Leaving the factory in Brunswick, Foster and I agreed, we could’ve stayed there all day. It was awe-inspiring, but in order to get a fuller picture of Bean, I wanted to sit down with a few of the folks who make the big decisions. Production Manager, Anne Smith, and head of Design, Jim Hauptman were gracious enough to show us around Footwear and Design.
As L.L. Bean expands their retail emporium – they’ve currently established brick & mortar stores in ten states – it has become of increasing importance that they simplify wherever possible. Prior to Mr. Hauptman’s appointment, the men’s, women’s, and kid’s design departments didn’t share anything. Since coming on, he has encouraged the obvious: communication. Keeping an idea board cluttered with post-it notes and nurturing team members to share cost, and time-saving ideas, Mr. Hauptman, one-time ad executive, is cleaning up the process one step at a time. If you’ve read Chairman of the Board, Leon Gorman’s book, L.L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon, you know all too well, the challenges he faced in streamlining the operations once taking the reigns from company founder and namesake, Leon Leonwood Bean. Mr. Hauptman is, like with most things at this company, carrying on the tradition. As we left his office, beginning a tradition of our own, Foster and I conferred, again, “That guy is being groomed to run the company someday.”
In meeting with Anne Smith, as anticipated, we were shown a bunch of cool, new products Bean will be offering coming Fall ’09 and Spring ’10, and we were shown several updated styles (a waxwear version, one lined with the Norwegian sweater, a classic Bean Scotch plaid, etc.) of Bean Boot – yes, that Bean Boot, the iconic one – that’d been dropped from the assortment for one reason or another, and we were told we weren’t allowed to take photos. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke….
That said, she did bring to my attention a boot they currently offer. The Katahdin, a rugged work boot is produced by Chippewa. It’s made in my home state of Missouri, in a small southwestern town called Carthage.
Both Anne and Jim reiterated the point that L.L. Bean has built itself around staples. Their styles don’t change very often, and when they do – as with the switch from vulcanized rubber to the injection-molded rubber for the Bean Boots – it is well-researched, done as seamlessly as possible, and you better believe it is for a good reason. The customer, as they’re currently experiencing, will come back.
The customer returns time and again, because L.L. Bean offers such quality across the board: quality products, quality guarantees on everything they sell, and quality customer service [have you ever called L.L. Bean? Try it: 1 (800) 441-5713, the nice person on the end of the line will be from one of their four call centers in Maine, and they’ll answer promptly].
What will happen to the look and feel of L.L. Bean as they continue to expand? Mr. Bean insisted the company, its catalogue, and all accompanying materials have the look and feel of something from a family-owned general store. Their model has been successful for nearly a century, may it be successful for centuries more.
Stay tuned, as Foster and I head over to Art & Archives where Ruth Porter was kind enough to show us around her treasure trove.
Also, check out Foster’s photos of our visit to HQ.