at least 74

new stores

L.L. Bean announced a rapid increase in the pace of its retail expansion Wednesday, saying it hopes to nearly quadruple the number of its U.S. stores to at least 100 by 2020.

The Freeport company currently has 25 stores outside of its flagship store in Maine, primarily in the Northeast, and will add four more in 2015. It began its retail expansion beyond Maine’s borders 15 years ago, adding to a handful of outlet stores it already had established. Bean also has 20 stores in Japan and about 50 locations in China, although most are departments within other stores.

News of the acceleration in Bean’s retail plans came on the day that the privately held company held its annual board meeting. After the meeting, the company said revenue in 2014 increased 3 percent to $1.61 billion and that 5,300 eligible employees were awarded bonuses of 5 percent of annual pay, or about $1,500 to $2,000 for typical full-time hourly workers, according to the company.

Web sales grew 7 percent last year, the company said, three new stores opened and sales of Bean Boots – which are made in Brunswick and Lewiston – shot up to 450,000 pairs, about 50,000 more than in 2013, the company said. The popularity of the boots caused Bean to run out of some sizes in early December, with deliveries pushed into this year.


The company also said participation in its Outdoor Discovery Schools, where it teaches skills such as fly-fishing or snowshoeing, grew 30 percent to about 130,000 people.

The rapid increase in brick-and-mortar operations reflects the company’s desire to capitalize on all three retailing channels, which also include catalog and online sales, spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said.

Although Bean said it hasn’t yet decided where the new stores will be located, The Associated Press reported that the expansion will include the company’s first West Coast presence with stores in the Pacific Northwest.

Beem said the company experimented with store sizes and locations in the first few years of its retail expansion and has decided that it does best in “lifestyle malls” – outdoor malls in which several large retailers cluster around smaller stores, such as the Maine Crossing Mall off Running Hill Road in South Portland – so it’s likely that’s the sort of retail format where most new stores will go.

She also said Bean has determined that the best-performing stores are about 15,000 square feet (its flagship store is 200,000 square feet) and near areas where the company can offer the Outdoor Discovery Schools.

The move will likely mean more hiring at the company’s headquarters in Freeport, Beem said, because additional retail locations will increase the need for people in marketing, information technology, infrastructure and planning positions. There are no estimates yet on how much employment might increase in Maine, she said. L.L. Bean is Maine’s second-largest private employer, according to the state Department of Labor.


Retail analysts said Bean’s move makes sense, even in a time when more commerce is moving online.

Tiffany Hogan, an analyst with Kantar Retail IQ, said companies that have their roots on the Web, such as men’s clothing company Bonobo’s and eyeware retailer Warby Parker, have opened physical locations in recent years to try to reach new customers, so it isn’t surprising that Bean, which began selling goods in catalogs and has moved into online sales, also would increase its physical retailing.

Companies find that customers appreciate being able to touch products and see them in person, Hogan said, even if they end up buying online.

A physical presence also strengthens a company’s brand, even for a company like Bean, which already has a strong identity, said Paula Rosenblum, senior managing partner with the firm RSR Research, which specializes in retail analysis and consulting.

She said that poses a possible downside for Bean, which bills itself as “the store that knows the outdoors.” That image could be tarnished if the company’s growth outpaces its ability to train employees, she said, adding that it might be harder for Bean to maintain standards as the number of stores grows and they become more far-flung.

However, Rosenblum said retailing in actual stores is stronger than might be assumed because of all the attention that e-commerce has gathered.

“It’s easy to say that stores are 20th century,” she said. “But in fact, people love to shop and engage other people.”

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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