With L.L. Bean, you can tame the great outdoors -- or just look as if you could. The century-old outdoor apparel and gear maker mails more than 200 million catalogs per year. L.L. Bean's library includes about 10 specialty catalogs offering products in categories such as children's clothing, fly-fishing, outerwear, sportswear, housewares, footwear, camping and hiking gear, and the Maine hunting boot upon which the company was built. L.L. Bean also runs a growing network of retail stores in the northeastern US and Illinois, as well as in China and Japan. It also sells online through English- and Japanese-language websites. L.L. Bean was founded in 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean and is controlled by his descendants.
From its home base in Maine, the company mails its catalogs to more than 160 countries. It also operates 20 retail and outlet stores in Japan. After entering China in 2008, Bean's store count has grown to more than 60 stores there.
The outdoor retailer sells its good via catalog, online, and at a growing number of retail stores and outlets in the US and Asia. Internet orders overtook catalog orders for the first time in 2009.
Bean rang up $1.52 billion in sales in fiscal 2013 (ended February), an essentially flat comparison with the previous year. The company reported that sales of men's and women's apparel, and sporting goods were the strongest in its history. The retailer also saw strong growth in hunting and fishing gear. Free-shipping and the continued migration to online and mobile helped results. Japan accounts for about 5% of L.L. Bean's revenue, with China contributing even less. Despite the recent growth, sales have yet to recover to pre-recession levels.
From a pair of waterproof hunting boots L.L. Bean built a direct-selling empire based on catalogs mailed out under some 60 different titles and advertising 16,000 products. The 100-year-old company has diversified both geographically, focusing on growth beyond North America in Asia, and by opening specialized stores, including home stores, and bike, boat and ski stores, and outlet stores. It's back in business in Japan, with about 20 stores. (After entering Japan in 1992, Bean temporarily exited the market amid losses after opening several retail stores there.) Also, after opening its first store in China in 2008, it has grown to more than 60 stores.
In the US, the growing number of retail and outlet stores are contributing more to Bean's revenue. L.L. Bean's flagship store in Freeport, Maine (known by locals as "the Bean") attracts some 3 million visitors annually and is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Maine's most famous retailer has been increasing its presence outside its home state, with stores in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Beyond the East Coast, Bean is mining the Midwest for sales with a pair of stores in the Chicago area that opened in 2008. To better compete with Amazon.com and other online rivals, Bean reintroduced (in 2011) free shipping for all US and Canadian orders with no minimum purchase.
L.L. Bean's famous customer service is exemplified by its liberal return policies and perpetual replacement of the rubber soles of its Maine Hunting Shoe. The company also offers seminars and events on such topics as fly fishing, sea kayaking, and other outdoor pursuits.
L.L. Bean is a privately held, family-owned business.