February 1998





The venerable outdoor retailer has retooled for the '90s and beyond without abandoning tradition


A successful makeover is a real inspiration. Jewelers can take heart, and maybe glean a few tips, from the transformation of Maine cataloger L.L. Bean. Once known among marketing experts chiefly for its camera-shy models and its lack of a toll-free number, L.L. Bean has metamorphosed into an image-savvy retailer. James R. Rosenfield describes the result in Direct Marketing magazine.

Rosenfield says the catalog retailer's makeover succeeded so well because its engineers have what he calls "a sort of premillennial 'perfect pitch'" – they understand the '90s zeitgeist precisely.

For one thing, they know how to appeal to two contradictory consumer urges - futurism and nostalgia. On the futurism front, L.L. Bean offers its customers the best technology has to offer, including phone or fax ordering, a Web site, speedy delivery and package tracking to determine exact delivery dates.

On the nostalgia side, the company has spun an image of down-home, family-oriented reliability and has heavily emphasized its 86-year history. Its catalogs carry subliminal messages about the company's old-time solidity, Rosenfield maintains. Whenever the catalog refers to the company's retail store in Freeport, Maine, the "R" and "S" are capitalized, suggesting an iconic durability. The store is presented as much more than a place to buy things. It's a destination for annual pilgrimages, Rosenfield points out. "Many families make it a tradition to visit our Retail Store during the holiday season," the catalog tells us.

Consumers of the '90s also want to reduce the stress in their lives, Rosenfield says. L.L. Bean is right on the money again, offering the soothing balm of a trusted brand name, which in L.L. Bean's case is repeated as often as possible in catalog product descriptions. Surely there will be no stress-inducing surprises from "Bean's Sub-Zero Boots," "Bean's 'Camp' Sweater" or any other Bean-branded item. Nor do customers have to suffer from decision-anxiety about which brand to buy. L.L. Bean is nearly the only brand they can choose.

The company also captures the spirit of the age by imparting a sense of homey smallness despite its huge size. (Rosenfield says corporate mergers and other societal trends toward gigantism have made us favor smaller operations over larger institutions.) "It is, after all, an enormous company that pretends, quite successfully, to be a little old store in the middle of Nowhere, Maine," Rosenfield writes. What could be more '90s?


How Jewelers Can Apply Bean's Principles

  • Use the latest technology to offer the best service, but practice old-fashioned friendliness to build relationships.
  • Build your store into a destination, especially on holiday occasions. Plan events you repeat yearly and remind customers of the tradition.
  • Help your customers to reduce buyer stress and anxiety by creating trust in your store's name, not a bunch of other brand names.
  • If you're growing - or big already - keep each store feeling like a single independent jeweler. Dark tales of huge corporate mergers have made consumers increasingly distrustful of "big."

   At first glance, the cover of this 1997 holiday catalog from L.L. Bean is all about nostalgia, featuring a snowy log cabin decorated simply with a traditional wreath. But note the prominent placement of the FedEx® delivery information, letting consumers know they can have their merchandise in hand the next day. Inside, the catalog offers on-line shopping, gift certificates (for those hard-to-buy-for friends and relatives) and an L.L. Bean Visa card (with free shipping, preview of sale merchandise and points toward future purchases).

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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