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Bean, L. L. - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: L. L. Bean, Inc.

business maine hunting shoe

(1872-1967)
L. L. Bean, Inc.

Overview

Leon Leonwood Bean, best-known as L. L. Bean, became known worldwide for his mail-order catalog focused on equipment and clothing for the serious outdoorsman. With the invention and patenting of a simple rubber-soled, leather-top shoe in 1911, Bean gradually began marketing his shoe, the “Maine Hunting Shoe,” to an increasingly large audience of people, through the mail. L. L. Bean, Inc. has become the world’s largest mail-order company, with over 150,000 orders per day, totaling sales of $1 billion a year. Hunting, fishing, camping, as well as casual outdoors dresswear, are the primary items sold.

Personal Life

Leon Leonwood Bean was born on November 13 1872, in Greenwood, Maine, one of six children born to Benjamin Warren Bean, a farmer and horse trader, and Sarah Swett. His parents died when he was only 12 yearsold. Thereafter, he, his brothers, and his one sister lived with relatives in South Paris, Maine. Late in his adolescence he went to live with his uncle in rural West Minot, Maine.

Early in life, Bean developed a passion for hunting and fishing, and for the outdoor life. Even though Bean’s formal education ended at the eighth grade, he eventually turned this passion into a career. In 1892 and 1893, Bean took commercial courses at the Kent’s Hill Academy, in Maine. These courses indicated to the young Bean how he might blend his love for the outdoors, with business. Bean later spent a semester at the Hebron Academy, in Maine.

Until the age of 40, Bean maintained, his life was uneventful, except for his marriage to his first wife Bertha Porter in 1898. Together they had three children and moved around often as Bean worked at a variety of jobs to support them. Bean lived a long life and worked at developing his business, for the most part, after the age of 40. Unlike his first wife, who died young, in 1939, Bean lived to the age of 95. He married his second wife, Claire Boudreau, in 1940, and lived with her until his death.

By 1960, when Bean was in his late 1980s, he was still only semi-retired, but he had moved away from his business and the hard winters of Maine, and had settled in Miami Shores, Florida for his last years. He died there on February 5, 1967.

Career Details

Bean spent most of his first 40 years in Maine, loving the life of an outdoorsman. In his frequent moves around the state, he worked as a farm hand, an itinerant soap-peddler, and later, as a business partner with his brother Otho who ran a small store operation in Freeport, Maine. At the same time, Bean was able to pursue his love of the outdoors and continue hunting and fishing.

Because both his work and his leisure kept him outdoors, Bean was always, he recounted, getting his feet wet in the marshlands of Maine. Because of the structure of the shoes of the time, he always had problems keeping his feet warm. Warm feet were crucial to outdoor life. After a variety of efforts at shoemaking, he designed the first modern lightweight, warm, dry boots. They had leather uppers, to keep them light, sewed onto heavy rubber overshoe bottoms, to keep the boots dry. He came to call them: the “Maine Hunting Shoe,” and began selling them to others in 1912. Bean was pleased with the fact that he had invented shoes for the sportsman that kept out water and retained warmth. He eventually patented these shoes, and they became his entry-way into business.

Bean found his first audience for these revolutionary shoes by obtaining the names of licensed Maine hunters, both in and out of the state. Bean then sent each of them his first mail-order catalog, which amounted to little more than a three page brochure, extolling the virtues of these new shoes, and guaranteeing 100 percent satisfaction or a full refund.

By 1917 business was so good that Bean could finally afford to open his manufacturing headquarters on the main street of Freeport, where it remained in operation until 1962. In 1918, Bean received American and Canadian patents for his hunting shoe. By the early 1920s, Bean’s catalog had been greatly expanded. He now included outdoor and casual clothing items, as well as fishing and hunting equipment, and canoeing and camping gear. Bean adopted Freeport, Maine, as his home town and continued to expand his mail-order business. The business was incorporated on July 1, 1934.

During World War II, Bean served as a consultant to design boots for the Army and Navy. His company received several contracts for military versions of his hunting boots, and other Bean products.

By 1960, Bean was clearly winding-down his own career as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of L. L. Bean, Inc., and he was now spending more time in Miami Shores, Florida, at his winter home. His world-renowned name remained with the L. L. Bean Corporation, and by 1967, Bean’s grandson, Leon Gorman, had become the CEO of this billion dollar operation, with Bean himself spending less and less time involved in daily business activities.

Chronology: L. L. Bean, Inc.

1872: Born.

1911: Designed the “Maine Hunting Shoe.”

1912: Began selling the “Maine Hunting Shoe.”

1917: Opened manufacturing headquarters in Freeport, Maine.

1918: Granted American and Canadian patents for shoe.

1934: Incorporated into L. L. Bean, Inc.

1967: Leon Gorman took over as head of L. L. Bean, Inc.

1967: Died.

Social and Economic Impact

Bean always expressed his own philosophy of life in a simple home-spun style, and his customers responded positively not only to his products, but to the old-fashioned style and character of the L. L. Bean Corporation. Their prescription for success was: “Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings, and they’ll always come back for more.”

Much of what Bean practiced in business during the 20th century seemed “old-fashioned” to many, but in a fast-paced and growing industrial culture, that illusion of an earlier, less complex time was increasingly attractive to his many customers. Bean’s unwittingly seductive style was to maintain his old-fashioned operations, even though, by the 1930s, the business operations were large, complex, and increasingly multi-national.

Through his life, Bean maintained a kind of simple Yankee trapper philosophy and resisted potentially unmanageable expansions in his operation. His customers increased as the outdoors became to increasingly represent a good way for the whole family to “get away from it all.” As American life became more complex, crowded, and mobile, the Bean strategy was to represent a simple, natural, and even sentimental view of American life to his customers, a view Bean truly believed in. Furthermore, he believed in a straight-forward, honest, fair-profit business practice, that included the “100 percent money-back if dissatisfied for any reason” guarantee.

Bean spent long hours of daily, customer-personalized work. His mail-order catalogs, most of which he wrote himself, maintained a warm personal style in handling all business orders. This style of communicating with his customers earned L. L. Bean, Inc. annual sales of $2 million through the 1950s and 1960s.

L. L. Bean, Inc. continues as a family enterprise, with world-wide operations, one of the world’s largest mail-order concerns, with sales approaching, during the 1990s, $1 billion per year. Phone representatives continue to report daily orders of 150,000, which include expanding sales via the Internet web-site that L. L. Bean, Inc. maintains, as well as through expanded outlet stores world-wide. The main store in Freeport, has been open for business 24 hours a day and 365 day a year since 1951.

Bean, at age 40, had an idea for developing and selling a new kind of warm shoe for the outdoors. He developed a corporation in 1934, which, by the 1990s was the world’s largest mail-order concern, with sales at $1 billion annually. In 1995, the company reported 150,000 orders per day and $4.5 million in customer sales annually. The growth of L. L. Bean, Inc., along with the love and reverence the name conjures, has been an extraordinary success, reaching far beyond the dreams of its founder.

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