staff on the “L.L.Bean way.”  I would love to see them take a page from The Container Store’s playbook and provide that level of training and compensation to ensure truly indoctrinated and well-paid employees.  One more nationwide “experience” outdoor store is likely to struggle without fanatic employees.

Mike Osorio, your Dare to be Contagious! TM strategist



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4 Responses to Can L.L.Bean stores succeed outside of the Northeast?

  1. Dan from Maine says:

    Good questions!

    Let me start by saying that I work at L.L.Bean, so I’m biased!

    It took the company 85 years to create its first store outside of Freeport with a store in North Conway, NH. Needless to say, they have been cautious.

    Our growth will be slow and steady…I think that’s an advantage. Another advantage is the Outdoor Discovery Schools at all of our retail stores. This is an opportunity for customers to try out fishing gear, kayaks, canoes, snowshoes, etc. We are the only outdoor heritage retailer offering such an opportunity. I think this engages the customer in the L.L.Bean experience.

    Certainly, there’s a challenge in having an associate outside of Chicago understanding the Bean heritage. However, it is so engrained in the company and so much a part of our lives, I think the understanding will translate from Maine to other parts of the country.

    A final advantage….we were just named #1 in customer service among all US retailers. In a JD Power survey among all industries, we rank # 2 in the nation. In a time when customer service is non-existent in many industries (customer service is not a gum chewing 17 year old behind a counter who only wants to talk about the party he went to last night!), L.L.Bean is a rarity. We outdo all other companies with our commitment to customer service and satisfaction. That will bode us well.

  2. Mike Osorio says:

    Dan- thanks for the response! Great to hear from an employee. The Chicago expansion will be a good test of Bean’s strategies. The key will be how to replicate the elements of direct leadership/supervision that creates the unique culture – the everyday behaviors, conversations, etc. I wish the company all the best!

  3. Dan from Maine says:

    Watch for openings in Rochester, NY and Pittsburgh, PA this year as well. Did you also know that we have 15 retail stores in Japan?

  4. Mike Osorio says:

    I did know of Bean’s presence in Japan but did not realize it had grown to 15 outlets there. I will also try and get to one of the new US locations this year.

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