L.L. BEAN EXPANDING ITS PRESENCE IN RETAIL
Byline: Jim Ostroff
McLEAN, Va. — When L.L. Bean’s new mega-store opens here today at Tysons Corner, it will bring more than the experience of the great outdoors to this region known for pressure-cooker political jobs and demographics any retailer would love.
With its light woods, cork-and-tile floors and a stocked trout fishing pond and waterfall, the two-level store, with 66,000 square feet of selling space, represents the next step in a growing retail presence for the catalog-oriented company, which generated $1.06 billion in net sales last year.
“There still is a predominant sense among consumers that they prefer to buy products in a conventional retail setting and as part of our long-term strategic approach, we want to offer that accessibility, regardless of the channel they chose to use,” Leon Gorman, president of the Freeport, Maine-based company and grandson of the founder, said in an interview Thursday.
One reason the company chose Tysons Corner was that the area was familiar with L.L. Bean and demographically, very desirable.
“Our catalog has a 40 percent penetration in this market and the demographics show area residents have a very high degree of education and high household incomes,” said Mike Verville, Bean’s director of retail merchandising and branding.
Next spring, it will open a 30,000-square-foot Discovery store in Columbia, Md., featuring a limited assortment of Bean merchandise. In September 2001, it will open its 11th outlet store, at 20,000 square feet, at Potomac Mills, a huge discount mall located in Prince William County about 30 miles south of Washington.
The company hopes to open a third store in the area as part of a plan to build up to five new units by 2002. It is scouting locations in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area, but has made no decisions yet about opening one there.
The 126,000-square-foot Freeport store is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year — making it, among other things, a legendary destination for spontaneous road trips by college students in the Northeast.
Bean also operates 20 stores in Japan and 10 U.S. outlets. Gorman said the opening of its second retail store represents much more than simple expansion.
“Obviously, we will learn from the stores in Tysons and Columbia, Md., and the other one we hope to open,” Gorman said. “There are major challenges to learn to operate retail formats [outside of Freeport] logistically and from a merchandising point of view. Once we’re convinced the concept is exportable and that we know how to operate it with superior service and quality, we will backfill the region into New York, New Jersey and possibly western New England.”
A Bean spokesman noted that, “Eighty percent of our customers are east of the Mississippi and it’s fair to say that 80 percent of these are concentrated from the mid-Atlantic to Maine.” The company also hopes its Virginia store will build the customer base from southern Pennsylvania to the Carolinas and into West Virginia.
Gorman said Bean’s expansion plans are “limited to what we can obtain through equity profits.” It is not seeking outside partners and the company has no plans to go public.
Gorman, 65, has “no plans to step down” as Bean’s president in the foreseeable future, adding, “I don’t expect to stay on as long as L.L.,” who still headed the company when he died in 1967 at age 94.
The privately held retailer would not release its sales projections for the new store, saying only that it hopes to equal or exceed the mall average sales of $520 per square foot. With 66,000 square feet of net sales space, this would produce annual sales of about $34 million. The Freeport store last year produced sales of $793 per square foot.
To support the store’s opening, Verville said Bean sent 400,000 invitations to people living within 100 miles of Washington, as well as placed advertisements in local newspapers and on radio and television. During opening weeks, the store is raffling off a pre-production model of an L.L. Bean Special Edition Subaru, a weekend for two at a rustic getaway and will have a fly-fishing expert demonstrate catch-and-release techniques at the trout-stocked pond that is a centerpiece of the store.
The new store carries about 70 percent of the merchandise found at the Freeport location. In both stores, the apparel is primarily private label.
At Tysons Corner, hunting gear has been deleted in favor of more active, outdoor merchandise, ranging from hiking apparel to boots, kayaks and tents, reflecting Washington-area consumers’ love affair with trail hiking, walking and cycling, company officials said.
“We retain our outdoors orientation, but here we are catering to customers who may want a more casual apparel wardrobe. It is contemporary, but not high fashion,” said Gorman.
Overall, the store’s mix is 60 percent softgoods and 40 percent hardgoods. The apparel is sourced worldwide, with relatively little made in the U.S. Bean’s trademark footwear is well represented, as are brands such as Birkenstock, Cresta, Merrell, Asolo and Salomon.
Shoppers can sign up for Bean’s Outdoor Discovery School, where they can take courses in wildlife photography, kayaking and wilderness survival at The Tides resort on the Virginia shores of the Chesapeake Bay.
Shoppers can access Bean’s Web site via computer kiosks throughout the store; they can order right there, or send a traditional order form to Freeport.
Music, ranging from Frank Sinatra to hip-hop, will be streamed into the store via the Internet, enabling it to change selections rapidly to dovetail with the changing mix of shoppers in the store at any given time, Verville said.
Gorman said he’s not sure what his grandfather, L.L., would make of the newest store.
“Visually, it’s totally different from anything remotely like what he knew in the Thirties, Forties, or Fifties, and the product assortment is 90 percent different from what he was used to,” he said.
But if L.L. ventured into the Tyson’s store today, Gorman said he is sure his grandfather would offer the time-tested guidance that he set down as the “Golden Rule” in 1912: “Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings and they will come back for more. I have repeated this several thousand times over the years. It’s good advice.”