Catalog retailer LL Bean to triple domestic stores by 2020

AP News
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Posted: Mar 11, 2015 7:53 PM
Catalog retailer LL Bean to triple domestic stores by 2020

FREEPORT, Maine (AP) — L.L. Bean, known for selling its trademark boots via catalog for more than a century, plans to make a bigger push into brick-and-mortar retail by more than tripling the number of domestic stores over the next five years, officials said Wednesday.

The Maine-based company, which is coming off five years of increasing revenue, will open four stores this year before accelerating growth with a goal of at least 100 by 2020, CEO Chris McCormick told workers in a memo.

The retail push will include L.L. Bean Inc.'s first West Coast presence with the opening of stores in the Pacific Northwest. Bean currently has 26 full-price retail stores, along with a handful of outlets, that stretch from the Northeast to Minnesota and Colorado.

The retail strategy makes sense in an era in which shoppers have come to expect the convenience of making purchases in stores, on phones and on computers, said retail analyst Walter Loeb. Some shoppers make purchases online and have them shipped to stores, while others go to stores to see products before ordering online, he said.

"By having more stores they become more of a brick-and-mortar force," Loeb said. "Brick-and-mortar stores will enable more customers to shop comfortably. It's a good idea."

The board of the family-owned company, which met Wednesday in Freeport, announced a bonus of 5 percent for its 5,300 year-round employees. That amounts to about $1,500 to $2,000 for the typical full-time hourly worker, the company said.

The company, created when Leon Leonwood Bean sold his original Maine Hunting Shoe in 1912, has been on a tear, and sales of the rubber-bottomed, leather-topped boot have been leading the way.

Demand for the boot has surged, with production of 450,000 pairs over the past year. This spring, the company is installing a second injection-molding machine to boost capacity and is hiring dozens more workers to bring the shoe-making workforce to 500.

Sales grew 3 percent to $1.6 billion in the last fiscal year.

The company is midway through a $150 million capital plan to upgrade its systems, and an additional $100 million will be spent this year on growth initiatives, McCormick said.

"We had a strategy to open more stores rapidly prior to the recession," McCormick said. "Then the recession came and I decided to pull back on capital investments until we could get through the economic downturn. It feels like right now, in 2015, the outlook is getting brighter."

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