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Bauer, Eddie - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Eddie Bauer

business bauer’s stores products

(1899-1986)
Eddie Bauer, Inc.

Overview

Eddie Bauer’s name is a familiar presence in mailboxes, shopping malls, and closets. Moreover, the Bauer name is tagged to a billion-dollar company boasting more than 500 stores nationwide and over 30 stores abroad as well as an enormous worldwide mail-order business and online catalog store. It all started with the invention of lightweight goose down and stitched products, such as vests, jackets, and sleeping bags. Eddie Bauer is synonymous with high-quality products and high customer satisfaction.

Personal Life

Eddie Bauer was born on October 19, 1899, on Orcas Island, in Washington’s Pacific Ocean inlet, Puget Sound. His parents, Jacob and Mary Bauer, were Russian-born immigrants of German ancestry who grew and sold Italian plums. Bauer’s father taught him how to be a skilled fisherman, hunter, and outdoorsman. However, when Bauer was 14, his parents separated. He and his mother moved to Seattle to live with his aunt. There Bauer found part-time work at Piper and Taft, a sporting goods store. Six years later, after completing a two-year, part-time course in business practice, he opened his own store—Eddie Bauer’s Tennis shop—which specialized in re-stringing tennis rackets. In 1927, Bauer married Christine “Stine” Heltborg, who shared his love of the outdoors. In 1929 their son Eddie Christian Bauer was born.

Career Details

Bauer was a popular and well-known expert fisherman, hunter, and marksman in the Pacific Northwest. In 1920, this popularity helped Bauer succeed in his early sporting goods business where he began tying dry flies made out of high-quality goose feathers for local fisherman. Unsatisfied with the performance of the wool clothing he had worn on fishing trips, Bauer used feathers to develop a new kind of insulated clothing—downinsulated outerwear. His patented product was Skyline, a quilted jacket lined with goose down. Later, he patented and produced the first down-filled jackets, coats, sleeping bags, and other lightweight, weather-resistant, and warmth-retaining outdoors equipment.

His apparel gained immediate acceptance with hunters and fishermen, but it was another unlikely group who bought his products: aviators and pilots. In the brutally cold temperatures of high altitude flying, Eddie Bauer’s products helped to keep pilots warm. He produced thousands of his down-filled garments for the U.S. government during World War II. Because he routinely labeled all the items he sold to the military with a tag bearing his name, pilots from all over the world sought him out after the war ended to obtain their own down-filled garments.

When Bauer saw the flood of interest, he asked the government for an address list of the men he had helped clothe during the war. The government cooperated, and in 1946 Bauer used the list to create his mail-order business by designing a mail-order catalog of all his products, and then mailing one to each person on the list.

For the next 22 years, Bauer continued to be active in all aspects of the expanding business and in developing the growth of national outlets for his products, as well as refining and expanding his catalog. Bauer also continued to design, develop, test, and patent a variety of innovative sporting products until his retirement in 1968.

However, what made Eddie Bauer a success? Throughout the book The Legend of Eddie Bauer, a personal and business history of the Bauer corporation, author Robert Spector made it clear that Bauer’s winning personality, energy, and integrity were the key elements to the Bauer’s successful business style. He aimed to please and most often did, guaranteeing everything he manufactured with no exceptions. His guarantee was in writing and became famous: “Every item we sell will give you complete satisfaction, or you may return it for a full refund.”

Yet, Bauer’s successful products were not created without a personal cost to him. He was exhausted by long hours of work and by the ongoing pain caused by an early sports injury. He frequently experienced what he called “unbearable pain” and was bedridden, often for days, because of the pain. Nevertheless, he persisted in the expansion of his business.

Oddly, because Bauer used such simple business practices in a business that had become enormous and unwieldy, Bauer also had to face the challenge of dealing with wild ups and downs of cash flow—the money that sustains daily business operations—even when he was making huge sums of money. If his stores did well, often his mail-order enterprise slowed, and money had to be diverted to pay down debts in various areas of the enterprise. The challenge of modernizing his business style was a great one for Eddie Bauer, and it remained a struggle.

Social and Economic Impact

Bauer’s great success came as a result of his creation of down and quilted garments. Using goose-down exclusively as the basis of all his lightweight, heat-retaining garments revolutionized the outerwear segment of the apparel industry.

Quilted-down apparel, from vests, jackets, hunting jackets, sleeping bags, blankets, and more, allowed Bauer to obtain sixteen different design patents, and enabled him to enjoy a virtual monopoly on the entire quilted-down-filled materials business. Quilted-down clothing eventually gained worldwide acceptance, and Bauer’s items were consistently used and praised by sportsmen, mountain-climbers, and adventurers from the Arctic and Anarctic regions to the peaks of the Himalayas. In addition, Bauer brought something new to life: lightweight clothing made from a light fabric that brought warmth, comfort, and ease of movement to those who wore it.

After his retirement in 1968, Bauer’s son Eddie Christian pursued the next successful phases of the Bauer product revolution: the change to computerassisted mail-ordering and billing, the refocus to casual apparel, and in 1988 the purchase of Eddie Bauer by Spiegel, Inc. This purchase resulted in aggressive expansion, and by 1989 there were a total number of 100 Eddie Bauer stores nationally. Two years later, Eddie Bauer again expanded, this time in its product line, by creating Eddie Bauer Home. These stores provided customers with high-quality furniture, tableware, decor products, and linens. By 1997 Eddie Bauer had also opened 50 outlet stores.

During this period, Eddie Bauer began to expand abroad and from 1993 through 1998, Eddie Bauer opened over 20 stores in Japan, seven stores in German, and two stores in the United Kingdom. In 1996, Eddie Bauer launched its “virtual” online catalog.

In the 1990s Eddie Bauer also further expanded its product line to include A/K/A Eddie Bauer, a men’s dress apparel line plus for men and women: an updated line of sportswear, shoes, and accessories; Eddie Bauer Travel, an outdoor and adventure travel program; and EBTek, which included Eddie Bauer’s patented Premium Goose Down as well as other popular outdoor fabrics like Gore-Tex and Polartec 200.

Chronology: Eddie Bauer

1899: Born.

1920: Opened first store in Seattle.

1922: Established unconditional guarantee.

1927: Married Christine Heltborg and began women’s apparel clothing line.

1936: Produced the first goose down insulated jacket.

1937: Designed original DownLight vest.

1945: Issued first mail-order catalog.

1968: Retired—partner William Niemi and son Eddie Christian take over.

1971: General Mills bought Eddie Bauer and expanded to 60 retail stores.

1986: Died.

Eddie Bauer did not live to see this huge national, international, and virtual expansion. He died in 1986 at the age of 85. The Eddie Bauer creed, “To give you such outstanding quality, value, service, and guarantee that we may be worthy of your high esteem,” has lived on, but more than that has endured. He has left a legacy that will carry the Eddie Bauer name well into the next century.

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