Why L.L. Bean’s Boots Keep Selling Out

FILE-In this Dec. 14, 2011 file photo, Eric Rego stitches boots in the facility where LL Bean boots are assembled in Brunswick, Maine. LL Bean CEO Chris McCormick told workers that the Maine-based retailer has been conservative for the past few years and is now ready to "accelerate our growth plans and grab market share." That plan includes pumping an additional $100 million into its website, retail expansion and business systems, he said. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, files)

FILE-In this Dec. 14, 2011 file photo, Eric Rego stitches boots in the facility where LL Bean boots are assembled in Brunswick, Maine. LL Bean CEO Chris McCormick told workers that the Maine-based retailer has been conservative for the past few years and is now ready to “accelerate our growth plans and grab market share.” That plan includes pumping an additional $100 million into its website, retail expansion and business systems, he said. (AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, files)

This is old, so it may not be as true this year, but then again it may be. I missed the story, but then, I don’t read The Atlantic, almost never see it out this way. Here’s a piece.

BRUNSWICK, Maine—For over a hundred years, the company Leon Leonwood Bean founded has been making rubber boots and outdoor clothes in this area, about 25 miles north of Portland. But on the particular afternoon I visited their manufacturing plant, loud music was pumping inside the office, beats spilling into the cubicled area where visitors sign in—a Zumba class for employees was in progress.

L.L. Bean’s offerings have traditionally not been synonymous with cool. The company’s signature items are intended for the unglamorous activity of camping: pragmatic sleeping bags, flannel pajamas, fleeces, and down jackets. But then something happened in 2011: The outdoorsy aesthetic that L.L. Bean had been selling for 100 years became trendy. That’s when the duck-boot shortage first began, and “Bean Boot heartbreak” spread as countless consumers found that retailers didn’t have what they wanted. Every autumn since, business reporters have provided updates on whether the duck boot is selling out. This year’s update? It still is. […]

In Brunswick, L.L. Bean operates a 170,000-square-foot factory where the boot is assembled from start to finish. The rubber bottom of the Bean Boot is made by a machine, but after that it’s handmade by 200 people who split their time between three shifts. All in all, making the boot takes about 85 minutes’ worth of labor (not including the breaks in between stations). Royce Haines, the senior manager of manufacturing at L.L. Bean, describes it as “a mix of old and new technology”: While the boots aren’t made exactly as they used to be, the assembly process and sewing are all done by hand.

There are two main reasons, then, the Bean Boot can’t keep up with demand. The first is the company’s decision to keep making the boot in Maine, rather than exporting operations out to, say, China, where the majority of shoes sold to Americans are made. Fifty years ago, 98 percent of shoes for Americans were made in the U.S. Nowadays, one estimate suggests that China makes 12.5 billion pairs of shoes, which is about 90 percent of shoes made worldwide. To preserve its brand, L.L. Bean keeps operations local.

via Why L.L. Bean’s Boots Keep Selling Out – The Atlantic

Over the years, I’ve bought a fair amount from LL Bean, although not Bean boots. Why? Because like some other brands, say, Stetson hats, Lucchese and Wesco Boots, Filson, and to a point Pendleton clothes, and Klein and Wright tools, they have met the competition by remaining what they always were, the top quality. They, all of them, look expensive, and their first cost is higher, but their cost over time is lower than the Chinese junk that WalMart sells.

So I hear you asking, why don’t you have a pair of Bean boots? Well, it’s like this, my underlying skill set is that of a lineman, You know working on power lines, and climbing poles requires quite an arch support. Good as they are, Bean boots don’t have it. I once had a pair of Sorel’s, bought in a blizzard with -80°F wind chills, and they worked fairly well, but I wasn’t climbing. By the way, Columbia bought Sorel a few years ago, and guess what, the quality has, I hear nosed dived.

l13nonail_sWhat I wore back in the day was Hoffman Lineman’s Felt Pacs. They were OK, but not nearly as good as my WESCO Highliners. Well, no surprise really, Highliners are mostly custom made and go usually for about $800 dollars, but take care of them and they should last out your career. Off duty, a lot of us wear Lucchese cowboy boots, most of us have gotten so used to that high arch that anything else is uncomfortable.

But there is a pattern here, fashion aside. Bean is one of those companies, that has offshored some things but the core remains Americans doing it right the first time. They likely had to, to keeps some control over costs, all those companies above, except maybe Wesco have to an extent. Pay now, or pay every two years. Personally, I believe in doing it right the first time.

Advertisements

About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

10 Responses to Why L.L. Bean’s Boots Keep Selling Out

  1. the unit says:

    I have a couple or three boot stories. I’ll just give one. There is a pair I know about that have been in the same spot since…about ’52. Haven’t been worn since then. About then local government was putting in the first public sewer line along U.S. 90 in my home town. Along the highway the sea level was about 5 feet below the pavement level. While the ditch was there all wet and all we kids thought it a great place to play. The sand at that level bottom of ditch was sloshy and tamping one’s feet it became sorta like a quicksand. One day while playing there my buddy decided to put on my dad’s rubber boots to play in. Jumping up and down he soon sunk down past the height of the boot top and it filled with water and sand. There was no way to pull him and boots out. Finally was able to pull him out of the boots, I guess ’cause he could flex at the ankle and straighten out. There the fine rubber boots lay buried along Hi-way 90 for evermore.
    More than likely they were Sears and Roebucks, not Beans.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      I hear that, a friend of mine left my last pair of 4 buckles on the porch, guess what, by the time I got home they weren’t mine anymore.

      One I laughed at Tingley makes an overshoe for western boots, which I should get. Amazon has them for about $60, but Mills Farm and Fleet has them on the site for just over $20, same boot, near as I can tell. Want to guess where I’ll buy them? 🙂

      I try not to work hard enough anymore to need pac boots though.

      Liked by 1 person

      • the unit says:

        Duh, where you’ll buy? Think I know. And I don’t call the tax assessor to say my annual bill is too low and offer to pay more. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Nope, and if the county says you live in a cornfield, say OK! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          Yes. I once was interviewed for a county job in south FL after my service and after living in TN. One county commissioner said I should be happy to work at such a low salary to get to live there. I said sure. And I did for a while. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I’d have been tempted to tell him that Dakota is God’s country – provided you make enough to vacation in AZ in January! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          And still your 4 buckles! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Ayup! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. the unit says:

    I got my walkin’ boots on for the candidates this election season. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. NEO says:

    I’m inclined to think a steel-toed cowboy boot should be applied to each of them. However I do like Nancy Sinatra, although not as much as her dad, even though she’s got a lot better legs! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s