retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Sometimes, faced with the choice of conserving the fundamental qualities of a brand and exploiting a brand’s success for a quick and easy buck, businesses will choose the latter. After all, one has to strike while the iron is hot.

At LL Bean, that’s never been the way. In recent years, its iconic duck boot has become an in-demand fashion item, its leather-and-rubber simplicity appealing to urban Millennials as well as to denizens of more rural locales. The boots always have been made in Maine, but the increased demand - 100,000 were sold a decade ago, but expectations are that 750,000 will be sold this year - has meant that an awful lot of customers have ended up on a waiting list.

There was, of course, a way to solve the problem - outsource production to some far off land, where the boots could be faster and cheaper. Such a move would allow LL Bean not just to keep all its customers satisfied, but even make more money on the deal. Win-win.

Except that this win-win was seen by the folks at LLBean as an ultimate loss - the company was convinced that the quality would suffer, which would hurt the brand by violating the core value proposition. Better to keep some customers waiting than leave all of them wanting something better.

The Associated Press reports now that LL Bean is opening a new 106,000 square foot production facility in Lewiston, Maine, that doubles its duck boot capacity, and it plans to hire more than 100 new employees to make the boots.

What is Eye-Opening about this, I think, is that it demonstrates not just an investment in people and real estate, but in core brand values that differentiate and distinguish the company. And it is a lesson to which more businesses should pay attention.
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