Photo by Salt Water New England

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Other than making high quality, tasteful clothes, L.L. Bean tries everything

A Great L.L. Bean Product Designed Decades Ago, Still Made in Maine - Photo by Salt Water New England
Averyl kindly sent two L.L. Bean stories that suggest some strategies du jour.  In the first, L.L. Bean wants to be more "nimble," and is trimming down its payroll to do it.
In the second, L. L. Bean tries once again to be hip, or at least provide some catnip to the fashion press, by collaborating with Todd Snyder.
And in the past, statistical analysis suggested L.L. Bean had been "breaking right" in terms of their customer base.
One wonders if some plucky MBA graduate is even now preparing a pitch for the L.L. Bean boardroom, anticipating their further failures to produce sought-after clothes, outlining some "Hail Mary"strategy of reinvesting in intelligent clothes that are tasteful, high quality, and responsibly sourced.

50 comments:

  1. If that plucky MBA is under fifty, he or she will soon have L.L. Bean pushing Lycra and polyester garments that fit like sausage casings and are intended to be more "urban" than more traditional fare. The models will be heavily tattooed, with lots of bracelets on the androgynous males and with the women either displaying "thigh gaps" or being borderline obese in the name of "body positivity." The word "sustainable" will appear regularly, and we will be encouraged not to contact L.L. Bean but to "reach out."

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    1. nothing says "standing out" like following the trends

      I buy Bean for the traditional stuff

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    2. Spot on, Butch.

      Jacqueline

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    3. I heartily agree with Butch.

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  2. Butch precisely hit the nail on its' head w/ his comment.

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  3. Perhaps someone could send LL Bean's CEO a copy of Jim Collins' book "How the Mighty Fall," or even just send him to Collins' web site. It sounds like LL Bean management is firmly stuck in Stage 4, grasping for salvation in one-shot cures. Collins' observations are applicable to all organizations, by the way. And if by "responsibly sourced" you mean NOT Chinese, well, I second that. There is just something odd about Chinese leather, and their quality is not up to what everyone took for granted from LL Bean.

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    1. "One shot cures"...I agree Dave. Last year I watched a video of Steve Smith, CEO at LL Bean present the new ' Be An Outsider' campaign (2017) and it became clear that he was trying the same ole one shot cure that all the other cheap tacky sport retailers are using. He stated he didn't want Bean to be in the middle like Lands End or Eddie Bauer and wanted to be more like Dick's Sporting Goods. Yuk. EB isn't like Lands End so I don't know why he was comparing them. However, Bean is using the same marketing " SALE" tactic as Bauer in that they have a big blow out sale every single day and send me 2-5 emails every day. Must be desperate.

      Check out the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEcil6aKMl4 Warning: Smith's tacky flannel shirt might upset your stomach.

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  4. I would be 100% on board with "L.L. Bean pushing Lycra and polyester garments." This is where L.L. Bean is missing the mark. I'd love a great, tasteful, quality selection of outdoor aerobic/running/hiking/skiing wear geared toward my demographic, which is....mature ;) I'm outside, engaged in some sort of activity requiring active wear, for a part of every day and the only Bean gear I use are down mittens (which, btw, are FABULOUS).

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    1. Patsy, I always preferred Orvis because at one time they sold a more sophisticated/mature line of sportswear for women. It still does but in the last year they have incorporated a less tasteful line of clothing.
      Given the toxic impact of synthetics on our health and the environment, I really try to avoid new synthetic products. Years ago I purchased several items from the Terry Bicycles line of riding gear and to be frank, I have never been so hot and miserable as I was in all that Lycra. I decided that I don't need to look like a Lance Armstrong wannabe on my road bike. I like a cotton shirt and cotton shorts or cotton pants- much much cooler and healthier! Merino wool is wonderful for the winter.

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    2. I think we're speaking of two different animals - I don't mean sportswear, I mean clothing to wear while engaging in sports, running for example. I just checked Orvis and the two activities they have apparel for are fly fishing and hunting. Although, if something I was hunting was chasing me, I'd certainly run!

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    3. Patsy, I knew what you were saying. If you don't mind lycra and such, check out the Terry bicycles website. I think they are in New Hampshire. They have an attractive line of clothing for cycling & running. I loved their cycling skorts and tops but I don't like to wear spandex when I'm perspiring.

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    4. Try Tracksmith: www.tracksmith.com

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    5. Thank you! I did look at the Terry line! Two thumbs up! Great style and function. I see a purchase in my future.

      Jennifer - looks like Tracksmith has a shop on Newbury St. Thanks! Will check them out.

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  5. Thanks Butch, that was perfect!

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  6. Right on Butch. Watching old stalwarts such as Barbour and Brooks Brothers sell their souls in an attempt to become "hip" and "relevant" has been sad. Todd Snyder has been effective in weaseling his way into flagship brands: first Alden, now L.L. Bean. I hope that other brands like Filson and Stormy Kromer continue to maintain their independence. There's is nothing "wrong" with these long proven quality brands. No reason to chase an illusion of hipness in hopes of gaining a few transient consumers who will move on at the advent of the next "big" thing.

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    1. It would seem Filson's already done a similar crossover, with Junya Watanabe.

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  7. I could forgive LLB the present if they would bring back just a few of the past items which I loved; Shetland sweaters, decent oxford shirts with no poly and original collars, country wool trousers, etc.. I could go on but is this really asking too much?

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  8. I've only bought a few items from Bean, but nearly 1/3 had to be sent back due to workmanship or the incorrect item being shipped. Their website is a bewildering sea of shifting SKUs, and it's become apparent to me over the last 8 years that the QC/quality doesn't match up with the price being asked. There's only so much you can lean on customer service...

    And ironically, it's actually more expensive to buy from Bean's Canadian website than to use the US one, even after the currency conversion & duties.

    Sure, I like my chamois & scotch plaid flannel shirts, and I've just put the 4th set of heels on a pair of (discontinued) signature penny loafers from 2014, but I can't see purchasing much of anything going forward. I hate to say it, but Land's End, for all it's faults, has provided me with the occasional bounty of well fitting, well styled, 100% cotton basics (though, to my dismay, they are being replaced with 'comfort-first' synthetic blends; I'm glad I took Muffy's advice on gentle stockpiling seriously).

    On a related note, a big thank-you to TDP for introducing me to new vendors like WoolOvers, Eliza B & others.

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  9. From a 2010 article when the Signature line was introduced:

    Unfortunately, classic Bean is also a bit old fashioned, tending toward high-rise pants and loose-cut shirts, with an aesthetic that is functional, but not really stylish. A quick glance through the comments section on the Bean site reinforces this: respondents skew heavily toward the 60-plus age demographic. And while the new clothes are recognizably Bean, they sport a more tight-fitting, body-conscious style that should draw in Gap, Abercrombie, J Crew and Banana Republic fans. As Vickers notes, the new line is aiming to be "Unique and relevant to Bean, while also being relevant to the marketplace."

    To help the more fashion-challenged members of the marketplace, the Signature site also offers "Key Looks," outfits that are composed entirely from items in the line. Some of those looks are pictured here.

    Admittedly, courting 20 to 30 year old shoppers will be a tough task for Bean: in addition to its geriatric associations, its offerings are skewed toward outdoors men, not hipsters, with designs that are based more on function than form.

    https://www.aol.com/2010/03/25/l-l-beans-new-signature-line-the-preppy-look-gets-a-risky-mak/

    From Muffy's archives:


    Photo by Salt Water New England
    Tuesday, August 16, 2011
    Poll: Is L.L. Bean on the right track?

    https://www.saltwaternewengland.com/2011/08/poll-is-ll-bean-on-right-track.html

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    1. Most Americans are far too fat to worry about L.L. Bean's "stylishness," and should probably default to high-rise pants and loose cut shirts with an aesthetic that is functional, bt not really stylish.

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    2. I'm not sure if I buy this narrative. I think established brands will wax and wane in revenue, but Bean's not going anywhere. I'm twenty four and do half of my clothes shopping there. I may sometimes verge towards their more tailored fits (and wish they had more), but I don't think that's a destruction of the brand. I'm a graduate student and see about 20% of the undergrads in Bean boots on rainy days. I think there is a certain demo that will always buy their clothes, and a certain demo that was never interested and will never buy them. I certainly see no difference in the quality between the late 90s and today, at least. I also think lamenting the supposed destruction of the Bean brand and others is just a nostalgic way of rejecting modernity. Not sure how rooted it is in reality.

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    3. Bean had a huge opportunity there. With the amount of kids wearing bean boots, there is no doubt that they could have sold them flannels as well. Before proceeding to open them up to other things that they have on their catalog.

      Bean is still doing pretty well today, they just need to do a better job of matching customers with the products that they are interested in. I, myself, am a huge fan of the North Col jacket, which is the cheapest gore-tex pro shell in the market. I was completely unaware of this product despite occasionally browsing their marketing materials when having my morning coffee. I only found out about this when I was in a store to get my bean mocs repaired and a member of their staff pointed me towards it while I was waiting. I promptly purchased it, and so did a few of my friends after they found out what a killer deal it was.
      Me and my friends are all college graduates that live in urban areas in the early to mid 20s, that they are targeting but yet we had no idea of the products existence.

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  10. And here's George Harrison in a delightful satirical clip about a supposed grownup trying to pander to the youth-oriented market:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QREeweMWTZk

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  11. I'm just waiting for Bean's "signature Ipanema jeans with whale-tail panty."

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  12. Whew, I just did a quick inventory of my favorite Bean clothing, about 50% of what I wear, rest being business attire. I am safe, based on the years of service I have gotten so far, and the supply of fat and slim sizes I have, I am good to go for many decades, and in my mind, the only one that counts, I am always in style. So I will hold close to my chest the warm memories of visits with my Dad, exploring the things we would never need, and wish the management a safe landing as they fail. Quality of goods will always be the benchmark for success, not slick trendy marketing. LL glad you are not having to see this. PBH

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  13. Bean's may well end up an episode case study on this podcast: https://www.spectacularfailures.org/episodes

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  14. Linda Bean is a Trump supporter.

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    1. Thanks for politicizing the discussion. I'm sure you have improved everyone's day.

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    2. That's not "politicizing the discussion," Sadie, it's stating a fact. Given Trump's taste for deregulation, and his support of making it easy for American businesses to outsource, thereby affecting the quality of goods and moving jobs out of the U.S., it's entirely germane to the discussion. And for the record, Anon 2:21 PM improved my day by adding some intelligence to a style discussion.

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    3. It may be a "fact," but so what? What does it have to do with the discussion? LL Bean has been on the downward slide for the past 10-15 years.

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    4. Anon 6:36, if you don't understand what this has to do with the discussion, then perhaps you're participating in the wrong discussion, and ought to find one that you do understand.

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    5. Perhaps you're right Anon 12:50. I visit this site to appreciate the important things in life, the things worth preserving. I also visit this site to read intelligence, thoughtful comments from others who appreciate the finer things in life. As a true New Englander, I don't believe it's proper or polite to discuss politics or religion in mixed company, especially when it has NOTHING to do with the issue at hand. Making petty, childish comments like "Linda Bean is a Trump supporter" adds nothing of value to the discussion. So she is a Trump support, so what? Would it matter or make any difference if she were a Warren supporter? No, of course not, because it doesn't matter. Linda Bean is not the President or CEO of LL Bean. She may own a stake in L.L. Bean, along with 50-odd other Bean descendents, and is a member of the company’s 10-person board of director, but she's not making the day-to-day decisions that are ruining the company. So why is her political affiliation relevant?

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    6. L.L. Bean is being run along entirely in the spirit of the Trump ethos, which involves the outsourcing of American (and New English) jobs, sacrificing quality in the name of profit, all of which has a direct impact on both the lives of the people who make the merchandise and the environment. What is happening to Bean now is directly opposed to the entire ethos laid down by the founder, and which he brand is still tarting up and waving around like a badly embalmed corpse. If you can think of something more "worth preserving" or "important in life" than people's live, or the environment in which we live then, whatever you're much less a "true New Englander" than just another catalogue consumer who flounces around with a pinkie in the air fretting about being "proper or polite" in "mixed company" while everything you clam to care about burns to the ground in a forest fire of greed and brainless consumption. And THAT'S why her political affiliation is relevant.

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  15. Reading this about L L Bean makes you wonder about the state of Orvis.

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    1. It's mixed but better than the desperate state of Polo Ralph Lauren which is declining even more rapidly.

      The quality of Orvis's Ultimate chinos and Signature shorts is excellent. The pima cotton is very soft and comfortable. The fit is very good, especially the rise, and the tailoring is top quality. The prices are reasonable for the quality, especially with the discount vouchers that I receive regularly.

      The rest of Orvis's range is disappointing. The Weatherbreaker Harringtons are the only items that might tempt me this year.

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  16. Let's hope Orvis can resist this pathetic shift by LLB and others. Seeing Filson grasping for the "urban" look with some of their new products is disheartneing. LLB left the building long ago.

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  17. What I want from LL Bean is a good quality khaki pant, reasonably weighted sweaters, boots NOT made in China, roominess in the XXL sizes (as they should be), and quality outerwear such as coats...BASIC stuff ! It got them to the peak of their market decades ago - what happened?

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    1. "Peak of their market, decades ago" happened.

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    2. this...
      https://www.saltwaternewengland.com/2020/01/around-yale-this-week.html

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    3. I like these two replies. I think they are on target. Even saying that I’m looking for an unadulterated OCBD at a reasonable price, some cotton ragg socks, and a new 240 Volvo.

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    4. I was in San Fran on business and walked into a BB. Was greeted at the door and the associate asked if they could help me. I said I was looking for a blue OCBD. They just stared at me and asked " What's an OCBD? "

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  18. Lets just hope that Orvis doesn't follow suit, as the other reader suggested!

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  19. The clothing industry is littered with formerly legendary companies that have sacrificed quality - often in favor of growth. Bean, Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, Eddie Bauer, Abercrombie (yikes). Quality today seems to be with the smaller players, and you have to pay for it (Alden Shoe Co., Oxxford, Rancourt, a couple of the made-to-measure shirt makers).

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  20. More coverage with a photo gallery of 30 pics showcasing the new line:

    L.L. Bean wades into New York Fashion Week with clothing ‘inspired by the outdoors’

    https://www.pressherald.com/2020/02/07/l-l-bean-wades-into-new-york-fashion-week-4/

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  21. For fellow-curmudgeons who would like to be even more upset:
    https://mr-mag.com/todd-snyder-and-l-l-bean-unveil-new-collaboration-in-new-york/

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    1. I'm speechless. Is this for real? I just showed this to my husband and he thought it was a joke. Even worse, Snyder was quoted as saying, “Going back through the archives at Bean and seeing old photos of the founder, Leon Leonwood Bean, in his hunting gear, he had this very authentic and down-to-earth aesthetic. I really wanted to bring that to life,” Owen Kelly, vice president of product creation for L.L.Bean. “Working closely with Todd to comb through our archives for inspiration, it became clear that he gets our history and our brand, and we couldn’t think of a more perfect fit.”

      "For L.L.Bean, this collaboration is an opportunity to reintroduce many of the classic items that have become synonymous with the brand."

      Reintroduce classics? This is a classic case of delusional thinking!

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  22. I'm reading this after doing a laundry that includes my 35 year-old LLB cable crew neck sweater. Glad that I chose the delicate cycle!

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  23. I worked in public relations in the fashion industry and these collaborations are a publicity and marketing strategy to attract media attention for both the designer and established brand. They are brand awareness not sales strategies. The collections are not meant to replace established lines. They are meant to be a contemporary artistic interpretation of an iconic brand.

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