If you are from Maine, New Hampshire, or any of the nearby United States or Canadian Provinces, you can stop reading now, because you already know all about the boots I am going to talk about, and are probably already a fan and a convert.
In fact, I would not be surprised to find out that you are wearing a pair of L.L. Bean Boots right now.
I first heard about L.L. Bean when my Dad wrote to them for a catalogue sometime in the early 1970’s. In those days we signed up for every catalogue Bean’s produced, which I believe were four, Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.
We looked forward to those catalogues almost as much as we looked forward to trout fishing season in April. They made great reading, with fabulous names and descriptions for the outdoor clothes and associated items they sold.
I can remember some of them today, the L.L. Bean Warden Jacket, for example, based on the kind of durable long wearing coats that Maine Game Wardens wore, converted by the folks at L.L. Bean for fishermen.
I have one of those jackets and so does my Dad, we both still wear them fishing. His is khaki, my is forest green. Lot’s of pockets, easy to get at, corduroy collar and cuffs for style and comfort.
The L.L. Bean catalogues were the work of pure genius, the product names and descriptions were evocative, conjuring up visions of a the reader standing on the shore of a pristine northern river, fly rod in hand, decked out in the finest in outdoor wear and accessories.
L.L. Bean didn’t just call a pair of pants, “pants” They were “upland game pants” and a coat was never just a “winter coat” it was a “Maine Guide Coat” developed for the hard use that the reader imagined an authentic Northern Maine guide would put it through in his day to day travels throughout the woods and mountains of Maine guiding his sports to a huge moose.
Such was the quality of marketing and practical descriptions we found reading the LL Bean catalogues. I still love to read them.
L.L. Bean was and is today, synonomous with quality outdoor wear. My Moose River Hat, made from blocked fur felt, is as perfect today for fly fishing as it was when I bought it, 15 years ago. So are my L.L. Bean Boots.
The boots that made the company. Rubber bottoms, with leather uppers, Bean Boots are practical, comfortable and lightweight, perfect for a day in the field or the boat. Actually I am wearing my second pair.
After several years of wearing them, the first pair I had started to separate a little in one heel. The stitching coming out. Wendy and my Mother made a trip to the U.S. for a family funeral, and while there dropped in at L.L. Bean’s store in Freeport, Maine.
When they showed them my boots, the staff were more than happy to assist, offering to have them repaired or replaced. As they were on their way home, and couldn’t wait for repairs to be made to the original pair, and because Mom and Wendy are crafty shoppers, they said no, a replacement would be…..OK! And because Bean’s is a crafty store, Mom and Wendy spent a bunch of money there themselves before heading for home.
But sure enough, they came home with a brand new pair of L.L.Bean Boots,
a little better pair than I had originally owned in fact, as the new ones came with the then new, “Thinsulate” insulation in the foot. Perfect.
I am still wearing my Bean boots today, and have every year since, they are my chosen footwear for upland game and deer hunting.
That is a company that stands behind their products, and that is why L.L. Bean is such a force in the outdoors business after all these years of operation. You don’t get to be the best by nickel and diming your customers. A lot of retailers in this country would be well advised to take a page from Leon Bean’s playbook.
The original Leon Leonwood Bean started his company in 1912 out of his brother’s basement making the very type of boots I am talking about. He realized that leather boots were comfortable and provided more support and durabilty than rubber boots, but also knew that outdoorsmen, particularly hunters, fishermen, loggers, in the Northeast needed a pair of boots that would keep their feet warm and dry as well as comfortable.
He combined the rubber bottom leather top L.L.Bean boots. The company that began as a one man operation is now global with annual sales of $1.5 billion.
Bean boots are still sewn in Maine, one pair at a time, from full grain leather and with their unique chain bottom rubber sole.
There is an interesting backstory to the L.L. Bean success story. L.L. Bean was an avid outdoorsman, he loved to fish, hunt and roam the woods of Maine. He was also innovative.
So the story goes, he came home from a hunting trip with cold, wet feet and decided to do something about that. What he did was come up with the idea for rubber bottoms on leather top boots. Working from a family member’s basement, he set up business.
Somehow he managed to get his hands on the names and addresses of the non-residents who had bought licences to come to Maine hunting. He sent them all a three page flyer advising them that if they were coming to the Maine outdoors, they needed to be prepared, emphasizing the importance of adequate footwear.
Essentially he warned them that they couldn’t expect to be successful hunters if their feet were not “properly dressed”. His flyer went on to explain his L.L. Bean hunting boot, telling them the boots were designed by a Maine hunter with 18 years outdoor experience. He went on to add the thing that has made the company famous, his guarantee.
“We guarantee them to give perfect satisfaction in every way.”
He immediately sold 100 pairs of boots. But the story didn’t end there. Unfortunately the first boots had problems, 90 pairs of the 100 separated between the rubber bottoms and leather tops.
But true to his word, he refunded all 90 customers, taking a huge hit. But he reqrouped, and kept going. He borrowed more money, corrected the problem with the boots and mailed out more flyers. He had a vision and he had the tenacity to stick to it and believe in his product.
I remember back in the day, as the kids say, when my Dad and I use to be talking about Bean’s store being open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. That was really quite something to us, not used to anything like that around here, except maybe a gas station. Apparently there is a ‘back story’ to that as well.
When Leon Bean was first in business, it wouldn’t be unusual for customers, hunters and fishermen on their way to the woods to stop by his place in Freeport at anytime, day or night. To serve them, he installed a night bell which allowed the customers to call a night watchman or even LL Bean himself.
Such was the demand that in 1951 Leon announced that the store in Freeport, Maine would be open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, saying, “We have thrown away the keys to the place!” That tradition has continued to this day, and believe it or not, the store in Freeport does not have any locks on the doors.
I’ve been to the store in Freeport on many occasions, it’s like walking into an outdoors paradise as far as I am concerned. My only problem is that I want it all, one of everything…..
Today with annual sales of $1.5 billion, the store is an Maine icon, An American icon and perhaps a worldwide icon. Of course they sell a good deal more than boots, in fact, I figure that if you are going into the great outdoors and Bean’s doesn’t have it, you don’t need it…..
Coming from a “customer service” background myself, I can truly appreciate the philosophy of L.L. Bean. Some of the things he said are as pertinent today as they ever were, and today’s customer service organizations, managers and staff would be well served to pay attention to his words.
“A customer is the most important person ever in this office – in person or by mail.” -Leon Leonwood Bean
My personal favorite: “A customer is not an interruption of our work…he is the purpose of it. We are not doing a favor by serving him…he is doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.”—Leon Leonwood Bean
Leon Gorman, chairman of the board of L.L.Bean, and grandson of the company founder, says:
“A lot of people have fancy things to say about Customer Service, but it’s just a day-in, day-out, ongoing, never-ending, persevering, compassionate kind of activity.”
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