- L.L.Bean is an iconic American outdoor brand.
- The brand has had a runaway success with its trendy Bean Boot, which frequently sold out in the mid-2010s.
- CEO Steve Smith says the success of the Bean Boot was both a lesson and an example of how the company approaches business.
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L.L.Bean is an American icon.
And none of the brand’s products are more iconic than its Bean Boot, a waterproof boot equipped for extremely wet weather with a leather upper and fully rubber bottom.
“What we saw was a lot of other people were imitating the Bean boot and were applying a lot of innovation to our most historic,… most famous product,” CEO Steve Smith recently told Business Insider.
In response, the company poured resources into increasing manufacturing capacity for the boot, which is still made in two factories in Maine. It hired new shifts of boot makers and spent millions on new machines and facilities to make the moulded rubber bottoms.
“[In] ’14, ’15, ’16 we ran out of boots every single of year,” Smith said. “What we said is we actually have to turn that around and make that a virtue, and make it that we’re going to craft a certain amount of boots, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. We want to put innovation into the Bean Boot.”
The brand calls this initiative “small-batch boots” – limited-edition versions of Bean Boots available with unique features or colours.
“We took a page out of the craft-beer world,” Smith said.
Since then, Bean Boot mania has cooled a bit. While in 2017 the brand said it hoped to sell one million boots in 2018, Smith now says the company sells between 650,000 and 700,000 pairs a year.
But the brand still takes lessons from its Bean Boots.
“The Bean Boot sets up the entire positioning of the company,” Smith said. “Even though it’s a historic, heritage product, they can continue to move up, continue to be trendy, continue to be cool. That has carried the success.”
Smith also likes to tell the Bean Boot origin story, in which L.L.Bean founder Leon Leonwood Bean combined a rubber sole and a hiking boot upper, stitching them together for a combination of waterproofing and comfort.
“We’re still owned by the same family, so those stories and the creation of the company pervades the culture and the product creation even today. Every lesson that we’re living by comes out of that original Bean Boot,” he said.
Smith also said he doesn’t worry about saturation in the market “only because we’re still small.”
“I love the fact that our boots will last forever, our jackets will last forever. There’s always a new activity for someone to go off and do. As always, if our customers love the quality of our products, they’re telling their friends and family,” Smith said. He added: “I would only worry if I saw that we had sold 300 million jackets. I would know that everybody in America now has jacket, [but] I wouldn’t worry at all that day. That would be a phenomenal day.”
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