Bean branching out: the Marlton, N.J., store.

NEW YORK — L.L. Bean filled two senior-level retail posts on Tuesday, demonstrating that the business, essentially a 93-year-old catalogue operation, is getting serious about rolling out stores. <BR><BR>Ed Howell will return to the Freeport,...

NEW YORK — L.L. Bean filled two senior-level retail posts on Tuesday, demonstrating that the business, essentially a 93-year-old catalogue operation, is getting serious about rolling out stores.

Ed Howell will return to the Freeport, Maine-based company as chief retail officer, a new post, and as a member of the office of the president. Howell worked at Bean from 1987 to 1996. When he left he was vice president and general manager of men’s apparel, footwear, and L.L. Bean Kids, which he started. He has been serving as president of the Sorel division of Columbia Sportswear and before that, was president and chief executive of Eastern Mountain Sports.

Also, Ken Kacere has been promoted to senior vice president and general manager of retail. Kacere joined Bean three years ago as vice president of factory stores after 16 years with G.H. Bass & Co., where he was executive vice president and general manager of retail and brand marketing, and president of Bassnet. In addition to his new responsibilities at Bean, he will continue to supervise the factory stores until a successor is named.

L.L. Bean, founded in 1912 as a catalogue, has four stores, most notably the 120,000-square-foot Freeport flagship, which has been operating since 1917.

It wasn’t until 2000 that Bean began opening branches, but there are only three: a 75,000-square-foot store in Tysons Corner, Va.; a 35,000-square-foot unit in Columbia, Md., and a 30,000-square-foot store in Marlton, N.J., which is the newest, opened in August 2002. There are also 15 factory outlets.

“The company’s core competency has always been as direct merchants. Retail is an entirely different proposition,” said a Bean spokesman Tuesday.

“We are learning as we go along, from the ideal size of a store to the appropriate location. We’re making sure we’re getting it right, from being a good retail merchant to getting the details right on the operations side. We are going about this in a very deliberate and methodical manner.”

He said the company is “actively scouting for locations” and that three to five more stores could open in 2006. “The focus has been on the mid-Atlantic region. We will continue to explore ideal locations in this corridor, but that’s not to rule out other possibilities.

This story first appeared in the October 13, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“We are being very careful not to expand too rapidly when it comes to retail, because of the capital requirements and because we have witnessed all too many companies burst onto the retail scene and burst into flames because they over-stored too quickly.”

Future stores probably will be smaller than existing ones. “It’s fair to say that as we continued to go along, we established we can do more with less,” the spokesman said.

He also noted that the company tweaks the merchandising in each branch to suit the local demographic and geography. For example, while the Freeport flagship sells everything in the catalogue, the Tysons store emphasizes fishing and outdoor gear and apparel.

The appointments announced Tuesday complete the organization of senior retail management, the spokesman added.

Howell will report to chief executive officer and president Chris McCormick. The office of the president also includes chief financial officer Mark Fasold; chief operating officer Bob Peixotto; Fran Philip, the chief merchandising officer, and Howell. Kacere will report to Howell.

The $1.2 billion company is owned by descendants of Leon Leonwood Bean, who died in 1967.