Leon Gorman’s Black Book Notes

Currently rereading L.L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon, grandson of L.L., former president and current Chairman Leon Gorman’s account of the retailer and its quirky history and culture. Still near the book’s beginning, he’s rather humdrum about his own accomplishments instead relishing in the sneaky tricks of subterfuge he used to improve the function of the company despite his aging grandfather’s stubborn aversion to change.


I enjoyed his inclusion of notes from a book kept in the year after he returned from service in the Navy. His black book notes speak to his belief that “good retailing requires good intuitive judgment, based on absorbing a great many factual details about products and how they work and look.”

– In upgrading lines do not neglect mid-priced items and alienate average customer — offer something to a wider range — avoid isolation into A&F elitist area.

– All special requests rate prompt and careful attention — if customer takes time to write, deserves our time [in response].

– Stock line of merchandise to extent that if a person walked in without a stitch on he could be completely outfitted for a trip anywhere.

– Composite of various recommended camping [equipment] lists — refine in detail and be represented in each item with best appropriate [item for purpose]. Bean’s is a specialty house — merchandise should be new, unique, traditional but hard to find.

– Go easy on the haberdashery items.

– Assumption: Profits in camping equipment not significant (money made in clothing and shoes) — trade up and offer best available where possible and good value maintained — put don’t price us out of our bracket.

– No gimmicks, games, etc. in the catalog.

– Catalog: Keep it simple.

– Continue to look for unique staple merchandise [and] avoid fads even though they may sell.


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5 responses to “Leon Gorman’s Black Book Notes

  1. I have a feeling a lot of owners/buyers should tack those notes onto their idea boards…

    • GJ ~ Agreed. Or if they don’t tack them, they should (re)read the book, right?

      Conor ~ Both important to successful customer service. In the book, Mr. Gorman talks about all the requests customers send in for new or updated products. If not for their periodic updates, Bean would just be a footnote in a retailing textbook today.

      COE ~ Agreed, agreed, agreed.

  2. This is a great post. Two quotes really stood out to me.

    “All special requests rate prompt and careful attention — if customer takes time to write, deserves our time [in response].”


    “Continue to look for unique staple merchandise”

    This makes me think about the trad uniform and “the curriculum” of it. Just because you wear staple items doesn’t mean the outfit can’t be unique every time you wear it.


  3. componentsofenthusiasm

    I really like the last 3 points. Those are key to a successful long term strategy, especially remaining firm in your focus despite the trends. Great post, thanks.

  4. Pingback: I adore Leon Gorman… « WaitingForThatRocket’s Blog

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