Monday, March 12, 2012

Guaranteed to Last L.L. Bean's Century of Outfitting

The L.L. Bean team in celebration of their 100th year of service, catering to the worlds various outdoor interests and passions, has published a 224 page “coffee table” book that highlights some of the major milestones that have occurred within the company over the past century.

The book itself, titled “Guaranteed to Last L.L. Bean’s Century of Outfitting America” is artistically beautiful, boasting a canvas cover and stitching designed to mimic the company’s iconic boat and tote bag (Be sure to read the tote poem on p. 101).

Inside are hundreds of classic hunting and fishing pictures that depict L.L. Bean and his family and friends (Don’t miss the impressive haul of fish on page 95) in various outdoor adventures. I especially enjoyed the sections depicting and describing the L.L. Bean Corporation during its hunting and fishing heyday up till approximately the 1950s. This was obviously a time when the store was squarely centered on the specific needs of hunting and fishing enthusiasts.

As the years pass, we find that the classic pursuits of hunting and fishing, once the bread and butter of the L.L. Bean storefront become of lesser importance. Hunting and fishing are no longer the only games in town and must give way to a wide variety of outdoor pursuits including kayaking, backpacking, nature photography, ice/rock climbing, bungee jumping, paragliding, mountain biking, down hill skiing and advanced wine country tours. Society had evolved and L.L. Bean had to evolve as well to be able to maintain its bottom line.  

To see this trend it is eye opening to look at the “Best Sellers 1962 vs 2012 on page 135. Note that almost all of the top sellers in the 1960s are purely focused on hunting. In 2012 almost every major seller has the word “Chino” in the description. Preppiness (p. 159) provides additional written details on this societal change and also pay special note to the comic on page 154 concerning “Bird-Shooting” pants, as I feel this very eloquently puts into perspective the shift that is grossly apparent in the American culture and climate.

Duck hunting enthusiasts will appreciate the brief write on George Soule (p. 53) and the photographs and description of the Maine Duck Hunting Coat (p. 76). It is amazing to see just how far waterfowl apparel has come in such a limited amount of time.

Maine Guides are provided a brief write up on page 83 and there are several quotes by L.L. Bean the Maine Guide (p. 29) including this one of mine that is now a favorite, “You may fish all day and not get a strike. Therefore, make up your mind to have a good time. Enjoy camp life and exercise in the open air and you will be well repaid for your trip.” As is certainly apparent, Mr. Bean understood that there is more to the sports of hunting and fishing then the taking of hair, fin and feather.

I enjoyed reading the “Going the Extra Mile” customer service stories (pg. 112-113). It is apparent that the L.L. Bean manufacturing machine has a vested interest in people and preserving our outdoor heritage. Near and dear to my heart is a full page quote that expressly centers on introducing kids to outdoor activities, “Kids who are exposed to outdoors activities will make outdoor escapes part of their life as they enter adulthood.” (P. 218)

The book closes with a few words from Chris McCormick that paint a picture on what we can expect to see from L.L. Bean during the next century and it is one we can all appreciate as outdoor enthusiasts, “one hundred years from now, our natural environment and the pleasure that comes from escapes to the outdoors will be no less important than they are today. L.L. Bean will continue to be there to help preserve and protect the precious places to escape, and will be there to inspire and enable successive generations to enjoy their outdoor experiences even as outdoor activities continue to evolve.” (p. 222)

Afterword: It is certainly no secret that I have had issue with the direction L.L. Bean has taken through the years in relation to their divergence from their roots in hunting and fishing and also my displeasure with their new signature series, however, after reading this book and being able to see specifically why they were “forced” to evolve, I am beginning to understand why they need to make certain concessions in order to not just survive but to grow and thrive. I will continue to be a valiant supporter of L.L. Bean and a certain selection of their products, however, that doesn’t mean I won’t give them a hard time when I see them doing something I don’t agree with . . . so please, please, please don’t make any more men’s pants with lil duckies on them or sweathers depicting polar bears having tickle fights!


  1. I enjoyed your review Rabid. I think L.L. Bean has taken a lot of flak from us traditional Mainiac hunters and fishermen (oops..people). And it would have been great to see the company stay strictly to its roots. But would it even exist anymore in today's more and more gentrifying world. As Mainers who love our hunting and fishing tradition we can cull out the preppy Bean and get down to the backbone of what "made" the company. And in that light, I will be in Freeport this weekend to checkout the L.L.Bean Spring Fishing Weekend and I can't wait!

  2. PBM, If L.L. Bean had not evolved they likely would not be here today. In the book it outlines that in the 50's their sales had grown stagnant and it wasn't until the started to explore other markets that their profit margins began to grow exponentially.

    I think L.L. Bean has a lot to offer in terms of hunting and fishing and it is a trend that I would like to see it concentrate even more efforts on. Fishing weekend aye? Do they do a hunting weekend or is that taboo??!?!

  3. Even with the sig series fashion show duck hunting pants..I agree with you Steve, it's nice to see a Maine company continue to grow.

    1. Peter, I completely agree with you. It is critical that Maine based companies, employing Maine people continue to grow. It would be a sad day should L.L. Bean collapse and Maine would lose much.

      I note from my statcounter report that someone from LL Bean has read this posting. I often wonder if they see my questions, pokes and taunts as thoughtfully probing or cynical? I hope the later rather than the former.

      Thanks for posting!

  4. Steve,

    I'm actually a fan of a majority of the Signature line. Although it deviates from the original line of clothing - it's almost run as a separate company and competes in a different target market. For example - I'm a huge fan of their chamois shirt. It actually fits better than the plain LLB line and IMO is more comfortable, also it doesn't hang to my knees.

    Just another Mainers opinion. Good review. Check out the one I did on the book a couple months back.


    1. Rohn, You are a great guy and all but if you tell me you own the "Signature" pants with the lil duckies OR the sweater with the tickle fighting polar bears, we can no longer be friends. :)

      Skipping over to see your review . . . Thanks!

    2. Are you ok with penguin backpacks?

    3. PBM, Yes, as long as said backpacks are worn by children under the age of 8.

  5. The following comment was e-mailed to me and I am posting here to share as I believe Bill makes some excellent points:

    I first began shopping from LL Bean some 40 years ago, perhaps more. At the time they had a odd sized catalog that featured nearly all exclusive LL Bean products. They were good reliable products although at that time they had not achieved true standardized sizing for their clothing. An item ordered today would not necessarily fit the same as the same item ordered a year before or after. But, in time they got it straightened out.

    Then one year everything seemed to change. First the catalog changed as well as the contents. In one fell swoop they managed to become just another catalog company. Then the free shipping changed and they truly became just like any other co. with the lone exceptions of their own special items like the maine hunting shoe.

    My wife and I spent a month doing New England and the Canadian provinces about 20 years ago. We stayed at the Harraseeket Inn which is just a short distance from LL Bean. After checking in we did Beans. My wife liked the second floor which at the time was where all the household items were displayed. We bought our items and went to the basement where their customer service dept. would box up the purchases and ship them home.

    Across the street from Beans store the tour busses from Boston come and dislodged their cargo of "Shop till you drop" women and their spouses. You can almost feel the ladies increased heart rate. The gents eyes however more often than not seem glazed over. Men are not the shoppers that women are. Something in the genes perhaps.

    Many years ago my dad and I would make our annual pre hunting season trip to Eddie Bauer in Seattle. It was a grand store. Everything was first rate and that store had the one feature few if any others had; you could walk in and walk out having purchased everything required for a fishing trip, hunting trip including the finest firearms,and arrangement for the necessary guides for anywhere in the world. The current Eddie Bauer is a shadow of it's former self and the victim of being bought and sold too many times to people/companies that didn't care about anything but the bottom line. Good article.





  7. hi my name is Tobie i live in OR. i went to a flee market today and found a rusty old ll bean axe im a collecter so i bought it and fell in love with it. having a hard time finding out who made them and a time period if some one reads this and has a close idea i will take any input thanks alot you can reach me at


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