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The Boston Globe reports on an appearance this week before the Boston Chamber of Commerce by LL Bean CEO Steve Smith, in which he laid out the company’s strategy for getting beyond a retail industry that is in “total distress” and an outdoor clothing/apparel segment that is “heavily challenged.”

Smith talked about how the company “is now making moves to expand beyond catalogues to focus more on retail stores and redefine its audience through a new advertising campaign,” which it sees as necessary because “the company’s growth had stalled as its customers have aged, and sales have been flat for the past two years.”

Smith - the first non-family member to hold the CEO’s job, and a retail veteran who was worked at Hannaford, Walmart and Sam’s Club, both domestically and internationally - has sought “to use his global perspective to widen the audience for the brand. That means more diverse faces in its new ad campaigns. And it means an increased push to stand out from competitors such as Land’s End and Eddie Bauer and the ‘contrived posers’ that feign a familiarity with the great outdoors: ‘The folks who take people who shouldn’t be outdoors and then dress them up,’ he joked. “

The Globe writes that LL Bean has “made efforts to better align its manufacturing, marketing, and supply chain divisions, with the hopes of better serving customers (so yes, that might mean Bean boots might not sell out as fast). They’re also streamlining their offerings, focusing only on outdoor goods instead of sportswear, and moving away from making children’s clothing and focusing on youth outerwear. Parents don’t want to pay as much for clothing their kids will quickly grow out of, Smith said, but they look for durability

“He also said the company was surprised to learn in customer surveys that L.L. Bean’s ‘100 percent satisfaction’ guarantee of all of its products didn’t seem to be valued as highly as assumed. He wasn’t clear about what that revelation will mean. Earlier this year, the company said it was reconsidering its generous return policy.”
KC's View:
I think it will be instructive to watch a more than century-old company re-engineer itself for 21st century realities. This is a challenging hire-wire act, because they have to do all this while being careful not to alienate traditional customers. This will be especially evident if they decide to walk away from traditional offerings, such as they’ve done with children’c clothing.

LL Bean, like every other retailer, has to find ways to be both resonant and relevant to shoppers … and to find ways to cut through the clutter.