Legacy outdoor brand L.L.Bean has been making moves to expand beyond its own stores, website, and long-running catalog. The company recently announced it’s expanding its wholesale partnerships while also investing in more owned brick-and-mortar locations.
This comes as the Freeport, Maine-based company is on a good run, with three years of record-breaking financial results. Last year was the company’s second-strongest revenue performance in its 110-year history.
The privately held, family-owned company, which employs more than 6,000 people, said 2022 net revenue was $1.8 billion.
“That certainly bodes well for the brand,” said Greg Elder, L.L.Bean’s chief retail officer. “Add the fact that record amounts of people are getting outdoors, and I think the confluence … has positioned us really well for our omni-channel expansions.”
Earlier this month, the company announced it’s opening four new stores, two in Massachusetts and two in Quebec, Canada, as well as adding Dillard’s and outdoor retailer Moosejaw to its U.S. wholesale accounts.
The Daily spoke with Elder about the decisions behind the store expansions, the wholesale partnerships, and putting money back into its flagship store.
Until recently, much of L.L.Bean’s domestic expansion has been concentrated in and around New England.
The company operates 56 stores in the U.S and 25 stores in Japan and has 13 licensed retail store locations in Canada operated by Ontario-based Jaytex Group.
Elder said the company is happy with how its existing stores have been performing and wants to accelerate expanding its store footprint.
The new stores opening this fall include:
- Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, Quebec – opening Aug. 25.
- Hanover, Massachusetts – opening Sept. 8.
- Boisbriand, Quebec – opening Sept. 29.
- Peabody, Massachusetts – opening Oct. 6.
Elder pointed out that the company has had a prosperous website for many years but that it didn’t have many stores compared to the size of the business.
“It’s a natural way to bring the brand to life and allow the consumers who may not know us to get in and touch and feel the product and experience it with an expert,” he added. “All the things that retail certainly does.”
The plan is to open two to four, 15,000-square foot stores per year with a curated assortment of active, rugged, and casual products with equipment mixed in. Right now, L.L.Bean only has a handful of stores west of the Mississippi River. It’s also eyeing expanding in the South.
“There are major swaths of American geography that we haven’t penetrated where we know we have direct-channel consumers,” Elder said. “Consumers in those markets have been telling us for a long time, ‘Why don’t you bring a store to us?’”
Deciding where to open the new stores has several variables, including that aforementioned e-commerce traffic as well as the amount of outdoor enthusiasts in the area, the geography, and access to the outdoors.
The company is targeting fairly large cities, similar to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania or Albany and Rochester, New York.
“Those are the kinds of markets that size-wise do well for us, as well as their proximity to outdoor recreational elements,” Elder said. “The intersection of those two things works well.”
When a new store opens, the company tracks how it impacts e-commerce sales in the region. According to Elder, for the first two to three years, e-commerce sales will suffer a dip in that area but ultimately show growth.
“As we’ve invested in omni-channel, customer-facing technologies, the customer tells us how they want to interact with the brand,” Elder said. “It’s all in response to serving the customer the way they want to be served.”
The move into Canada also features a translated French website.
“This will be the first time that we can speak to the e-commerce consumers up there, not just in Quebec, but throughout Canada that speak French,” Elder said.
L.L.Bean Wholesale Partnerships
For about 100 years, the only places to buy L.L.Bean products was through e-commerce, the catalog, and its retail stores.
By picking wholesale partners to carry L.L.Bean products, the brand can get its goods in front of customers that aren’t familiar with it or don’t have L.L.Bean stores in the area.
“But it wasn’t without a lot of consideration,” Elder said. “We’re doing that really methodically and purposefully. We are selecting key national partners that are going to be good brand partners for us, as well as expanding into outdoor independent specialty.”
The wholesale expansion has been a slow rollout on purpose. A couple of years ago it began with national partners, including Nordstrom, Scheels, and Zappos. The company evaluated how that went then added more partners.
L.L.Bean recognized that most of its competitors sell to wholesale accounts, many with the highest percentage of their sales at wholesale.
“That will never be the case for us,” Elder said. “We will still be a digitally native, direct-channel retailer first, followed by the brick-and-mortar presence.”
But this is a good way for the brand to expand its geographic footprint and it complements the other channels.
To keep the brand relevant when selling into these other retailers, L.L.Bean will often offer niche products that show innovation along with their bestsellers.
“It’s a blend of products that are particularly well-suited to be sold in a curated assortment,” Elder said.
For example, this week L.L.Bean went live with Dillard’s. The retailer is carrying a variety of L.L.Bean footwear ranging from slippers to hiking shoes, as well as apparel and accessories. They’re also selling some home products, which wouldn’t necessarily be sold in an outdoor specialty store.
With the company’s recent success, it is also putting significant effort into a multi-year renovation of its 220,000 square foot flagship campus in Freeport.
According to Elder, the campus, which offers hunting, fishing, biking, boating, and skiing areas, receives around 4 million visitors a year.
In partnership with Freeport’s downtown revitalization plan, the business started working on gathering the resources about a year and a half ago. Now the store is in the first year of a three-year construction phase.
The store will retain its aquarium, taxidermy, and water features, but try to offer an updated experience for visitors.
“We’ll keep all the history, heritage, and nuance, but modernize the customer experience,” Elder said. “It’s going to be awesome.”
Bart Schaneman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.