Land’s End Through the Years

Key moments in the retailer's 50 year history.

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Gary Comer, a young advertising copywriter and sailing enthusiast, quits his job to work for a company that sells marine hardware and boat sails. He partners with the company’s owner, Richard Stearns; his friend, Buck Halperin, and several others to launch a mail-order business to sell sailing equipment and hardware.

This story first appeared in the May 23, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Comer produces Lands’ End’s first catalogue, called The Lands’ End Yachtsman’s Equipment Guide. It becomes the most important reference catalogue of its time to naval architects, boat builders and sailboat owners.

The company starts creating something besides sailing equipment: duffel bags, manufactured in-house.

Lands’ End develops and markets its own brand of rain suit, a two-piece outfit worn by sailors in foul weather.

The brand’s first all-color catalogue is issued, with 30 pages of sailing equipment and two pages of clothing.

The focus shifts from sailing equipment to clothing and canvas luggage. Non-nautical products now take up eight pages, including products such as a men’s chamois-cloth shirt.

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The first catalogue dedicates 13 of 40 pages to non-nautical goods — including apparel and soft luggage called Square Rigger.

• Bernie Roer comes on full-time as vice president and creative director.

Lands’ End begins to phase out sailing equipment but retains a rugged and traditional aesthetic.

• Operations move from Chicago to Dodgeville, in Southwestern Wisconsin.

• Lands’ End introduces toll-free 800 numbers.

Ground breaking begins on a 33,000-square-foot warehouse and an 8,400-square-foot office building in Dodgeville.

The company makes the move to its new home on Lands’ End Lane.

• The phone center begins answering calls 24 hours a day.

• Lands’ End starts hiring employees who specialize in fabric and the manufacturing of clothing.

• The company’s first Outlet Store opens on Elston Avenue in Chicago.

Work begins on a 40,000-square-foot addition to its Wisconsin warehouse, which will feature a new automated sorting system, and on a plant in West Union, Iowa, to make soft luggage.

Charter Club, with styles made from Italian silks and other fine fabrics, is introduced.

Lands’ End becomes a registered U.S. trademark.

• Catalogues are now sent out monthly, instead of seasonally.

Lands’ End goes public, with stock listed on Nasdaq.

• Charter Club is discontinued despite its profitability, to maintain the company’s culture and focus on traditional, no-nonsense clothes.
Lands’ End airs its first TV commercial during a rugby match on ESPN.

• Automated hemming operation handles up to 6,000 pants a day.

• Lands’ End stock moves to the New York Stock Exchange.

The Christmas catalogue reaches a record 220 pages.

Gary Comer dedicates an 80,000-square-foot activity center to the employees, personally donating $8 million to pay for the facility’s construction.

Three specialty catalogues launch: Kids, Home and Men’s.
Lands’ End sends its first catalogue to prospective customers in the U.K.

• Employment is 6,000 during peak season; sales exceed $600 million.

William T. End, who joined the company in 1991, is named president and chief operating officer. He would become chief executive officer in 1993, succeeding Richard C. Anderson, who had served as ceo since 1990 and remains vice chairman of the board.

Two catalogues launch: Textures (women’s tailored clothing) and Corporate Sales (a business-to-business catalogue).

• First phone and distribution centers open outside the U.S. — in Oakham, England.
William T. End resigns as president and chief executive officer and is succeeded by Michael J. Smith.

•Japan business launches as the first Lands’ End catalogue written in Japanese and priced in yen is mailed.

• First Lands’ End Inlet opens in Richfield, Minn.

Landsend.com bows in July with 100 products.
German business begins in Mettlach, Germany, with all product shipped from the distribution center in Oakham, England.
First Lands’ End for School catalogue appears.

• Lands’ End sells its interest in the catalogue The Territory Ahead.

David Dyer, who had held senior management positions with Lands’ End from 1989 to 1994, returns as president and chief executive officer, succeeding Michael J. Smith.

• The Web site introduces personalized shopping accounts and My Virtual Model, where customers can build a 3-D model of themselves. More than 15 million visits are made to the site, and sales grow threefold.
Lands’ End introduces an alumni collection, Womens’ 18W-26W catalogue and Custom Chinos on landsend.com.

• More than 269 million catalogues are distributed throughout the year.
Sears buys Lands’ End. Product bows in more than 180 Sears full-line stores, and by 2003 is rolled out to all 870 Sears stores.

• Maternitywear is added to the Lands’ End collection.

Sears and Kmart merge.

The brand is introduced in Canada in Sears stores.
Lands’ End Shops are in 200 Sears stores.

• An intimates collection launches.

Canvas women’s and men’s apparel and accessories launch, incorporating a slimmer, more modern take on classics like the white shirt, khakis, denim and knitwear.

Chris Kolbe joins as executive vice president, chief merchandising and design officer, overseeing design, as well as retail and direct and international merchandising.

Edgar Huber is named chief executive officer. He is a former executive vice president of global business development for Liz Claiborne Inc., and held posts at Juicy Couture and L’Oréal.

The design team moves to New York.

• Sara Dennis, a former executive at Vera Wang Group, Liz Claiborne and Calvin Klein, joins as senior vice president of design.

The company expands shoe categories for spring with an emphasis on women’s, adding fashion-focused silhouettes and materials to its traditional collections.

• Lands’ End marks 50 years in business.

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