L.L. Bean is making history — at least the corporate kind — with its first wholesale partnerships with Nordstrom, Scheels and Staples in the U.S.
Wholesaling is a first for the 108-year-old company. With this setup, L.L. Bean apparel, footwear, backpacks and outdoor gear will be sold in 1,200 stores nationwide.
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In a phone interview Friday, chief executive officer Steve Smith described the company as primarily an e-commerce one with two-thirds of its business stemming from online. “As we look at our store base, we see multiple points of distribution being real key to sustaining the brand and making it more accessible to people,” he said.
The decision to become wholesale partners with Nordstrom, Scheels and Staples required more than a year of planning and is part of L.L. Bean’s overall omnichannel retail vision. There was also testing of wholesale in Japan and Canada.
“To launch this, we wanted to work with partners where we had a real true point of difference, and a really good connection. A lot of that connection was through customer service and customer experience,” he said. “It was well thought-out, well-planned, careful. We’re definitely a careful business.”
The company has already shipped products to Staples stores in the U.S. L.L. Bean apparel and gear will be available in select Nordstrom and Scheels stores this fall. More than 1,000 Staples stores have L.L. Bean products and 20 Nordstrom stores will have an assortment as well as six Scheels stores.
“For us, it’s geographic reach. It expands our brands to regions of the country where we don’t have existing physical presences,” Smith said. “We do have products that people like to touch and feel — flannel, fleece, gear and outerwear — so putting the products into the hands of people will expand sales for us. Hopefully, that will bring them into our other channels as well.”
Footwear, flannel and fleece are expected to be leading categories with the three wholesale partners, as well as Primaloft and puffer jackets, Smith said. The Freeport, Me.-based L.L. Bean is a $1.6 billion operation.
L.L. Bean has 54 freestanding stores including 10 outlet stores. L.L. Bean has not permanently closed any of its freestanding stores as a result of the pandemic. Earlier this year they had been temporarily closed due to safety reasons. On another front, the company plans to open three brick-and-mortar stores in Canada by the end of the year.
With 5,200 employees, L.L. Bean has about 3,500 year-round employees in its home state of Maine. Earlier this year L.L. Bean axed 200 jobs and closed a call center in Lewiston, Me. As part of that realignment, the online, catalogue and retail operation reorganized in certain areas.
L.L. Bean unveiled earlier this year a collaboration with Todd Snyder and the company aims to set up more along those lines. Snyder’s line will launch this fall. “We’re assuming it will be successful and we will want to do more. We’ve got a couple of other conversations underway that we’ll probably be able to talk about six months from now,” Smith said.
“Todd Snyder is the same general strategy as wholesaling. We really are looking at finding partners, expanding access to our brand, expanding relevance to our brand and trying new and different things,” Smith said. “The world is changing quickly and customer habits are changing quickly. We want to make sure we’ve got a whole bunch of plans and ideas planted in different places. We’ll learn from all of them. Some will succeed and some will fail. They will all give us good learning to keep us really flexible as the world changes around us.”