L.L. Bean: Booting out the Competition

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Posted on October 13, 2015, at 2:10 p.m.
by Katie Gatti.

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Photo Courtesy of Mt. Washington Auto Road | Flickr

Brands strive for exclusivity when creating a new product, and L.L. Bean somehow managed to stumble upon this elusive quality without creating anything new.

For the second year in a row, L.L. Bean is swimming in backorders for its signature Bean Boot. The boots, made of sturdy leather and rubber, were originally created for hardy outdoors folk — not the stylish city dweller.

Modestly priced at $99 per pair, L.L. Bean features a no-questions-asked satisfaction guarantee. If you’re displeased with your rubber-soled companions for any reason, the company will gladly refund you.

While a 100,000-strong backorder list may appear to be nothing short of inconvenient and inefficient, the exclusivity of the product works in the brand’s favor. What’s more, the company attributes its inability to fulfill orders quickly to the product’s extensive manufacturing process.

Because the company doesn’t cut corners in production, the boots take a long time to make. There’s something comforting about a sense of investment, especially in the 21st century where the turnaround of most products is suspiciously expedient.

According to Business Insider, “legacy” products are trendier than ever. Skeptical millennial consumers trust tradition and yearn for products with unassailable track records.

Possessing a moniker that is associated with quality and excellence is invaluable to a company. As L.L. Bean exemplifies, maintaining a genuine air of value results in a product so popular that it becomes scarcely available. And as any teenage girl will assure you, people want what they can’t have.

Although recent years’ sales have resulted in hundreds of thousands of boots backordered from September until the following spring, the boot has been in production largely unmodified for more than 100 years.

It’s hard to determine what makes a product spontaneously become a trend, and unfortunately, it’s even harder for brands to orchestrate this type of popularity. L.L. Bean openly admits that the hike in boot sales was unprecedented and without clear cause.

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Photo Courtesy of Denise Reed | Flickr

Perhaps the true indication of a product’s success is its appearance on auction sites like eBay, listed for double the retail price. Ever since the first announcement of the boots’ temporary unavailability, pairs have been cropping up elsewhere for nearly twice what L.L. Bean charges. “You can’t buy that kind of marketing,” notes Kim Bhasin for Bloomberg.

Despite the onset of wild success, L.L. Bean has remained true to its unassuming Northeastern roots. When I ordered my own Bean Boots last October, I was dismayed when I received an email lamenting that they wouldn’t be ready until — get this — February. How could I exist in the moderate Southern climate of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, without my heavy-duty accouterment?

As any good millennial would do, I took my frustrations to Twitter. Within 15 minutes of pressing “send” on my melodramatic tweet, someone from the L.L. Bean Customer Service account contacted me. She assured me that she would check the status of my particular order and update me promptly.

A week later, I received a miniature Bean Boot keychain in the mail with a note reading, “We’re working on it, we promise.” Although only a small consolation prize that was far too small to be practical, the extra-mile effort solidified the quality of L.L. Bean’s brand in my mind, and I’ve been an ardent supporter of the elusive Bean Boot ever since.

One Comment

  1. NVJ

    Every successful brand needs a go-to product that everyone recognizes as its own. Patagonia has its Snap-T pullover; Barbour has its green-waxed Beaufort coat; Sperry’s two-eyed boat shoes dominate the market almost to the point where all boat shoes are now called Sperry’s; and yes, as this article points out, Beans has its duck boot. It is for this reason why some brands aren’t better known, despite being around for longer. Take Orvis, for example. It has very similar characteristics to that of Beans, as they’re both outdoor outfitters with Northeastern roots; however, Orvis is on the higher side of the price tag as a wrinkle-free cotton shirt is $98 compared to $45 at Beans. Orvis has been making quality products since 1856, but does not have one “signature” item and thus is not as well known as the newer, cheaper L.L. Bean.
    I grew up with the L.L. Bean catalog floating around the house and have two pairs of Bean Boots so it isn’t a shock to me that people would be willing to wait so long for the versatile boot. With that said, I honestly have never seen an advertisement for Beans so I believe the recent influx of popularity could be from its presence on social media. You mentioned how hard the company is trying to win over prospective customers on Twitter and it seems every time I look on my “explore” page on Instagram I see both men and women showcasing their wardrobe featuring their L.L. Bean duck boots.
    The bottom line is people are buying it because it’s a great boot. The product speaks for itself. If it were made of inferior material and with shoddy craftsmanship, no one would pay $100 and wait months to receive it.

    Reply

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