The thing you must understand about L. L. Bean - that's Leon Leonwood Bean (1872-1967), not L. L. Bean REGISTERED or L. L. Bean, Inc. - is that when it came to marketing, he really could do no wrong. The news of his death at age 94, carried in hundreds of newspapers and on national television, brought in fifty thousand requests for the company's mail-order catalog.
Such success could hardly have been predicted from L. L.'s first thirty- nine years, during which he held a series of undistinguished jobs, the last of which was clerking in his brother's drygoods store in Freeport, Maine. What happened next was about as surprising as what happened to that other small- town drygoods merchant, Ulysses S. Grant.
L. L., whose frequent lack of employment had something to do with his habit of disappearing every hunting season, developed a case of the bad feet, diagnosis unrecorded. Most men lamented the wet, cold feet they got from the dampness that penetrated leather boots, and the cold, wet feet they got from the sweat that condensed inside rubber boots. L. L., who had more confidence than you might expect of a ribbon clerk, decided to solve the problem that had been annoying woodsmen since Nimrod.
L. L. had never made a pair of boot----cobbler to sew the leather tops to the rubber bottoms. (He must have bought some innersoles, too, because the Maine Hunting Shoe without innersoles is about as comfortable as walking around in a pair of plastic buckets. Then he went hunting. And the shoe worked, sort of.
Satisfied with himself, and aware of the power of mail order - for this was 1911, and the largest retailers in America were Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward - L. L. Bean got the mailing address of every Maine hunting license holder and sent each of them a letter bearing the good news. "You cannot expect success hunting big game if your feet are not properly dressed," he admonished the reader. "The Maine Hunting Shoe is designed by a hunter who has tramped the Maine woods for the past 22 years. We guarantee them to give perfect satisfaction in every way."
There was only one problem. Of the first one hundred pairs of boots he mailed, ninety came back because the rubber bottoms had ripped loose from the leather tops. This was serious: A dissatisfied customer is one thing, but a man whose shoes have come apart on a deer drive with four inches of wet snow on the ground is another creature entirely. Leon Leonwood Bean went back to the shoemaker, and with a combination of triple stitching and better materials they solved the problem. In a way, the failure of the first lot was serendipity, for it gave L. L. the chance to prove that his guarantee meant what it said.
It also gave him what was to become the "core product" of an amazingly successful mail-order business. All respectable mail-order companies, and a few disreputable ones, rely on a core product. It embodies the image of the company, it is supposed to be the best of its kind on the market, and everything spins around it like moths around a streetlight. At L. L. Bean, the core product is L. L.'s Maine Hunting Shoe, that leather-topped, rubber- bottomed contraption you see both in Maine, on real hunters in pursuit of authentic deer, and in Harvard Square, on preppies of both sexes. -
There are other American businesses built on a personality, but L. L. Bean, Inc., is one of the few created in the image of a real person. The name of the game is marketing, and the name of marketing is image. Why else would General Mills invent Betty Crocker? Is not the New Englander who owns a television invited to believe that the Bradlees discount chain is run by an awesome virago named "Mrs. B."?
But L. L. was real, and L. L. died, and then a funny thing happened. A small mail-order company, by no means-on in 1974, simply by working harder at the same techniques L. L. had used. L. L. didn't care whether the business grew; he was already 75 years old in 1946, when the postwar baby boom and the recreation boom began. But his successor, Leon Gorman, did care.
Bean's is still family owned. Leon Gorman, 47, is L. L.'s grandson, and he and other direct and collateral descendants own the whole thing: a little old store in Freeport that, including its catalog sales, will gross nearly $165 million in the 1981 fiscal year ending February 28, 1982. After-tax profit on 1981 sales is expected to be $9.5 million, up from $6.97 million in 1980 - and that's using the mo--re from 20 to 40 percent each year since 1974. If it
keeps up the pace, it will gross over $340 million in the fiscal year ending February 28, 1985. That's 10,000 percent growth over twenty years.
And that is a problem: There are very few things in the world that can grow a hundredfold and still be recognizable. And if L. L. Bean is ever unrecognizable, the jig is up. It is not the only mail-order sporting goods and casual wear company, and should it ever become just another catalog, it will stop growing and recede into the wastepaper baskets of twenty-four million households.
Change can be perilous to a business. When Leon Gorman took over at Bean's, his goal was to catch up with the famous New York outfitter, Abercrombie & Fitch. The same year that Gorman took over Bean's, I visited A & F on Fifth Avenue. The store had six floors, five of them filled with stuffed leather toys, home decorations, tweed jackets, and assorted Westchester County gewgaws. The top floor still stocked the wares you associated with Abercrombie & Fitch - salmon rods and elephant guns - but they seemed a schizoid aberration in the scheme of the whole store. Abercrombie & Fitch went belly up a few years later; they had lost their core, the center would not hold.
The leaders in outdoor mail order in the late sixties were Beans's, Corcoran's, the Alaska Sleeping Bag Company, Eddie Bauer, and two fishing tackle houses, Orvis and Herter's.
Corcoran's just walked away from the business, closing their sporting goods side. ("Odd," Leon Gorman says, "they were just as well positioned as we were".)
The Alaska Sleeping Bag Company folded, a victim of its ability to sell and its inability to deliver. In the mail-order business, the rule that a seller must refund the buyer's money if he can't ship the goods within twenty- one days is called the Alaska Sleeping Bag law. "At one point," says Gorman, "they were responsible for 90 percent of the complaints at the Federal Trade Commission.
Herter's was locked into fishing tackle, a market segment experiencing "no growth to negative growth," Gorman notes, and it is gone and forgotten. "I used to talk to Carl Herter on the phone a lot," Gorman recalls. "He was quite a character. Talk about catalog copy. He used to advertise a book of short stories he'd written, some fiction, in his catalog: The greatest work of fiction --$15 million a year by mail, and all of the growth is in clothing, home furnishings, and gifts. When fishing is flat, it's flat for everyone. Orvis' 1981 Fall/Winter and Christmas catalogs didn't list a single piece of fishing equipment.
Eddie Bauer, now a division of General Mills, is turning over about $100 million a year, half of that in a network of two dozen retail stores with very expensive floor space. L. L. Bean's single retail outlet in Freeport is grossing about $25 million this year, but the company is not tempted to follow Bauer down the shopping center path. "I'm not sure we know very much about running retail stores," Gorman says, and he's not kidding.
Bean's retail store growth exactly parallels its catalog sales growth. The "worst" department, fishing and hunting gear, generates $400 worth of business per square foot annually; a successful urban department store might generate $250 per square foot. And the women's clothing area sells $1500 per square foot, a figure simply off the charts for retail stores. But scattered retail locations can complicate life for a mail-order company, imposing the burden of collecting appropriate sales taxes, among others. So there is only one Bean's, as there is only one Mecca, though many mosques exist.-
So how did Bean's run past every competitor? The answer is deceptively simple: It mailed more catalogs. Its mailing has increased from one million catalogs in 1967, when Leon Gorman took over, to thirty-two million this year.
The reason that answer is deceptively simple is that even when you mail out thirty-two million catalogs, you have to mail them to the right people. There is no point in mailing an L. L. Bean catalog to, say, an amateur orchid enthusiast in Puerto Rico. Bean's sells almost no clothing for the orchid greenhouse. Likewise, it makes no sense to mail to someone who never, ever, will buy by mail. Or someone who hates the sight of duck decoys, or spends every spare moment on the golf course, or thinks a taffeta bowling jacket is outdoor clothing.
"I think L. L. knew who his customers were," a vice-president of the company says. "They were sports." That word may sum up the success of marketing for the company. "Sports" are what guides call their customers: the well-to-do who can afford a week on a salmon river or in a trout-fishing camp, the urban Easterners who want a taste, but not a full meal, of the outdoor life. There is no garb quite so appropriate for taking the trash to the sanitary landfill than a pair of Maine Hunting Shoes, chino pants (flannel- lined in winter), and a chamois cloth shirt ("This is the shirt I personally wear on all of my hunting and fishing trips," L. L. first wrote in the 1927 catalog, and it is the shirt a million men wear to rake leaves). In this year's argot, a sport is the parent of a preppy.
The trick, then, is to get the addresses of several million people who either want your catalog or already buy by mail, and who have the bucks. Leon Gorman started the company's boom by increasing its advertising budget in the late sixties. He spent fairly heavily in the outdoor magazines - Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Sports Afield.
And a funny thing happened on the way to the bank. The best advertising medium for attracting inquiries from customers, from good customers, was the New Yorker magazine. A few years later, Bean's found another hot spot for good customers: the New York Review of Books. "I think Leon (Gorman* never did believe me when I told him the outdoor magazines weren't our best source of customers," a marketing officer recalls. This is believable, because Leon Gorman really does want the customer to be out on the trail, not schlepping groceries through slushy city streets. But Gorman also wants the company to grow, so Bean's still advertises in the New York Review of Books. It also mails to over 90 percent of the households in Weston, Boston's wealthiest suburb, and to 70 percent of the households in Tiburon, a similar suburb of San Fra----mand, is Bean's only senior vice-president. He arrived in 1975, when sales were around $30 million, anod has helped manage the charge to 1981's $165 million. Most of the magic was done with finely tuned catalog mailings.
End arrived from Gillette with a masters' in business administration from Harvard and a few year's experience in marketing razors and ball-point pens; he had no experience in mail order, mailing lists, or direct marketing. All he knew was that finding the customer, knowing the customer, and keeping the customer was the name of the game.
Bean's had never shared its mailing list with other mail-order houses or rented mailing lists. That was unusual; as anyone knows who has ever contributed to a campaign or a good cause, or bought by mail, one small step generally leads to a mailbox full of catalogs, pictures of oppressed persons, and desperate pleas for money to save America from the Moral Majority, or, depending on whose campaign you contributed to, the immoral minority.
Bill End started swapping mailing lists and went after the identifiable mail-order buyer. If, for example, New Yorker readers convert from inquirer to buyer at a rate 50 percent higher than Outdoor Life readers, you begin to think quite differently about the next marketing step. Seeing the demographics of the New Yorker customers, Bean's has rented the mailing lists of Fortune and Smithsonian. If there is a definition of where "sports" historically come
from, sports willing to pay to be paddled around Maine or New Brunswick by Indian Joe, it's from ple who work for, and sell the stock of, Fortune 500 companies. (The W. Atlas Burpee seed company's mailing list also turned out to be an excellent rental . . . "This is the Chamois Shirt I wear on all my onion-planting expeditions").
L. L. Bean did know who his customers were, and Bean's today knows even more. It knows what advertising or mailing list source customers were acquired
from, and how much and how frequently they buy, and it has good sample statistics on their income bracket. And that knowledge is beginning to cause internal friction in the company, beginning to raise what in theology are called questions of eschatology - questions about the ultimate destiny of L. L. Bean, Inc.-
The fundamental concern is that the company's real growth is in areas unrelated to its hard core of outdoor activity, that it is straying too far
from the path of marketing righteousness first trodden by the Maine Hunting Shoe. Growth is coming in women's apparel, in so-called "camp furnishings" (including $100,000 worth of flannel sheets every fall), and in men's shoes and clothing - but that includes men's dress shoes and dress shirts and unisex sweaters. Bill End, who spends winter vacations camping on Maine's Mount Katahdin or hunting mountain sheep above twelve thousand -- maintain our image, the hard-core outdoor jock image," he says.
Leon Gorman agrees, but he puts the issue differently. "We are not entirely in control of our destiny," he says. Bean's can't "refuse to offer what our customers want." And that can be defined as what they can and will buy from another mail-order company; Orvis and Land's End, two "outdoor" catalogs, show women's Oxford cloth shirts that are one of Bean's hottest sellers, and presumably one of theirs too. "We have seen the emergence of women to their proper role in society," Gorman continues. To a retailer, that means not only that women are buying shirts to wear to the office, but that they have more money to spend and less time to shop.
"It was L. L. who put the ladies' department in the retail store so that they would have something to do while their husbands were shopping," Gorman is quick to point out. "There is nothing new about that segment." But there is something new when women's clothing accounts for $21 million in sales, right behind men's apparel --much more without getting out of the long-lived, good- value item," he says firmly. The last thing Bean's wants, for image reasons, for inventory reasons, and for order-fulfillmen t reasons, is something that goes out of style.
Some of the internal arguments have been classic struggles over the image of Bean's. Everything Bean sells is put into one of its categories (footwear, outerwear, underwear, or camping, for example), and the classifications have a certain canonical rigidity. ("Oh, those holy categories," a product manager moans. "You know what we had to do to get sweatsuits for jogging into the catalog? Put 'em in the holy categories, and so we put 'em in underwear.") Charlie Kessler, vice-president in charge of products, says flatly that "everything new in women's wear is a twelve-to-eighteen-month fight. Take blazers. I say it's a piece of outerwear, and I won that one.
"And I won on the women's shirt dress." Kessler is a hard-core outdoor jock, an avid hunter (the kind of guy who volunteers to clean your ducks for you), and an avid pusher of women's wear. The shirt dress ("a practical dress for Fall wear. Made of soft, narrow wale 81% cotton, 19% polyester corduroy," as it says in the catalog) exceeded everyone's expectations. Priced at $29, it was back-ordered to the tune of more than five thousand pieces. How a dress, even one that claims to be practical for fall, fits into the holy category of L. L. Bean outerwear is dubious except to Kessler: "Well, you just can't predict what a woman will wear outdoors. I mean, look at what some of them wear to go fishing!"
The size of the main spring and fall catalogs is fixed at one hundred twenty-four pages, a function of mailing weight and printing machinery inflexibility, so when new products are added, something, eventually, has to go. Be----- was another invented item, a drab green multipocketed jacket. It was the Maine Warden's Jacket, and purportedly was designed by a real Maine warden to wear while checking the licenses of natives and sports and dealing with the wildlife. And it didn't sell. "Leon wanted to keep the warden's jacket, Kessler says. "It took me three years to get it out of the catalog. The customer was telling us he wasn't interested."
"Never should have dropped it," Bill End says. "I wish it was still in there. All it needed was some redesign."
As a long-time customer who never ordered a Maine Warden's Jacket, I also miss it. I didn't want one. I didn't need one. But I got used to seeing it and thinking, well, maybe someday I'll need a heavy wool jacket with lots of pockets. Midlife career change or something.
"You can't knock things out just because they aren't paying their way," End says. "I just believe that we wouldn't sell the casual clothing if we didn't have duck decoys in the book. We are walking a very fine line.
"The easiest thing to do is get into women's clothing and make a zillion. But I think that would be a short-term profit bonanza at the expense of the company. If you want a guaranteed disaster, continue the shift towards women's apparel."
That was the path, after all, that Abercrombie & Fitch followed to its death. Its memorable San Francisco branch had a fishing department of nearly obsessive capability. There were oak drawers of trout flies arranged by the major rivers of the West, and you could walk in and buy exactly the right local fly for the McKenzie in Oregon or the Madison in Montana, and the clerks knew which fly went with which month of the year. But to buy your fly, you had to beat your way through a thicket of table lamps and a phalanx of swishing tweedy clothing.
At this point, the check on turning L. L. Bean into a trendy shop is firm. It is Leon Gorman. A popular sweater (available from half a dozen mail-order companies) is something called the Blue Rock sweater. It didn't get into Bean's catalog for several years because Leon Gorman didn't like the color. When the color got better, or when Gorman got used to it, it went into the book. "What Leon says, goes" is a rule you hear frequently around Bean's.-
The other thing that insures the preservation of the Bean image over the short term is that the company is not for sale. Most successful mail-order companies have become parts of conglomerates. With low overhead and good income (Bean's returns a phenomenal 38 percent on unleveraged, i.e. debt-free, equity), mail-order divisions are cash generators for corporations. Quaker Oats owns Brookstone, the hardware and, increasingly, home-furnishings house. Bauer was acquired by General Mills. The Burpee seed company is a healthy division of International Telephone and Telegraph.
Bean's has been approached about acquisition, and it remains cordially distant. "We don't have serious talks about this," Gorman says.
"Leon couldn't sell the business," vice-president Bill Henry says, laughing at the idea. "His roots go right down his body and through the floor and out into all the bui--company, a private corporation, is wholly owned by relatives and descendants of L. L. himself. But that does not guarantee its safety from a takeover. As the number of heirs increases with each generation, as more and more of them want to turn their assets into cash, something will have to be done to liquidate some assets without compromising the integrity and independence of the organization.
Dealing with the inflow of capital has not been a problem to date. Money has gone into a half-million square feet of office, shipping, and manufacturing space on old Route 1, a mile south of Freeport, and into a total renovation of the retail store. The shipping center can send out forty thousand packages a day, over forty pieces of mail a minute in the two shifts they work at holiday time. Gorman points out that L. L. Bean is increasing its manufacturing capacity, and that will soak up "excess" capital, particularly if the company starts manufacturing more clothing items itself. And there are millions more customers out there, and money --iver value to society, we are obliged to do it.
"One way to reinvest capital," he continues, "would be to return it to the owners." The look that passes over his face suggests that that is not his favorite idea. He would rather increase the company's share of manufacturing. And then, there is always the world to conquer: Gorman says it is clear from marketing surveys in other countries, "including Canada and England and Japan, that the Bean name, like Pepsi, has at least a temporary value." Export could be another source of investment and growth.
There are several indications that Bean's is not being "grown," as they say in the acquisition business, to be sold. For one thing, expenses for employees are higher than they would need to be if the management had a short- term attitude.
L. L. Bean was more than thrifty; he was something of a skinflint. When Gorman came to the company, the average age of the employees was 60, and one suspects that the legendary practice of hiring retired game wardens and Maine guides as salespeople had more to do with saving money than with creating an image.
"L. L. paid the minimum wage plus a nickel," Gorman recalls. "And no benefits. I suppose you could say that was the dark side of L. L. Bean." Wages and benefits now are excellent for Maine; full-time employees have a dental insurance plan and Blue Cross/Blue Shield medical and disability plans. The company picks up 70 percent of the medical and dental costs and 100 percent of the disability.
But it is the profit-sharing system that boggles the minds of outsiders. Profits are shared on a straight line, as a percentage of wages earned that year. If it's a 10 percent profit sharing, it's 10 percent for vice-presidents and 10 percent for shipping clerks. The amounts differ, of course, but the principle is one of equity - your work has the same value when it comes to profit sharing as when you performed it during the year. Profit sharing is also extended to part-time employees who accumulate a thousand hours in the work year, workers who in a seasonal company are as critical as senior management. The package of benefits is comparable to those in Massachusetts high-tech industries, far ahead of the norm in rural Maine. Gorman may be paternalistic, but he is also convinced that paying 20 percent more gets him an employee worth 30 or 40 percent more than average.
Workers' wages are not comparable to those in Massachusetts. The well-paid men who hand-sew the moccasins, loafers, and boots are the only pieceworkers in the plant, and they have to sew like crazy to bring home $18,000 a year. Full-time employees are paid at different rates for the same job. The company
keeps records on the accuracy and speed of the people who pick stock and pack it, and adjusts wages to each employee's productivity.-
Coping with growth, rather than stimulating growth, is the most serious problem facing Bean's. As Gorman increased the business from $4 million to $25 million annually, he recognized that the exponential increase in business could start to unravel the system. His first major effort, a year before starting the aggressive mailing of catalogs, was the installation of a customer service program. Until that time, the company's reputation for service had been built on friendliness rather than efficiency.
This year, twenty-eight regular employees and thirty Christmas rush part- timers handled tens of thousands of phone inquiries and letters. A peak week in early December brought more than six thousand letters. Almost nine thousand phone calls are taken in a busy week. The error rate in order filling, which involves coding the customer order for size and color, keypunching the order, and then picking and packing it, is about 2 percent; that's a very high standard in the industry, but it still meant some sixty thousand goofed orders last year.
Bean's order fulfillment goal is to have in stock 90 percent of all items ordered. The level dropped to around 88 percent in this year of too-fast growth, creating back orders or refunds for more than eighty thousand items.
Jeff Hills, president of a young and growing tennis mail-order business,
Hills Court, in Manchester, Vermont, says the Bean fulfillment goal of 90 percent is "a commendable standard and a superb performance," although he points out that it is much easier to achieve in a non-fashion business. "Our fashionable items have a catalog life of six months. . .it's a lot easier with chamois shirts and leather boots. And I suspect they have very reliable suppliers as well as excellent forecasting of their sales."-
Refunds and exchanges may demand more of the customer's time than of the service representative's. Lengthy letters of explanation often accompany returned items, and stern inquiries are composed asking what the return policy is on this item, enclosed.
"I have trouble explaining the return policy to some of our business visitors," Gorman says. "There is no return policy." And there isn't. If the customer has the gall to return something he's worked hard to destroy, there is no rule saying he can't.
"When I took over the retail store," Gorman continues, "one of the biggest problems was when somebody would bring back something that had obviously been abused, and the store clerk would take it as a personal matter, that the customer was taking advantage of us and of the clerk, and he'd bring the thing back to me, and we used to argue about whether to give a 50 percent refund, or 75, whatever. I finally got that stopped." On exchanged items, Bean's also sends a check to cover the customer's cost of mailing - a check that may amount to less than a dollar and cost three times that to process, but a handsome, scenic check that is an advertisement and a goodwill gesture.
Customer service is much more than handling inquiries and complaints. For a modest fee, usually a flat five dollars, you can get anything that Bean's manufactures made to size, including 18EEE Maine Hunting Shoes. If the manufacturer can make odd sizes, particularly in clothing, Bean's will obtain them for its customers. One letter this year was an almost desperate plea for a 46 extra-extra-long Norfolk Jacket: "I just don't look right in any other
size, and I have been looking at that jacket in the catalog for a long time, and I hope you can help me." That manufacturer could help, and somewhere in Ohio is the world's skinniest Norfolk jacket.
"Well," Gorman sighs, "you know you make one special order and you've inherited a customer for life. Just one size 60 order after another." He shrugs away the thought of the money lost on that. It goes with the territory. The same is true of the repairs to footwear and other leather and canvas goods manufactured by Bean's. "We really don't cost it out. I hope we're not losing money on it. But you know, there are so few places where you get anything fixed anymore."
The majority of items repaired are the Maine Hunting Shoes - not because of the problems that beset L. L. back in 1912, but because the rubber bottoms, like the bottoms of any shoe, wear out long before the tops go. Huge wheeled baskets of hunting shoe tops are pushed through the factory every day. Even when the leather has torn or worn, they will be fixed. Jane Burnham has been mending Hunting Shoe tops since L. L.'s day, tucking in little patches, replacing eyelets. "Humph," she says, pulling out a pair of uppers, "these aren't even ours!" It matters not - if they can be salvaged, they will be, for $23.25, postage paid. And the burden of repairs on the company will increase as annual production of Maine Hunting Shoes approaches a quarter of a million pairs.-
The curse words of the mail-order business are "out of stock." In mail order, you can't deflect the customer to another color or a different style, and you can't waylay him on the way out the door with a sexy display or a sale table. Out of stock is money not earned, more burdensome overhead to explain the problem, and a potential lost customer. Not only was life easier when Bean's had only three hundred thousand customers and did $4 million or $5 million a year, but life was much easier when the product line stayed the same for years. There is no greater problem than a product whose popularity exceeds your fondest hopes.
But, as Gorman is fond of saying, Bean's is not always in control of its destiny. Someone publishes the Official Preppy Handbook, and penny loafer sales jump 22 percent in one year. A women's magazine prints a pattern for making a poncho out of a Bean blanket, and you're back-ordered instantly.
New products put the most pressure on the company, and sometimes almost unbearable pressure on the company's product managers. At Bean's, you define a product, you sell it internally, you price it, and then, hardest of all, you decide how many to order. Before Christmas, the infamous corduroy shirt dress was back-ordered to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth. The natural wool ragg sweater (Bean's had the best price in the industry) was available in only the oddest of sizes.
Even before that, in October, Bean's had to bite the bullet: Business in general was simply too good. Their economic predictions, based on the probability of recession and continuing high interest rates, had forecast only a modest 25 percent growth, and instead it took off toward 40 percent. They managed to cope with most of it, but the pressure got very high as the holiday approached; you can't lock the door at a mail-order store. But you do have one tactic.
Initially, the company planned to mail nine million Christmas catalogs. They knew from past experience that that would generate about $5 million in business. If it did, it would threaten to turn the whole company into one giant customer service department.
The first step was to cut the mailing by 750,000 catalogs. Then they had to decide whether to hold back another 750,000. The printer mailed out seven and a half million Christmas catalogs and sat on the remaining one and a half million while Bean's decided what to do.
It would be fair to say that it rankled Leon Gorman to own $420,000 worth of waste paper. The solution was ingenious, thrifty, and conservative. The million and a half catalogs went out to a list of Bean's "worst" customers: People who hadn't ordered for a few years, people who didn't order very much when they did order, essentially marginal customers, were given a chance to reacquaint themselves with Bean's, in hopes that they would buy just a little bit, and preferably after Christmas.
Bean's bright young executives (seventeen of them have M.B.A.'s, most of the other fifty-one have grown into their jobs from clerking or shipping) aren't there for the lifestyle. "When a place is growing like this," one of them says, "it is no place to relax and enjoy the good life." One division manager was released recently even though he was managing a healthy profit center - because he was not anticipating the nitty-gritty problems of growth.
But the grittiest problem will come in the next few years, as the company faces the problem of an increasing dispersal of ownership among the heirs of L. L. Bean. It may go public, perhaps with a mix of voting and nonvoting stock issued to heirs and to some employees on a profit-sharing plan.
Leon Gorman insists that whatever change may take place in the method of ownership of the company, it will never become a division of some distant conglomerate. "We think we have some solutions to allow the family to get liquidity in their estates," he says. But that is not the issue that really concerns him. "The most serious problem is insuring management succession that will maintain the character of the company," he adds, glancing over at a five-foot shelf with bound volumes containing every Bean's catalogue ever printed. "Somehow, we must insure that."