Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Poll: Is L.L. Bean on the right track?


In 2001, the owners of L.L. Bean made Christopher McCormick the CEO of L.L. Bean when Leon Gorman stepped down from his daily duties. This post-Gorman era brought a lot of changes to L.L. Bean, including the launching of the L.L. Bean Signature line.

Now, after a decade of McCormick control, here is a question.

* Is L.L. Bean on the right track?


** Update** The poll is closed.  Of 1424 readers who voted, 1355 (95%) believed L.L. Bean is currently on the wrong track.




It is worth noting that I have certainly been critical of L.L. Bean's current direction. And perhaps because of that, I have received comments and emails that have also been critical of L.L Bean.

For example:

"Although not a New Englander, I am a practical person and have sadly watched the growth of shoddy merchandise and foolish style. Bean's is just one of many retailers that I no longer trust for quality and dependability. "

"Bean's has frustrated me for years for several reasons, but mainly for the reason you write about-they change what is good and has served many so well for so long. It's too bad, and when I think about how so much used to be manufactured in Maine (Bean's is just up the road from us), their shoes and other goods are now made in China instead."

"My dad has many Bean shirts from 20-30 years ago that still look just as good as the day he bought them but the ones they sell now are terribly lower in durability and quality. "

"What has become of my beloved LL Bean? I noticed that in the past year I have returned all items ordered except a chamois shirt and a classic tote bag. I've been ordering for 50 years ... where to turn?"

"Where in the world can I get good khaki pants these days? One that fit near the waist, traditional? I was raised on LL Bean and forsaken."

"The women's offerings have too many gaudy, tight, flashy items, if you ask me"

"I wrote a balanced, rational, review, and it was not posted. I'm disturbed by what seems to be artificial inflation of the overall 'rating' by leaving out reviews which focus on construction flaws."

"I'm enough of a cockeyed optimist to believe that if you keep explaining to LL Bean where they are breaking our collective heart, they might stop doing it."

"With the introduction of L.L. Bean Signature, I feel like I barely know L.L. Bean anymore. I am constantly disappointed when I head to Freeport and see the catalog items in person - quality is way down and the items have been changed."

"It's so frustrating. L.L. Bean seems to think that women don't want classic styles, fabric, and colors. They did away with the women's flannel shirts, only to bring back a VERY cheap version in a more fitted style. I looked at the fabric in the Freeport store, and it was thin and awful. I actually went on a rant to my husband while in the store."

But I may simply be a convenient venting site. So in the interest of fairness, I wanted to open up the question to anyone who cares.
  • Is there a silent majority who is appreciating where L.L. Bean is going? Do you believe L.L. Bean is on the right track (and they just need to continue to make incremental calibrations)?
  • Or are they not on the right track, and would you advise the leaders of L.L. Bean to change their current direction?
Finally, if there was one thing you wanted to tell the leaders of L.L. Bean, what would it be?

** Update: I was just sent this link to this article about the team behind L.L. Bean's Signature. **

184 comments:

Anonymous said...

Okay, here's one: Please make your women's clothes with the same quality fabrics as men's. Second: Fix the fit of your chinos/khakis. Straight leg means STRAIGHT LEG which means: Stop it with the extra fabric for the curvy figures.

Kionon said...

Muffy,

They are not on the right track. This is timely and relevant, because it is actually your reviews of LL Bean earlier that had me surf up to your site (and I am, indeed, glad I did!).

I've recently had this discussion with my mother. We've ordered LL Bean products for as long as I can remember. We get very few catalogs, and LL Bean is one of them. Now my parents are not particularly consumer savvy, so I often have to keep them appraised of stuff (usually stuff you review!) so when they start noticing, things have gotten really bad.

My mother walked over to the anteroom closet, pulled out two LL Bean yellow raincoats and said to me, "Well, I can put up with this one made in Bangladesh, I've noticed they've done that for a few years... but this one I just received is from China, and look... look...!" And the items at first glance seemed identical, but when you looked closer, the differences became apparent. The second coat was like a bad photocopy of the first. The color was duller, the material thinner, the stitching was shoddier...

My father has all but stopped buying dress shirts from LL Bean, although he will still buy coats and flannels. I, of course, am tending to stick to ebay and etsy to find older stock, although I've asked my parents to consider putting the camp moc on my birthday list, should they decide to get me anything this year (which is no guarantee of course, I am an adult!). I've also heard the blucher mocs have been moved to El Salvador and then from there to China, and the leather is not what it once was. A lot of reviews are claiming that Eastland and Quoddy are far superior.

So, no, Muffy, you are not alone.

Anonymous said...

Gee, Muffy, hopefully the Company is paying attention to your blog right now! I could rant all night, as I just spent time last night looking through the latest women's catalog and barely saw anything I liked. I used to save their catalogs, but that one was thrown in the garbage. The colors are drab and ugly; the styles are becoming almost maternity-like; the quality of fabric has gone way downhill. I hate all the loose and bootcut styles. Why can't they look at old catalogs at least 10 years back and bring those traditional styles back? I'd do anything to join their design team, which needs major overhaul.

Anonymous said...

We are in dire need of a company that makes clothing the way LLBean used to! Not to get off track, but I was also looking at the women's online collection at Brooks Brothers today and was so disappointed: the clothing is ugly; no way does it compare to the men's. Today I also had to return a pair of "new" sunglasses to Ralph Lauren mailorder that appear to have been used -- can you imagine?

Anonymous said...

Muffy, ever since you compared L.L. Bean Signature Facebook fans to Lands' End Canvas, I have been curious. As you pointed out, the two fan pages launched at the same time. I just checked them now: Signature has 4,957 fans and Canvas has 105,978 fans. And it has not been for a lack of trying. Those numbers alone justify a change.

sarah said...

The first thing I will say about L. L. Bean is their customer service still seems to be very good.

There are many other things I'd like to say to LLB management and can't necessarily choose the most important one. Overall though, I suspect their core customer is someone who still appreciates good quality fabrics and workmanship. I would happily pay more money for apparel MADE IN THE USA; there must be people in Maine who need the work and could make some of the company's "iconic" items. If they offer a "Signatures" line, why couldn't they could offer a "Classics" line and give customers a true choice?

For some reason, I equate companies like LLBean with America and it always shocks me a bit when I get something from them made in countries I can't even pronounce or find on a map. Very depressing.

Yankee-Whisky-Papa said...

Customer care is still better than most companies without question. My grandfather drove his station wagon into the one barn they had in those days to buy his canoe. They included rope to tie it to the roof at no cost, and he was impressed.

Perhaps what is partially to blame is modern business dogma: growth and change being held as operational and strategic staples. "Marketing teams" and modern business degrees have killed thousands of once-great companies with the lust for acquisition and expansion.

We must confront the fact that these decisions to reduce quality/alter the good products were not made out of neglect, but were made deliberately and strategically.

I don't believe LL Bean has sold its soul, but as your question suggests, it may be inching toward the auction house for corporate souls.

Sometimes consumers want predictable, pragmatic, and dependable, and flash and "excitement"should be held in suspicion if not contempt.

When their male models stopped shaving, my grandmother lost interest in buying clothing for grandfather from the recent LL Bean catalogs.

Dawn said...

There was so much I wanted to say, but the comment that echos my sentiment the most is Sarah's: PLEASE make more items in the USA. Your tried and true base is willing to pay for it. Classic items like the Norwegian sweater, Blucher mocs, Maine Hunting boots, and Anorak pullovers will always have a special place in my heart. Make them well.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Long ago I stopped buying clothing from L.L. Bean. Their field coat and duck mocs served me well for years. But no more. In recent years something has changed. It's cheaper now. And not in a good way. On a more positive note, in the last year I've bought several L.L. Bean tote bags for the pool, resort, and beach and am very pleased with them.

LindenLincoln said...

Thank you, Muffy-

You are leading a valiant crusade. I grew up with LLBean- including an annual pilgrimage to Freeport where it was difficult to decide what to bring home. When I moved to the midwest for grad school I would call LL Bean because I was homesick for my New England roots.

This makes it all the more heartbreaking when now I consistently have to return products every time I order.

I ordered my fiancé a pair of flannel pajamas for Christmas- he had been wearing his pair for the past ten years and I figured he could use a second set. Not only were the pajamas that arrived poorly made- but the monogram was under the collar (?) and the thread was coming out. When I called they told me that is how it was done now. Fortunately, Brooks Brothers still makes fine men's pajamas.

I join you and the other commenters in a plea to LL Bean to return to the days of Nordic Sweaters and other classic pieces that were manufactured for a lifetime (+plus) of enjoyment.

Casey said...

I’m a 25 year old Harvard Grad student, that Hails from Charleston, SC (The Southern Prep Mecca). I have always prided myself on being preppy. My family has, for generations, worn Bean products and still do First,. I must agree that Bean's customer service is still unrivaled in my opinion. Their free shipping and amazingly generous return/exchange policy are awesome.

I will say that the quality control on some of their products is questionable as of late. For Example, I ordered a pair of Waxed Canvas Bean Boots and the left boot had no eyelets rendering the boot unable to be laced. When I contacted customer service, they were very nice and quick to send me a replacement pair, but I just don’t see how a mistake of that magnitude occurs.

Regarding the Signature line of clothing, for Men, I personally do not like a large majority of what they do. That said, I have purchased a handful of oxford button-ups, a pair of Waxed Canvas Boots (as previously mentioned), and some other odds and ins that I absolutely LOVE. Yes, the fit is slightly more tailored, and the style is a little more “liberal” for L.L. Bean purists, but I think that the signature line has a place in L.L. Bean. It certainly isn’t the face of their company, as the signature collection takes up just a tiny space in their Freeport store. I think the sig. line is really hit or miss, and while I love some of their products, I can see where many Bean customers wouldn’t care.

All in all, I still love L.L. Bean. I can’t imagine not having Bean staples in my wardrobe. That being said, I hope they will strive to ensure the continued high standards that they used to be famous for, and I am interested to see how their Signature line fares in the future.

Cheers, and I adore the blog!

michigan said...

Dear Muffy and readers,

On PBS's NOVA they did a show that talked about China. Every three months a city the size of Chicago is constructed in China. Every three months! The world has changed and American Companies are doing their best to stay afloat. However, with better trade laws American Companies like L.L. Bean would have a fighting chance and perhaps even return production of not a few, but nearly all of its goods to American soil. Just a thought. "China are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party???" Made In The USA! Would be a welcome return.

Preppy 101 said...

They are not on the right track - I would simply tell them to go back to "The Way We Were". :-). Great post! XOXO

Cranky Yankee said...

You could ask most of these same questions about Brooks Bros., too. Very sad.

Joshua Lewis Co. said...

Not to be a jerk, but maybe Alex Carlton isn't the boy-genius everyone thinks he is. Rogues Gallery occupies a pretty small and remote piece of the clothing world's real estate (metaphorical location, not re: the old port), and it's not in a place where most of LL Bean's base ever wants to visit. Were LL Bean shrewd, they would know that all hipsters wish to God they were prepsters and that capitulating to their fashions in lieu of holding fast to traditional styles is harming their brand as a whole, not improving it.

RJE said...

LLB is NOT on the right track. I am a regular reader of this blog and while not a New Englander, I agree with many of your sensibilities regarding clothing and it's need to serve both form and function. Durability, practicality, quality of construction and timeless style are all interdependent factors. For that reason LLB has been my go-to over the years but there has been a decline in all four of those aspects. It's scary! You think you have the security of knowing the the "right" products will always be available from the source, and they keep pulling the rug out from under you. It undermines your sense of security in feeling like you can buy another item when you need it. Very disconcerting.

They need to focus on the customers they have, not the customers they want. Because i'm not sure the latter group actually exists, and if they continue in this direction, the former will disappear, too.

Anonymous said...

I have now posted a few times about this. I grew up near Freeport and as such have been wearing L.L. Bean clothing for as long as I can remember. I attended Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, just up the road from Freeport, and took part in many a middle-of-the-night trip to L.L. Bean, a Bowdoin student tradition. L.L. Bean used to be a trusted brand, but no more.

I have been very unhappy with a number of changes over the years, including changes made prior to 2008, but the decline of the brand has accelerated since that year. Quality is down, in general, with foreign manufacturing. I recently bought a pair of camp mocs (country of origin: El Salvador) which came seriously unstitched within a few wearings. As a woman, one of the biggest problems I see is that the quality of the fabric used in the women's "version" of items is often not equal to that of the men's item, and the classic colors are not available in the women's version. For YEARS I have wanted a true red trail model fleece vest, and it is simply not available (although it was when I was in college in the '90s.) Red is often a color choice for men, but not for women. If anything, some raspberry-like color will be available for women. Likewise, I cannot get their boat shoes in a dark brown color, although this is available for men. Bean's has created a chamois shirt for women, but it is of lighter fabric than the men's, and it does not come in the same classic colors of the men's. Bean's has also finally brought back a flannel plaid shirt for women, but the quality of the fabric is terrible. It is much, much thinner than the men's version. The classic plaids are also not there. I will venture to say that while there are some "women's" colors men would not want to wear, the reverse is not true. The men's clothing comes in classic colors favored by both men and women. Women want to be able to buy items in classic colors without having to buy men's clothing.

In addition, there is too much "retooling" of items from year to year. If items aren't completely removed from the offerings, they are substantially changed. I can no longer assume that one desirable product will be available the next year. I've also noted the vanity sizing - my weight has been pretty consistent since college, and I've always been about a size 6 or 8. I've usually worn size medium in clothes sized that way. At L.L. Bean, I wear extra-small, and it is sometimes too large (and I don't mean because Bean's clothes tend to be less form-fitting.) I sometimes think about how if I were truly extra-small, I wouldn't be able to wear L.L. Bean clothes at all! What would I do - buy the children's versions?

I would like to know what kind of research L.L. Bean has done to inform their direction. Obviously, something has indicated that this is what people want. Do they believe that with these changes, they will have broader appeal? Do they believe that while alienating old customers, they will attract many more new ones? Do they believe that the "old-time" Bean's customer is (literally) a dying breed, and they need to look for a new base?

Regarding L.L. Bean Signature... it waters down the brand. And, I have looked at these clothes in the store, and I have been surprised at how flimsy much of the items are. It seems to be a case of low quality combined with high prices, which is in direct opposition to L.L. Bean's previous reputation (and values.) Some of the items, like shoes, are higher quality, but why not just bring back the old-style quality, which used to be so synonymous with L.L. Bean, to the regular Bean's line?

For the record, I am 34 years old, have an undergraduate degree from a top liberal arts college, a masters degree from a top foreign university, am a professional, and have quite a lot of disposable income. I should be in their target demographic.

sarah said...

P. S. I was looking in my closet last night and this thought also occured to me...although it's a little depressing.

We all know the financial situation of and in this country; many other countries are facing the same problems. When money gets tight and people are pulling back financially, that's especially the time you want good, basic, well made items which will last more than one season.

It seems this would be the perfect time for LLBean to get back to the basics because there aren't many companies now who sell good basic items - white shirts, wool sweaters, well fitting khakis, etc.

And finally, LLB Management doesn't need to insult our (relative) intelligence by advertising items that are "the same price as 2004!" If it's the same price it was 7 years ago, then they've cut back some way; the result usually shows it - and not in a good way.

Anonymous said...

I have become increasingly aware at how L.L. Bean manipulates their customer ratings. They regularly don't post negative reviews. They "round-up" (generously put) their ratings to summarize them. They bump up to the top good reviews from a while ago (often that refer to versions of the products that they don't even offer anymore). Clearly L.L. Bean has no internal integrity and views their customers as chattel and suckers.

Sartre said...

The first time I ever went into one of LLB's retail stores outside of Freeport, I think it was in Tysons Corner about 5 years ago, I thought "this place is so beautiful" -- but it ended up being a totally unsatisfying experience because the merchandise inside had beceome so completely uninteresting.

Variety: Bean always had a large offering but they carry so much stuff now that it's ridiculous; even if there is good stuff, it's lost among so much dreck. That's the first thing I'd do: prune the offering, and then re-invest in the remaining core -- redesigning, revisiting color choices (what happened to the glorious color palette that used to be a feature of LLB?), revisiting sizing, and ensuring quality.

Quality: In the past couple of years, I've bought Maine hunting shoes where the little label on the heel peeled off after 4 or 5 wearings. Like a previous commenter, the stitching on a pair of camp mocs split apart after half a dozen wearings; and the leather is hard as a rock, with no softness, give, ply, or comfort. My blucher moccasins also have a sort of indestructo-material, where, try as I might, I can't seem to break the things in; after scores of wearings, they still look and feel like new -- in a bad way. Are these really leather, I keep asking myself? or maybe some sort of plasticized version. Last year I bought a new Norwegian sweater; the band around the collar is ridiculously bulky.

And finally, of course: What happened to the old offerings? Where's my LLB ragg sweater? Where's my down vest, in red, navy, or green? Too, too bad.

Suburban Princess said...

I have been a loyal LLB customer since I was a teenager but I havnt bought a thing in the last few years. The clothes are no longer made in the US and they are going the way of stores like Talbots and JCrew in that they are no longer catering to the customer base that got them where they are.

Anonymous said...

In regards to the new 'fits' of Bean women's clothing: If I wanted to look like a whore I would not shop at Bean. Pardon my language, but it is true. I do not want low-cut, really tight or fitted items. If I did I would shop at the mall. I want to look nice, I want to be able to function in my clothes, I want my clothes to last from season to season. I want the same quality that the men get. If I am buying a flannel shirt it is not to be "cute" or "trendy", it is to be warm in the fall and winter. I find shopping for decent women's clothing so hard and Bean used to be my go-to. Now I get catalogs and have to sift through five hundred different types of t-shirts just to find a nice button up shirt. The pants are just.... too frustrating. I wish Bean would return to it's roots. I would pay more for made in America. Although for what they charge for some items they should be made in America already. I could rant for days... I hope someone from Bean is reading all these comments. I shop out of a catalog for a reason! I don't want mall clothes.

Anonymous said...

Of all clothing companies, none actively promote their American-ness (and specifically, their Maine-ness) more than L.L. Bean. So many items are even named after Maine towns. That this huge PR expenditure is a giant misdirection makes me wonder about the ethics of the corporation and their view of their customers.

Leslie said...

I, too, am missing LL Bean quality that I knew and depended upon for many years. I grew up wearing their clothes and boots, carrying their totes and bookbags. When my children started school I bought them LL Bean backpacks and they barely lasted the school year. The women's clothes are far too flashy and so poorly made. I've returned far more than I've kept and am at the point where I often don't bother to even try something since it's not worth my time to mail it back when it disappoints me again. Mr. Bean's successor is ruining the brand.

kmd02 said...

I agree with most of the previous comments: LL Bean needs to return to what they are known for - classic, high-quality products backed by great customer service. If they do that well, they will be successful.

Having a secondary line like Signature is a fine concept, but so far the execution has been at best, hit or miss. If they are going to do it, they would be better served focusing on a few key pieces rather than a broad line and/or providing additional tailored fit options for some of their more popular main-line items.

Anonymous said...

I know L.L. Bean made a big announcement about increased revenues in 2010, and all of the leadership got big bonuses. It seemed to me, knowing nothing, that a lot of that was bought revenue through very high expenditures. Has anyone seen year-over-year profit numbers? I know those too may be an inaccurate predictor of future profits if L.L. Bean's cheap outsourcing strategy/ higher profit strategy is surprising and alienating customers.

Alex said...

Welcome to the world of globalisation. Of course l.l. bean will produce things in china, bangladesh etc. because it's much cheaper and the price for the items in the states are still the same so they earn big money. thats all most companys care of.
it's very sad!

mary anne said...

First, the positive:
1. Fabulous customer service
2. Reasonable prices
3. Return to free shipping

OK, now for negatives:
1. Clothes not up to past standards
2. Stop trying to be "trendy" that is not your customer base

Please, please go back to the way of doing things that make Bean the iconic clothing place for all us "sturdy gals" (and guys).

Still love Bean.

DAM said...

I've thought about my comment overnight since reading this post and think about it accordingly:

1. Customer Service: Is still unrivaled.

2. Quality: Is largely poor with the exception of the Bean Boot and Boat and Tote both made in Maine. I have gone through two pairs of flannel pajamas where in their inaugural season I have put my elbow through the sleeve of the cheap and thin flannel.

Additionally, the chinos, sweaters and shirts all feel cheap and the material not the kind that will wear in and stay together over time.

3. Manufacturing and Price: Ultimately, we all want Bean to stay the same high quality,long lasting American goods. However, will the market be able to sustain the prices necessary to do so?

For example, Bill's Khakis have been around since 1990 producing everything in the US of A with twill pants running $125. A far cry from the Bean price of $34.50.

To produce in America, the market must pay the price of production in America.

The Good News:
Bean is still a family owned business that hasn't sold out to a larger company or gone public. This provides ownership the opportunity to heed this advice, course correct and grow the business, maybe by shrinking it.

trip said...

While I agree that the quality is lacking in some pieces, I think that some of their classics are still solid choices (the Bean Boots, of course, the tote bags, and chamois shirts). While some of their classic items are shadows of their former selves (the blucher mocs kind of suck now), they offer a huge variety of items and it's usually one of the first places I look. I think that their sizing is weird on a lot of their S-M-L shirts, though.

I, however, am a big fan of the Signature line. I have a few items from there and many more on my wish list. While some may object to the way that the items are styled, individually, I think the pieces are good choices and I hope they stick with it.

Babette said...

Truly? Have a "Best of ..." line and market it to us. Bean's would not have made such changes, dumbed itself down had there not been a demand and great fiscal benefit to the company. Surely they did lots of research but what they got wrong was that the *true* LL Bean "signature" is evident in the high quality items we all know, love and miss. I shop on eBay for my "real" LLB.

lorrwill said...

Count me in as another person who gave up on LL Bean and their incredibly diminishing quality.

Yes, their customer service is quite good, but it in no way makes up for the shoddy workmanship, substandard materials and bizarre sizing of their women's clothes. (We AREN'T all plus sized!) That is what I would tell them along with I expect to pay more a product worth the money.

I have to add that Land's End and Brooks Brothers are both as guilty of lowering their once exemplary standards into the rubbish as LL Bean is. Like several other folks here, I have products I purchased 20 years ago and compare them to what is and has been available for the past few years. The newer products - that cost just as much as the older ones - are absolutely inferior in quality and just not worth the money.

Anonymous said...

Oh - regarding customer service (to add to my long comment above) - while in general it is much better than customer service elsewhere, the service over the phone is hit or miss. I recently called to find out if the cotton hammock (not on the website that day) was still available. I explained that I couldn't find it on the website. The woman asked me for an item number. She seemed kind of baffled when I said that since it wasn't on the website, I didn't have an item number. (I usually throw away my catalogs and only use the website.) I asked if she could look it up by name, and she seemed put out. With the entire exchange, she just seemed sort of confused and annoyed. Perhaps she was new, and I should not view her behavior as the "wave of the future."

I also commented another day about the rather incompetent service I received at an outlet - it was almost as if the clerks there are not "real" L.L. Bean employees - they don't even seem to have access to the same systems. I have, fortunately, found that Bean employees in Freeport are, with no exceptions I've seen, top notch. But I think that as the company continues to grow and diversify, we will see a decline in the quality of customer service outside of the original store.

Anonymous said...

Twenty or so years ago at the dawn of globalization, the management of LL Bean made a strategic decision to play in the mass consumer market with the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch, Eddie Bauer, The Limited, American Eagle et al.

Instead of focusing on how to establish longitudinal advantage in the mail order/limited number of retail site segment that it pioneered, LL Bean jumped in with the aforementioned "big fish" to lead the race to the bottom with increasingly flimsy overpriced Asian made goods. Stalwart LL Bean customers realized the sham being played on them and moved in droves to other suppliers.

It took LL Bean at least fifty years to establish itself as a premiere vendor of high quality reasonably priced "outdoorsy" apparel and gear. It's management team has taken only twenty to put it into a seemingly fatal nose dive.

My sense is LL Bean will become the next Borders and fade from the American retailing landscape within the next three to five years, unless of course, Leslie Wexner buys it at a fire sale!

Ryan P. said...

L.L. Bean is not on the right track. They have succumbed to the pressure to attract mall goers and the casual consumer when they should be focusing on keeping their true base satisfied with classic items. As some have already said, their customer service does indeed seem to be as good as ever. If they could apply that personal touch to their design, manufacturing and quality-control departments, L.L. Bean could salvage its iconic image before it is too late.

HipWaldorf said...

There is an L.L.Bean outlet 5 minutes from my house. I do stop in to pick up Boat and Tote's quite often to use for gifts, as well as SmartWool socks, but not much else...not for lack of trying...

Anonymous said...

Until secondary school I never owned a new piece of LLBean. I wore all hand me downs that made it through 4 girls (I'm the youngest). Now that my sisters and I have stopped growing we all buy our own LLBean, and trust me, there is nothing I would pass on. My new LLB makes it through one owner. If that. I've taken to buying boys clothes for the classic fit, colors and quality. From other retailers...

Anonymous said...

Hoping for everything in life to remain the "way it used to be" in a modern, changing, fast-moving world is unrealistic. Example--you can't demand L.L. Bean make shoes in Maine, if shoe companies no longer exist in Maine. However, even if products must be made elsewhere, including overseas--it is not wrong for longtime customers to demand that L.L. Bean stick to its standards of quality, because clearly they still use that pitch in their promotions. I have my own examples of lowered standards at Bean, men's chinos that wear well in most spots, but fray at the cuffs after just a few months of light wear. If the general consensus of L.L. Bean customers is that the firm is diminishing the quality of its goods while still touting L.L. Bean "quality" as in days of yore, they are headed for a crash.

Anonymous said...

The following is somewhat instructive:

www.archivalclothing.com recently posted a scan of the 1933 Spring L.L. Bean catalog:

http://www.archivalclothing.com/2011/08/shopping-from-1933-ll-bean.html

I made a couple price comparisons between the 1933 prices and 2011 prices, just for my own amusement. What most interested me, though, was what I found when I went to see if L.L. Bean still made the Vacation Bag shown in the 1933 catalog. (I find it to be an attractive bag and wouldn't mind purchasing it.) Alas... this bag is only available from L.L. Bean Signature. The catalog entry claims, "a faithful replica of a bag that first appeared in our 1933 Fall catalog...."

http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/66939?page=beans-vacation-bag

While it does appear to be a nice bag, and it got good reviews, it is certainly not a faithful replica of the 1933 SPRING version. Perhaps L.L. Bean made a dramatic redesign between Spring and Fall of that year? Among other somewhat subtle differences, one notable difference is that in the 1933 version, the sides of the bag are a full piece of leather without a seam. The 2011 version is stitched from smaller pieces of leather. While I could not find the FALL 1933 catalog, to which to compare the 2011 version, I did find the 1936 catalog, and in 1936, the bag still looked like it did in the Spring 1933 catalog. So, I say, "not faithful replica." It also costs $275, which is not the 2011 equivalent of 1933's $5.85. And as usual, L.L. Bean does not advertise the country in which the item is manufactured.

Overall, while this is an attractive bag, it does not have the good proportions and classic style the 1933 version does. It misses the mark a bit, while being passed off as a faithful replica.

Why not make a faithful replica, and include it in the regular L.L. Bean collection? What bothers me so much about L.L. Bean Signature is how it markets many of its items as replicas of early items... I now question how close the new items are to the old, and I also can't get over the fact that they are often implying that the newer items regular L.L. Bean sells are of inferior quality to what they used to sell. I started looking around L.L. Bean Signature some more, and noticed more examples - for instance, the "1933 Chamois Cloth Shirt." "It's still the best chamois shirt you'll find." Oh really? So what's wrong with the regular one L.L. Bean sells? Why does the L.L. Bean Signature version cost $20 more? If they can make a better chamois shirt, why did they stop making this superior shirt until now?

Greenfield said...

It gets worse. Brooks Bros. went in the bin this time, due to page 25 of "Back to Campus" where they actually show peep-toe, leopard spot HEELS with JEANS. Who is their demographic now, "Jersey Shore?" TTFW!!

Anonymous said...

I think they should continue in their current direction because if it's not genuinely in their hearts to be part of the classic prep niche, they shouldn't try to fake it, straddle the fence, and continue to botch it.

I prefer to buy from companies that related to their communities in a natural, genuine way. Companies that do a little market research and decide they can make more money chasing this or that, should do that or this, make more money, at least for a while, and leave the field open to other companies who really like their customers, just as they are.

Bean has been so far off the classic and quality tracks for so long that it's clear the company is managed by folks who do not like us, just as we are. Even if they come out with some decent stuff next season, it won't move me because it's probably just the result of more market research, not of having their hearts in it.

Brenton said...

@ Greenfield, 6:43 p.m. - I have a friend in the wedding/tuxedo industry business who just returned from a convention in Las Vegas. One of the characters from that awful television show has his own line of tuxedos that are, I'm told, completely satin. I apologize if that made you gag the way I did when I heard that.

But, to stay on topic, since finding this blog, I have become more and more weary of L.L. Bean, a name once synonymous for quality items. Now, they still have some quality items, but the majority I see online (unfortunately I only get to the L.L. Bean outlet store in North Conway once a year) make me, sadly, like L.L. Bean less and less.

I was in Cambridge today and ventured, for the first time, into J. Press. I was somewhat intimidated (I am, after all, a twenty-three year old who wasn't exactly dressed too nicely, nor did the heat help with my being out of breath and heavy perspiring), but the gentleman in the shop greeted me warmly and helped me look around. While they didn't have the item I was looking for in stock, I did purchase a tie, a pair of socks, and a box of handkerchiefs.

L.L. Bean and J. Press are two totally different companies, I know, but it was thanks to this blog that I ventured inside and I am very glad I did. So thank you very much for keeping us informed and entertained. I still love L.L. Bean, but J. Press might be my new favorite store.

Anonymous said...

For all its worth, I never considered LL Bean a purveyor of "Preppy" apparel but rather as the archtypical supplier, along with FIlson and the original Eddie Bauer, of top quality rugged outdoorsy apparel that enabled a broad spectrum of Americans to pursue their various avocations in comfort and style.

The departure of the last Bean CEO synchornized with the aggressive transformation and cannibalization of the US apparel industry from its original domestic sources of supply into a jumble of avaricious and unscruplusous retailing moguls like Leslie Wexner of the Limited, Donald Fisher, Millard Drexler and Paul Pressler of the Gap and Mark @ Jerry Silverman of Retail Ventures (American Eagle) who focused on aspiration lifestyle marketing to the Great Unwashed who would know the difference between quality outdoors gear and Shinola.

Bean's new junta of externally recruited professional managers elected to follow these retailing mavens strategies and tactics and mucked up one of the USA best retailing firm's image and credibility in the process.

LL Bean's cruel "Wild Ride" across the American retailing indutry's "Wheel of Retailing" lifecycle is most unfortunate.

On a brighter note, can you please post some reputable vendors of superior quality authentic Guernsey fisherman's sweaters at your earliest convenience. My 36 year old model is kaput and I would like to replace with an authentic new one.

Thanks in advance for the referral.

Old School Prep

Paisley Curtain said...

They are on the same track as other US retailers are. If Ralph lauren can sell "Made in China" stuff why can't LL Bean? Last time I bought anything from LL Bean was in 2008. My wife and I got 4 cotton turtle necks each. Though they were all the same size but each one was different in fitting. After first few washes they shrunk and went out of shape. I have not even looked at there website since then.

I am running around for last four months to buy a good pair of Khakis. From RL, Brooks Brothers, J Crew to Gap. I simply cannot find a good fit and good quality pair of khakis. I have nothing against China, it is not there responsibility to care for quality control if the company whose label is on it doesn't care. Unfortunately the only thing these companies worry about is their corporate profit.

Patxi said...

I recently discovered LLBean, and love it and their products. I've only been for 2 years in the West Coast, so no first hand experience in the East.

I'm 30years old, European, don't care about country of origin as long as quality is there, and not preppy (as never been to an american prep school). Therefore, you could argue that if I'm now part of their customer base, they are (1) drifting from their core market.

Also, I'm a practical father of two, been to a private school in Europe, who needs timeless stilyng, reliability, quality, and reasonable prices, so you could also argue that (2) they are still on target.

(3) One thing to say to LLBean:
I'd be fine with a 10% increase in price as long as quality goes up a notch too.

(4) One thing to say to Muffy: Keep up the good work. Your blog is very inspirational. Your values are universal, and resonate for me across the pond.

RoyRPlatt said...

One might wonder if anyone in a responsible position at L. L. Bean has any interest at all in the views expressed in any of these comments.....

....probably not.

My comment that no one at L. L. Bean will care about is that over the years what used to be sold as a men's "Large" is now sold as a men's "Medium" and now seems to be sized to be worn by a man who is pregnant.

Billsburg said...

These are such interesting comments. However, since I'm a "Wharf Rat" groupie, I'm sorry he hasn't expressed his opinion on the subject. In fact, he hasn't commented in some time now, has he? Perhaps he is enjoying his summer too much to spend any time on the computer....

Muffy Aldrich said...

@Billsburg - I am also a Wharf Rat groupie and miss him greatly! I have been keeping in touch with him over the last few months, and we all look forward to his return.

Anonymous said...

Muffy - L.L. Bean needs to hire you to get them back on track!

Barbara said...

This is the best segmentation research possible - LLB should pay close attention because without paying a cent they are getting in-depth customer feedback. Customers that fall into the category of looking for well made classic clothing but are young, old and in between, male and female and live all over the country.

The opportunity is ripe for LLB because so many classic retailers are no longer in business or have turned their backs on the genera completely - Bean can take up the slack and still produce the Signature line if profitable.

My fear is the LLB has lost its soul and marketing integrity will not turn around plus they have most likely invested heavily in long-term contracts/agreements with over-seas manufacturers, etc.

It is very hard for executives/leadership teams to admit a mistake. Next thing you know when you call in to place an order you’ll be calling India, etc.

Billsburg said...

If it's true revenues are up and the LLB management team received bonuses in 2010, I suspect they think they are on the right track - and the downward spiral will continue.

A couple of random comments:

Obviously the world is changing and very little clothing is made in America anymore. You can buy good quality clothes made overseas but they are very expensive. Maybe I'm odd, but I'm increasingly uncomfortable spending $100 for an item of clothing made by some poor woman in Bangladesh who makes 30 cents an hour working 15 hours a day. As a society, are we unwilling to pay a decent wage to unemployed American workers - or poor people working in sweatshops - just to acquire more and more and more stuff? Is the bottom line (and the size of our closets) the only thing that matters anymore?

As soon as a company forgets its core customers, expands, opens outlets and wants to be all things to all people, that's usually the beginning of the end for the company.

I first visited LL Bean in Freeport in 1999 - and again in about 2007 or 08. The change in those 8 or 9 years was stunning; if it's still open in 5 years, I'll be very surprised. But, really, who will care? The management team will have gotten their bonuses and they will move on to something else.

In reply to the above comment about Bill Khaki's...yes, they are expensive. But, my husband can wear one pair of their khakis for 5 or 6 years; the LLB khakis last for one year, if that. Since we don't shop simply for the sake of shopping, we save money in the long run by buying Bill's. We buy LLBeans khakis for yardwork, painting, etc.

JDSprouse said...

Bean needs to stay with what we have known them for -high quality, classic style at a fair price and stop trying to please everyone by being trendy.
I get khakis from Bill's Khakis.
When I get suits from B. Bros. I have them take out the pleats from the pants and do the customary 1 1/4" cuffs. On the jackets I have them make REAL button holes for the sleeves.
I Had to get a new pair of AO Topsiders recently because the soles became loose and dangerous on the 5 year old ones. I'm told they can't re-sole them any more. Both were made in China. It's a little disturbing. Oh, new Hunter "Wellies" are made in China too. Not in Scotland.
I check ebay for "Vintage Clothing" occasionally. Burberry and Abacrombie have gone off the deep end being trendy.
It's getting harder to find things that fit my style still made with high quality.
Keep up the good work on your blog!

Anonymous said...

Dear L.L. Bean, Bring back items of quality that used to be made in the USA and/or Maine. For example Vermont Original Hats were replaced with some cheap item made who knows where, but not the US. Why not support a cottage industry in your own region...in your own country? I as well as many others are always willing to pay for quality. I can go to Wal-Mart and get cheap items at less cost than getting the same from L.L. Bean. I am a fourth generation L.L. Bean customer and still get a few items from L.L. Bean. But really, Signature is hysterical. When I first saw their toe-less desert boots,(with high heels!) I about lost my coffee through my nose. I hope L.L. Bean finds itself bringing back its glorious past instead of counting on the past to fool the customer.

Anonymous said...

I just want to point out (in response to another comment) that Quoddy shoes are still hand-made in Maine, as are some Eastland shoes. Bean boots are still made in Maine. It's not like L.L. Bean COULDN'T make their shoes in Maine. They used to, and they could again. There are a lot of people who used to work in shoe factories who lost their jobs when the factories closed (as late as the 1980s, that I know of), and there are plenty of people in Maine who need jobs. It's not an issue of there being no "shoe companies" in Maine. L.L. Bean is a huge corporation! Based in Maine! They could base more manufacturing in Maine, as well. I'm well aware that that would be more expensive, but if using cheap labor means cheap-quality items, then perhaps they should reconsider their choice. (One can dream.)

When I learned that some L.L. Bean shoes were made in El Salvador, I Googled "sweatshop El Salvador" and found that L.L. Bean is among a group of companies criticized for using sweatshop labor in El Salvador. I am not a "rabid" liberal on this issue, and I cannot claim to have thoroughly researched it, but if the issue of possible exploitation of workers doesn't bother you, then the fact that the quality is NOT there should. What bothers me the most on this issue is that L.L. Bean does NOT make known the country of origin of their items (until you can see the item and look at the tag, of course) and in my experience will not post reviews which reveal the country of origin. Although they do not explicitly claim this, they do imply that their handsewn shoes are made in Maine... to the point that one reviewer states that to be the case.

I know the world changes, but L.L. Bean is clinging to its old marketing tactic, continuing to position itself as an all-American company with high-quality "authentic" items made by true artisans, even as there is a greater and greater rift between these claims and reality. L.L. Bean used to be a VERY trusted brand. I'm in my mid-30s, and still have my elementary school backpack! Their stuff was practically indestructable. I used to be somewhat amazed and happy that the company seemed immune to what was going on in other companies... they had integrity and did not sell out. Now they remind me of so many other companies. Will they go the way of Coleman, which used to be an independent company, and THE brand in camping gear, and whose name is now associated with cheaply-made items available at Wal-Mart?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the bottom line is that new, smaller companies must be found to replace the old standards. Vendors who produce mostly American-made, high-quality classic clothing in quality mostly-natural fabrics; authentic, durable, reasonably-priced gear. Great customer service, some customization and excellent credibility and ethics. These blogs such as Muffy's excellent one can serve as a reference-point for these, as well as continue to critique those vendors on the bubble such as Vera Bradley, LL Bean, Talbots, etc.

Amy Bradstreet said...

I've said it before, but I'll say it again; yes, LL Bean has been going in the wrong direction for years. They absolutely should be and are certainly able to have their manufacturing done in Maine. So many of the comments were spot on, in particular the one regarding hipsters really wanting to be prepsters, (and if LL Bean had someone on their payroll savvy enough to comb Pinterest and Tumblr, they'd know that),as well as the comment regarding classic colors not being made available to women. It was sometime in the 80s that LL Bean began their policy of only offering women's clothing in bright pastels like raspberry and teal (what I like to call "hospital colors", as in, not flattering, and certainly not classic). I wish they'd stop. Their offerings for girls are even more offensive. Sizing is an issue, but I have found it always runs too small/short. Where Land's End offers an extensive and beautifully made line of women's plus-size clothing, LL Bean does not. Their plus only goes up to a 22/24 which wears as a small 18, at best. Lastly, I agree, LL Bean should bring return to their classics.

Anonymous said...

Why can't they make this cotton fair isle sweater for women? It's classic, handsome, and very reasonably priced. I'm not sure it's carried anymore for anyone.

http://www.priceleap.com/compare-prices/LL_Bean:_Double_L_Cotton_Fair_Isle_Crewneck_Sweater_Mens_Regular--45128184

Lollyg said...

I don't really like shopping. I have many LL Bean items in my closet, including a few "Signature" pieces, and they are wearing well compared to the competition.

Talbots is sinking with its awful trendy offerings, apparently targeting no market group in particular at this point.

My last J Crew purchases did not last a season - terrible, shoddy quality. I was unimpressed with quality during a visit to Ralph Lauren recently, and am not thrilled with my last Brooks Bros. purchases, either.

LL Bean is more reliable by comparison, but not what they were. The sizes are not consistent, and the color choices are a problem, often. There are too many offerings, many of which are substandard and just not useful. On the other hand, I have found items that I liked, and wanted to reorder for the next year, but these have disappeared without a trace.

Thank goodness for free return shipping.

JDSprouse said...

Muffy-

You've seemed to touch off a firestorm about Bean. "In this economy" it would be great to have L.L.Bean products made in Maine, even if they would cost a little more. That could be a strong selling point "Made in Maine, USA".
Wow, the thought of it is overwhelming, creating jobs in Maine!
Someone mentioned "hospital colors" on some clothing items and not having the basics. I'd like to see our favorite auto brands getting back to more traditional colors too. Real Red, Burgundy, Navy Blue, Dark Green or should I say BRG.

Billsburg said...

This is a (timely) perfect example of how frustrating it is to shop at LLB these days.

One of the things they carry (or used to carry) were Oxford cloth shirts (for women) which hadn't been treated with chemicals to make it "no iron".

I ordered two shirts in May. Like the two I ordered last year, they are made in Peru. That's fine; I could count on the fit and they are good for wearing around the house, doing chores, and so forth. A couple of weeks ago, I ordered two more shirts; they arrived today & the difference in the four shirts was surprising. When I tried on the two new shirts, they were so tight I could hardly button them or even put my arms through the sleeves. I thought I must have ordered the wrong size, the wrong style, etc., but no; I ordered exactly what was ordered last spring.

I exchanged the shirts thinking this was some odd glitch. Received the two replacements today. One is almost 2 inches shorter than the other three; the other appears to be "slim fit" although that isn't indicated on the label, tag, etc. They are going back and I've given up.

The company is going to lose a lot of money on free shipping if they can't get a handle on their "quality control" issues very quickly.

Maggie said...

You might as well have the same poll about Talbot's. They are no longer the go-to place for classic clothes.

Anonymous said...

What are the chances of LL Bean taking note of these
comments and suggestions?

Anonymous said...

Yankee Whisky's Post is a flippin' hilarious riot and this one is overdue IMO! I live in Boston and used to go to LLB a few times a month with my girlfriend and it gets bigger and bigger and bigger every year. I talked to the shoe guy there and he said his manager is always flying to China. Explains a lot.

BTW, the poll you have is a landslide!

Anonymous said...

A Quick Case Study on Customer Service: Paramount made the decision to create a high-end "Sapphire Series" of Blu-rays. They picked some of their most prestigious titles to launch this new line, including Braveheart and Gladiator. Well, it turned out the Gladiator transfer was highly flawed, something that many fans pointed out. Paramount invested in their "Sapphire" brand by creating a new, high-quality transfer, and set up a free exchange program for unhappy customers. The customer service part of this story is not that Paramount swapped the cheap blu-rays (customers would not want another copy of the same shoddy transfer), but that they went back and fixed the root causes and created a better product.

Muffy Aldrich said...

Someone sent me a link to Valet Magazine's piece on the Signature Team. Take a look here.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, Muffy. I'm not sure what to make of the article yet since I was put off by the top photo of the head guy sitting back in a chair with his legs wide open. Just not a fan of crotch shots.

Anonymous said...

The Signature team might be a nice group of people, but do they have a clue how much they've brought the company down and ignoring our requests? Would they dare to hire anyone over 50 to advise them? Frankly, that entire line needs to go.

I can't remember the last time I purchased an item from LLB, except for a tote. Very sad indeed - LLB lost another customer in me.

Anonymous said...

Bean needs to return to the colors consumers are looking for and demand: real red, true navy, yellow, and kelly green. Think of rep tie colors. Their colors, especially women's, are horrible.

Anonymous said...

Meh. I don't feel that there is anything wrong with the looks in that link, per se. Despite spending most of my life head-to-toe in L.L. Bean or similar clothes (and posting about it, above), I did change up my style when I lived for a few years in a "fashionable" foreign city. I don't usually change to fit the location all that much, but my regular clothes were simply glaringly out of place in that new culture. I guess you could say I dressed a bit more like these L.L. Bean Signature employees... some classic elements, but with a more urban edge. (That actually leads to another issue which might be addressed on this blog sometime... how (if at all) preppy attire is changed when one visits Paris, London, Milan, etc..)

That said, it's NOT L.L. Bean. My issue isn't that I hate the Signature clothes (although right now, back in New England, I wouldn't wear many of them.) It's that L.L. Bean seems to be confused. If these clothes were sold with no connection to L.L. Bean, that would be a different story. But to call them L.L. Bean Signature... there's a strange sort of disconnect. And it's a watering-down of the brand. Will this go the way of their short-lived Freeport Studio line, in the '90s?

I also noticed that in this article, they mentioned, at least twice, the idea of "quality." I haven't found the Signature clothes, which I have examined closely in the store, to be particularly high-quality. One pet peeve is that many of the women's items with flimsy fabric are unlined. The stitching is also not what it should be. The prices are definitely not in line with the quality of the product. They're piggy-backing onto the reputation of L.L. Bean as a purveyor of quality items, but not delivering that quality. The clothes are also a strange post-modern take on L.L. Bean style. They're made to look like they'd function on a farm or in the woods somewhere, but they're made for people who are never in that environment.

Anonymous said...

The sad future I see for LLBean is one similar to Lands End. LLBean products might just end up in a corner on the second floor in a Macys (or somesuch).

Billsburg said...

Thanks for the link to the article.

Isn't it interesting one of the team is wearing khakis (made in the U.S.) which are much more expensive than Bill's?

I'd still bet LLB's core customer - the one who has and is willing to spend some money - is a little older, stylish, but not particularly interested in being fashionable, knows what looks and feels good on him/her and recognizes quality.

The Signature team sounds like a great fit for J. Crew; it's a shame they don't have someone on the team who is a little older and can bring something other than an interest in "trendy" to the table.

Sartre said...

Thanks for the link to the article about the Signature team. They're certainly all beautiful, I'll give 'em that. I wonder how their clothes would look on real people?

In a nutshell, the whole problem here, as it is elsewhere, is that they are offering their "take" on the classics. We want the real thing, not some designer's re-imagined version.

Anonymous said...

Reading all these comments and thinking about L.L. Bean these past few days has left me with only one conclusion. L.L. Bean should not be trying to be what they are not. They are - were - a place of excellent quality, rugged outdoor clothing. L.L. Bean should be the place everyone turns to for boots, jackets, sweaters, etc., but of a crusty New England nature and not a Fifth Avenue nature. That is what L.L. Bean does - did - best. It is where they can excel, once again. They need to drop Signature, drop any idea of being "trendy" and be the rugged outdoor haven they once were.

JDSprouse said...

Everyone has great comments on how much we all loved the "old" L.L. Bean. Maybe the "Signature Series" should look more like this:
Field Coat w/wool lining, Handmade Bulcher Mocs, Maine Hunting Boots and Rubber Mocs,Cotton Polo
Shirts in traditional colors, Surcringle belts, Goretex Rain Parkas, Cotton Real Tartan Flannel Shirts, Quality Cotton Khakis, Quality Wool Crew Neck Sweaters, Quality all Cotton Oxford Cloth BDC Shirts and other items that we came to know only from L.L. Bean. All made in Maine or at least in the US.
"Signature Series" = High Quality, Traditional style that we have come to know as L.L. Bean.
Would we be willing to pay a little more? You're darn right we would. Anyone for starting a petition and sending it to Freeport?

Pink One said...

I would definitely be willing to pay more, especially if made in the USA.

Muffy Aldrich said...

@Old School Prep - The only place of which I know is the Granite Hall Store in Round Pond, Maine. I spoke to the owner yesterday. Although she only has one small in stock, she could order one for you although it would probably take over four weeks and would cost well over $200.00. If you are interested you can call at 1.207.529.5864. Be sure to talk to Sarah.

Pink One said...

Billsburg, I am also a Wharf Rat groupie. I have missed seeing his comments. I hope to see him back soon.

(I hope I didn't scare you off, Wharf Rat.)

teamaldrich said...

I agree with the oft-mentioned positives:
1) Outstanding customer service (store/outlet/catalog)
2) Reasonable prices
3) Free shipping
4) Love the TOTES!

And with the negatives: poor quality, even worse quality for women's line, sizing issues, color choices.

It seems to me the Signature line could be retooled as the pay-a-premium-for-American-made line.

I like colors that are true and vibrant! The dusty blues and mauvy pinks are just frumpy.

And while they may miss the mark with their cuts from time-to-time, women ARE curvier than they used to be. (Right or wrong.) So I appreciate the effort ... High waisted pants rarely flatter anyone!

Keep up the great work Muffy. You're a gem!

Simply Sam said...

It's time for a Daily Prep design label! Many New Englanders could be provided with jobs, many customers could (finally)find the products we so desperately want, and Muffy could oversee design and quality control!

Parnassus said...

This is irrelevant to your main discussion here, but that statue of L.L. Bean I find rather disturbing. The flat top of the pedestal cuts off his arms and chest, making him appear both emerging from the base and trapped in it. It especially bothers me that he apparently cannot move his arms, lending this a claustrophobic and nightmarish quality. Somehow the classical solution of truncating the arms seems preferable to trapping them.

Perhaps a symbolic quality is intended--now that he is gone, Mr. Bean is helpless to guide his company: his hands are tied.
--Road to Parnassus

Pink One said...

I think that's a great idea, Simply Sam!

It would be wonderful if that was a venture you could take on, Muffy.

Anonymous said...

The L.L. Bean Signature line is pretending to sell to 25 year-olds but is really selling to 45 - 50 year-olds who want to pretend they are 25 year-olds. If Signature wanted the young hipster (as opposed to the aging hipster want-to-be) they would have set up shops in truly hip, urban areas around art schools and design hubs, not Tyson's Corner, VA. Whenever a company tries to buy their way into a new market they desire but neither understand nor respect, the effect is always a disastrous mish-mash, with a few hits but mostly misses. At least the Signature team gets to play with other people's money (and jobs), so it is nice that they are having fun.

Anonymous said...

Parnassus @ 5:30 am, the brilliance of your exegesis gives me chills, standing ovation!

-Flo

Kionon said...

Muffy,

LL Bean PR messaged me yesterday. They are reading the posts and the comments.

People, we have their attention. Good!

Anonymous said...

@Kionon - Great tweet! What did the PR folks say?

I assume L.L. Bean has layers of firewalls to contain non-strategy conforming news from other employees and layers of management. My question is how high up in L.L. Bean does a message have to be delivered before someone can and wants to change? CEO? Chairman? Owners?

Kionon said...

Anon,

All they've told me at this point is that they're paying attention to what Muffy posts and what we say in the comments. Based on how I got them to respond, the best way to keep them interested is to tweet at them, Facebook them, email them, etc. By making the criticism public, those customers that would more often be silent can notice if LL Bean acts sluggishly or if they start to respond and fix things. Keep up the pressure!

Farrah said...

I love this post and the comments and am so glad I am not alone.

When Landsend sold out to Sears their brand tanked IMO in both quality and consumer perception. I stopped buying from Landsend when they started becoming common to the masses and always said to myself, "Well at least we still have LL Bean." I was always happy to pay more for a better, quality and uncommon brand but not so much anymore. Their quality has tanked and they are ruining their brand by doing things like free shipping and coupons like Landsend. Bean needs to differientiate itself from Landsend and be the better company it once was and not a division of Sears.

Provide good quality basics and people will pay for it. Being preppy is about buying things that are functional and serve a purpose, not a planned look that changes each season. Remember Bean, your customer base has the expendable cash to pay more for the best.

Anonymous said...

I find that LL Bean (along with Brooks Bros, Lands End, and Talbots) are shifting their product lines away from quality to compete on price (with Wal-Mart, I suppose). I also find that all of them are abandoning traditional clothes and instead are chasing the latest fad.

There is a huge business opportunity for a merchant who returns to traditional clothes, with good quality, and without changing the styles or fit of clothes each season/year.

Tretorn, now owned by Puma, have the same fundamental issues with their products. THeir rubber boots used to be solid and dependable, but now develop holes after a single season. The Nylite looks the same, but they removed the soft conforming footbed, side padding, and sockliner that made it a great casual tennis shoe.

The LL Bean store at Tyson's Corner is hopeless. They don't even try to stock the smaller sizes, which sends many shoppers elsewhere in search of clothes and shoes.

--TJ

Anonymous said...

I went to the link "Inside the Freeport Maine Headquarters of L.L. Bean Signature". Interesting that the clothing choices made by these folks are not entirely L.L. Bean and one man admits not even wearing Bean Khakis. I applaud these folks for possessing MBA's from somewhere, but they are oblivious to what their customer base wants.

Matt said...

You've hit a nerve here, Mrs. Aldrich! Yes, I have had the same experience as your other readers. Bean has wonderful customer service but (increasingly) terrible quality and style in their products. It doesn't matter to me if there customer service is great because, except for Boat & Totes, I don't buy from them anymore. The quality is terrible; the sizing is bizarre; and the style is dubious. No doubt they're getting rich in dollars (why else would they sell junk?); but at what cost to their character?

I agree with those readers who say that Bean (and Brooks Brothers too) are microcosms of modern, corporate culture in America. It used to be that you made a fantastic product, and you hoped you could sell it at a fair price. Now, you make junk, use advertising to create a desire for that junk, and then you laugh all the way to the bank. It's a good way to get rich, but a sad way to live.

Anonymous said...

Hello Muffy, I have received several emails in the past few days concerning your blog, this post concerning L.L. Bean, and your poll concerning whether Bean is on the right track. I can relate to every comment made by other readers of this post. What Bean has become is indeed very unfortunate. I also looked at the link showing the web page about the people behind L.L. Bean Signature. Do they really want to take the credit for the disaster L.L. Bean has become?

On a positive note, after looking at your blog Muffy I will become a faithful follower of Daily Prep. Can we vote for you to become CEO of Bean? Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

If you haven't seen it, check out Muffy's vendor chart, showing the rise (on the left) and fall (on the right) of iconic preppy companies: www.muffyaldrich.com/2011/01/preppy-vendors-on-my-radar.html.

CPB III said...

I just looked at Muffy's chart on preppy companies. Well done. I have purchased items from many of these businesses before and from now on this will be my go to guide for future purchases. Quality and traditional styling is paramount to me. L.L. Bean lost my confidence years ago. Thank you, Mrs. Aldrich.

Anonymous said...

A friend told me about The Daily Prep blog and the L.L. Bean poll. I have lamented the downfall of L.L. Bean for several years, and I thought I was one of the few who had noticed the change of "track" by L.L. Bean.
Mr. Leon Bean would not recognized L.L. Bean now and no doubt would be upset his "signature" is being used on the poor quality, trendy, made in a third world country, items which are now offered.

Anonymous said...

Quality should be a key to business success. L.L. Bean used to be associated with quality. My grandparents, my parents and I all shopped there. A pair of boots or slippers may have lasted 15 years. We did not have to buy a pair every season, BUT we gave L.L. Bean items as gifts, and we purchased a variety of goods from L.L. Bean, secure in the knowledge that we could count on these items.
A few Christmases ago as my old L.L. Bean slippers of 15 years finally gave out, my wife bought another pair from L.L. Bean. The new model was made in china and did not last a year. The stitching came undone, the sheepskin lining wore through. For the cost they should have lasted much longer. Their Water Hog mats are nice, (made in USA I think) but can't think of anything else I would recommend anyone purchasing from them.

Hunter B. said...

The corporate powers of L.L. Bean are laughing all the way to the bank. Those of us who knew the old L.L. Bean know what it used to stand for and the reputation it earned. Those qualities do not matter any more. The only goal of the current management is to make another sucker part with his/her money for shoddy, cheap goods.

Just as a building needs a firm foundation, so does every business. The old foundation of quality, made in the US, traditional, reliable products from L.L. Bean is eroding.

They may well go the way of Lands End. "Coming soon to a mall near you..The L.L. Bean Collection by J.C. Penny!"

Karen said...

Who buys this Signature stuff anyway? I am 27 and live in a large urban area. I never see anyone wear anything like the bizarre items in the Signature collection. I have noticed it is on sale at the L.L. Bean Website, quite often. No wonder!

Anonymous said...

I am truly disappointed in the direction that LL Bean has taken. They've taken a name that we've relied on for quality for decades and used it to sell what I like to call "disposable clothing" - clothing that doesn't last more than one season.

I grew up wearing LL Bean. I can remember my dad's Bean boots drying by the door after a day of duck hunting. My mom bundling herself up in her Bean parka to take me on a walk through the freshly fallen snow. LL Bean was part of the family. I remember how excited I used to be when I would give a gift of an LL Bean product to someone because I knew it would last and if they needed to return or exchange it, there would not be a problem. With the sub-par quality of 99% of the products now and goofy sizing issues, I am now too afraid to give a LL Bean gift.

Now, sadly, I think I am asking for a "divorce" from LL Bean for irreconcilable differences.

Ellenrae said...

When L.L. Bean began advertising on the Weather Channel, I thought it was a nice idea and could be the savior of the L.L. Bean I loved. It took me a while to realize, after noticing changes in the catalog copy and in the quality of items I ordered, that L.L. Bean had sold out to the masses in order to make a quick dollar. No interest in establishing a long term relationship with new customers. They used the name L.L. Bean and its old-days gone by reputation to sell poorly made items which used the same names as old standbys, but now they are "imported".

The catalog claims some items have the same price as 1999 or some other year...well of course it is the same price BUT NOT the same quality for it is now made in Peru, El Salvador, China, etc. Too bad. Because the lost me as a customer.

And "Signature"?? OMG! Another commenter made mention of the toe less, high heeled desert boots offered for women. What a joke!

I morn the death of L.L. Bean.

Anonymous said...

L.L. Bean already knows what people want. They describe great products on their web site - authentic, classic, tough, built in Maine, for Maine, inspired by Maine. They know, they don't care, and they are happy to lie to customers with a straight face to cash in while they can.

Anonymous said...

First of all Thank you, Muffy for the pie recipe. I will be trying it this afternoon!

The L.L. Bean blog post has seemingly gone viral! Several friends have mentioned it to me for they know how much I have loved L.L. Bean.
I am not a New England preppy, just a child of the Southern US, who grew up with L.L. Bean. Hunting Boots, clothing, camp moc's and all the other things that made L.L. Bean a part of Americana.
The changes at L.L. Bean began when Leon Gorman, a grandson of L.L. Bean, left the company. Since then as I am sure others have noted, L.L. Bean lost its identity but still tries to cash in on the old reputation. I cannot trust them for quality or to carry the items that I want to buy.
Bigger is not always better. I have no idea if they are making enough money to justify the sellout of an icon.

Anonymous said...

As my brother says "L.L. Bean is selling the sizzle, but not the bacon". Ought to be against the law to sell items such as Maine shirts, boots, etc., that are not even made in Maine.

Wilby said...

Sure, L.L. Bean has great customer service and easy returns. That is the standard now and does not make L.L. Bean an exception in that area.

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many of the 'yes' votes are from L.L. Bean employees. But I wonder even more how many of the 'no' votes are.

Grayson said...

L.L. Bean needs to understand that quality items that lasted 10 years did not mean less sales. It meant more sales. We knew whatever we purchased would be well made, we knew we could give items as gifts with confidence. If they had not changed their standards (about 10 years ago, IMHO) the internet would have made it easier for L.L. Bean to have a strong international customer base. Word of mouth goes a long way. Bean is on the bubble. I wonder when it will pop?

Lollyg said...

The takeaway from the article that was linked is this: these folks do not understand the heritage or the customer base.

My previous comment was not an approval, but rather, a statement that finding functional, attractive clothes that fit properly is really nearly impossible, no matter the manufacturer. The days of reliable retailers with quality, dependable products are gone. I am ready to start "sewing my own". (Not really, but this is not a happy circumstance.)

Great discussion, and I hope someone at LL Bean is paying attention. I also hope someone actually cares about saving the company.

Muffy, you would be the perfect person to be a consultant to the company.

Anonymous said...

Muffy, since you started this blog, has L.L Bean ever contacted you, either to have you feature some item or get your opinion on something?

Muffy Aldrich said...

@Anonymous 10:55 - Although they often visit the blog, I have never heard from them.

Anonymous said...

Gotta love the link to the "Signature Team" ! You would think the opportunity would be used to showcase L.L. Bean items. But no, you got mixed up clothing items and one man who won't dare to let L.L. Bean Khakis touch his body. Well done Signature Team!

Anonymous said...

To paraphrase Proverbs 16:18:

"Pride goes before the fall..."

Tiffany said...

Muffy,
To follow up your post on L.L. Bean's lost American roots with your peach pie recipe was likely unintentional, but says it all!

Love your blog!

Anonymous said...

If the powers that be of L.L. Bean ever become aware of this blog post, they will possibly ignore it or become defensive and justify the direction of L.L. Bean with dollars in the bank.
But in the long term, with so many customers present and former, who question their marketing choices, I just don't know how they can fool people in the long term.
Other businesses whom I still hold in high esteem now get my purchasing dollars.

Anonymous said...

A CEO dedicated to an expensive strategy would rather continue with a 10% chance of success than a 100% chance of admitting failure.

Fisher said...

Well said Anonymous @ 12:30!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Fisher. This is especially true if they can achieve short term metrics (i.e. revenue) and big bonuses along the way.

Anonymous said...

I think the biggest difference between Land's End Canvas and LLB Signature is that Canvas is making clothing that appeals to its market audience -- younger preppies. Not hipsters, but 20-somethings who grew up wearing classic cotton sweaters and khakis, and now need clothing that is office appropriate. Cardigans, classic skirts, good trench coats, etc. Land's End clothing has always been very boxy on me, and I find that clothing from Canvas isn't skimpy but is slightly more form-fitting and tailored.

Signature is a disaster, and I no longer order anything from LL Bean. I'm in my 20s and I loved LL Bean until they stopped carrying many classic items in gender-neutral colors. Everything for women was pink, baby blue, or purple, and I'm too small to wear men's clothing. When it became difficult to find classic women's wear in tan, navy, hunter green, and red, I stopped purchasing it. I still have a tote bag that's about 10 years old. While faded and well-loved, it's still perfect for the beach or the barn.

Fisher said...

A big "new" McMansion!!

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Alridge,

Great post! I checked out the link regarding the "LLB Signature team", and, specifically, the Grown and Sewn khakis worn by the merchandising manager. After visiting that site, I compared that to Jack Donnelly Khakis site. Both are made in the U.S., the exception being that Grown and Sewn seems to use marketing catch word flourishes and distressing to make their products "authentic". Jack Donnelly is pretty straight forward. The Donnelly khakis are half of what Grown and Sewn asks for their lowest priced pants, and seem much more honest in their pricing. Point being, quality U.S. produced clothing/products can be made at reasonable price without silly, fake marketing. If LLB would return to offering quality, domestically produced products without using unwarranted "boutique" pricing, they might find their way home. Hopefully, this isn't too much to ask.

Anonymous said...

Muffy,

A friend sent me this link and WOW! You have really got things going. I just ready your "15 Things L.L. Bean Can Do To Save Itself". You are right as are the comments I glanced at. Former L.L. Bean customers unite! (I guess we have)

D. Chalmette said...

Items I still buy from L.L. Bean: Ragg wool socks, turtlenecks, (they did away with the only decent monogram pattern they ever had-the diamond pattern), tote bags (ditto for no diamond style monogram)and some fly fishing or hunting gear on occasion.

Anonymous said...

I can just imagine what the L.L. Bean response will be to this:


Dear Muffy,

Thank you for your interest in L.L. Bean. We have read every comment here very carefully, and we appreciate them all. Belive it or not, we like the constructive comments the most, as it helps us improve. Everyone is raising some great points. We know we are not perfect! Leon Leonwood Bean taught us to listen to our customers, so you have given us a great opportunity to do just that. For example, the sourcing issues are very important to us, and we are doing everything we can to balance the right approaches to ensure the best possible products at the best possible prices.

We here at L.L. Bean have also been incredibly excited about all of the positive feedback we have received so far. The response to the new Signature line has been wonderful, and sales have exceeded our expectation. We have added to our offerings in dramatic new ways, while keeping all of the old favorites.

Most importantly, we can't wait until you see our Fall and Winter offerings. We know you will be as amazed as we are, and as all of our early testers have been. Truly, for fans of L.L. Bean, you aint' seen nothing yet!

Again, thank you for your interest,

L.L. Bean's Very Extensive and Hard Working PR Team

(Obviously just a joke, but you never know...)

Fordham said...

You are right Anonymous! The perfect PR response. Why, we are just silly people not to see their wisdom and vision!

Ashley and Sarah said...

I am writing a comment for my mom and myself. I am 24, mom is older, LOL.
Mom says my first L.L. Bean item was a blue baby bunting(not sure of the spelling) bag. If anyone does not remember that item, it was a zip-up foot to head cold weather one piece with a hood for toddlers. As I grew up my clothing staples were L.L. Bean items.
For years, mom and dad would let me pick out items from the catalog or website for Christmas or my birthday. A few years ago I declined to chose any gift from L.L.Bean. There is nothing of the quality I want. No an item interests me that I can be confident in and that really goes for Signature. The target market is some entity unknown to me and my mom.

Anonymous said...

Muffy,
Do you know who owns L.L. Bean?

Paul said...

My guess would be a Chinese conglomorate.

Anonymous said...

@Paul - I am sure that is McCormick's exit strategy. For now I believe it is privately held by members of the Bean family.

Anonymous said...

Really? Bean family members would let the legacy of L.L. Bean stumble about?

Chinese ownership makes more sense.

Muffy Aldrich said...

"Founded in 1912 by Leon Leonwood Bean, LL Bean is now controlled by his descendants."

Source: http://www.privco.com/private-company/ll-bean

P.J. said...

It is so very sad that another icon has gone away in the hearts, minds and souls of so many. But, thank you Muffy for your "List of Companies on My Radar". We at least have a new guide for quality clothing.

RontheSailor said...

For years all my everyday clothing was from L.L. Bean. Then quality started to be an issue, and 'Signature" became a sad joke of pretense. The last order I received from L.L. Bean was for boat shoes. Shockingly, straight from the box the left shoe and right shoe were of different colors. One saddle brown, one a much darker chocolate brown. Made in El Salvador. Maine boat shoes! Very deceptive. I gladly pay for quality and will. Just not from L.L. Bean.

Anonymous said...

The link to the article about the individuals behind Signature is very telling.
One woman says she is urban. One man could not be photographed wearing any type of L.L. Bean khakis, (wearing another brand that at least is made in the USA). They all wear a hodge-podge of clothing brands. But the best is the guy splayed out in a chair proud of providing a crotch shot for all. This is the face of L.L. Bean today!
These folks do marketing?? No wonder Bean has lost so many long time, loyal customers! A real disconnect with the past. It aint what is used to be or could be today.
Thanks for letting me put in my two cents.

Julie said...

Dear Muffy,
An interesting blog. Thank you! I too mourn the direction L.L. Bean has taken in recent years. Quality and selection has suffered so much. Uninformed or ill-informed choices of what to offer. Most of it bad. They have lost so many loyal customers, yet one assumes, re-cooped losses by reducing quality and keeping price points high.

Katie said...

The article on the L.L. Bean Signature Team in Racked Magazine (subtitled-Shopping and Style Intelligence) really brings home the problems L.L. Bean has created. The copy states "Signature takes inspiration from the L.L. Bean archives..." Hummm...really? Leon Bean inspired the silliness we see from Signature?

Instead of wearing L.L. Bean clothing, Signature or otherwise, all Signature Team members elected to wear non-L.L. Bean clothing and two of the women have selected most unique footwear, again none are by L.L. Bean. Doesn't that say something? L.L. Bean is not what these employees understand nor want to wear. Even though THEY are in charge?! Prada is more their style, I suppose. And yet, these folks who obviously dislike and who avoid promoting their L.L. Bean clothing on an internet web site are in charge of the store! That is a very big problem for L.L. Bean.

What happened to quality, traditional clothing from Bean? What happened to shoes Made in Maine or the US. Go to Bean's web site and search for Made in USA. Hunting boots, tote bags, canvas chair cushions, some furniture items, waterhog mats. That is about it. Everything else is now from China, Peru, El Salvador, etc. Sweatshops with little quality control.

Jason said...

I have read most of the comments and really appreciate all of them. Such thoughts are parallel to my own.
I don't know that I can add anything that has not been said.
We know there are companies who can provide us with quality, traditional "L.L. Bean style" clothing. We can support them with our business.
One of the many relevant statements in comments concerns L.L. Bean going the way of Lands' End. And I quote;
"Coming soon to a mall near you, the L.L. Bean Collection by J.C. Penny".

Cappy said...

Yes, it seems like L.L. Bean began to lose it's identity when Leon Gorman left. About 10 years ago.
No shoe styles made in Maine other than hunting boots. No support of cottage industries. Cheaply made clothing, unreliable quality.
I felt like they turned their collective back on the history, tradition and business values and morals that Mr. L.L. Bean established as a business model.
Enough has been said I suppose about the folly of Signature.
Is there hope? I dunno. For a CEO to say he is wrong is unlikely. I guess the money rolls in since the products are so cheaply made in sweat shops and the markup is high.
Shoulda been, coulda been.
I miss the real L.L. Bean.

Robyn said...

Hi everyone,
Remember when L.L. Bean items were "Field Tested"? Who field tests the Signature line, most notably the strangest item ever, those hideous Desert Boots for women!

Anonymous said...

To the LLB people reading this, please pay attention: we hope you don't ignore our comments.

Anonymous said...

It took me a while to clue into how much L.L. Bean had changed. I thought camp mocs were still made in Maine. I was so embarrassed when my friend opened them, (a gift to him) and they were constructed poorly, with very stiff leather and although a wide size...not very wide. Quality was kind of like you find at Payless or Wal-Mart. But that is not where I shop. I want quality. I will pay for quality! The price of these camp mocs was not equal to the quality. Of course, not even made in Maine any more.

James said...

Great blog. I feel better knowing others feel as I do.

L.L. Bean on the right track?
They don't even stop at the station anymore!

Thanks

Brian said...

I hadn't checked your blog in a few days and it's amazing that the very topic you wrote about has been on my mind for some time.

Just this past Saturday, I went to my local LLB store to return some footwear. It was a pair of the LLB Signature Bean bluchers (what they call the Eastport Handsewn Blucher Moc). I had originally purchased them because they looked the most like the Bean Bluchers of old, with a true camp sole and a nicer pebble grain leather, but they were made in El Salvador and had an unattractive squarish toe. I wore them normally for about a year and the saddle stitching on the toe opened up on me. I couldn't walk my dogs without having to stop and pick crud out from between my toes every so often and the hole had grown to about the size of a lima bean.

I commented on it on a clothing forum that I frequent and I was appalled at how many people accused me of being unethical and having too-high standards for mentioning that I wanted to return them to Bean and get my money back after a year of wear, as if making a company stand by its product was a foreign concept.

In the end, I showed up at LLB with a pair of year-old, but definitely defective shoes and they issued me credit for the full price (my receipt was long gone) without so much as a sideways glance. If there's one thing that can't be faulted, it's Bean's guarantee.

After browsing for about 20 minutes, I ended up getting one of the few products that are still worth a dang: a pair of Bean Rubber Mocs. If it weren't for the Boat and Totes and the Bean Boots, I'd have no reason to go in there. Even the USA-made Waterhog mats they sell for the home (which are awesome) can be had direct from the manufacturer for a fraction of the price.

I'm ever hopeful that Bean will return to it's roots, but I'm not holding my breath.

RJR said...

No hassle returns and customer service are pretty normal across the board for most retailers these days.
L.L. Bean is just following the pack.

Anyone figured out who they are following with the Signature lineup? It perplexes me. I would guess "high fashion" of some sort. My daughters don't want it. My wife does not want it. My 72 year old mother doesn't want it. I don't want it. My girls used to howl with laughter when the Signature catalog came. Now it just goes in the garbage. I miss the laughter, but they have moved on. So have I.

Elizabeth M. said...

I don't expect everything from L.L. Bean to be made in the U.S.A. But I do expect any item which mentions the State of Maine in the garment or shoe title and description to be made in Maine!! It is deceptive and misleading for Bean to imply otherwise.
I hope the maple syrup that we used to get from L.L. Bean every Christmas still comes from maple trees.

Holly said...

Hi Muffy,
I made your peach pie yesterday. It is outstanding! Thank you so much!

While preparing the pie, my thoughts often wandered to this topic of L.L. Bean.

I just read many of the comments. I agree with each and every one.

Thank you again for the pie recipe.

Terry W. said...

My wife admired the cheesecake photo on the Racked site of the creative director of Signature. Too bad he is not wearing LL Bean chinos, or much of anything else from Bean. Thoughtfully, he provides his fragrance of choice! LOL!

Obviously I would like Bean to get back to what made them viable and to regain their reputation. But who is running the store? Guys who think more of naming their cologne than wearing their product.

Great blog topic.

Anonymous said...

I agree with others: L.L.Bean should launch a modest "classics" line whose products intentionally replicate (or improve) previous incarnations of the same items -- with special focus on fabric quality and USA manufacture.

Even a very modest selection would appease the classicists and anyone interested in owning longer-lasting clothing.

Anonymous said...

The only product from LL Bean that I truly consider purchasing for me and my family are the bean boots and some of their outdoor camping gear.

Randall T. said...

A line of Classics would be nice. That may require more than the powers that be at LL Bean are willing to do, however.
Consider the other clothing purchasing options which are available to us. It may be a while before "hell freezes over", so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Indeed an L.L. Bean line of Classic clothing, well made, not trendy, made in the USA if at all possible (especially footwear) would be great.

After 10 years, at least, of damage to the L.L. Bean brand, how many customers would come back? How many would trust them to not do a "bait and switch"?

I am skeptical, but would consider giving them a chance. It is likely just a pipe dream that could happen.

Anonymous said...

There certainly seems to be an opportunity for someone with an entrepreneurial spirit to take these comments and create a product line, or to make specific referrals to existing companies with the quality's we seek via a web site. I see that Muffy has done this to some degree, but that is not the purpose of her blog, I suspect. It could be taken further. Kind of a one stop shopping site, with links to specific vendors and products.

Anonymous said...

What LLBean offers up now is the same thin, droopy, poorly-styled and poorly-stitched garbage I can find in any mall store or discount clothing shop. Too bad. I used to look forward to receiving their catalogs.

Trey said...

Nice to know others feel as I do. I am speechless. My wife will be surprised.

Anonymous said...

"A line of Classics would be nice. That may require more than the powers that be at LL Bean are willing to do, however...."

And THAT LINE of former classics is what should be given the title "Signature," not the flyaway trend stuff they're turning out under the Signature name. This is precisely what Coach leathergoods has done, ie reissued a collection of their original classics, Coach is another example of bad gone wild, UNTIL this reissue came around, obviously they listened to customer complaints and took action. At least they're testing to see if there's a reason to make a broader effort on the plain leather classics.

-Flo

Anonymous said...

Definitely not on the right track. I had a pair of Wicked Good Slippers that I wore for years and when the sole wore through, ordered another pair. Whatever the difference in construction, the sole slips around. Won't be ordering another. Also, I'd definitely pay more to see a "Made in USA" label.

Andy said...

We will see if LL Bean is willing or able to do anything to redeem themselves.

With such an investment the strangely chosen direction of Signature, it is an interesting business model. Good topic for a dissertation.

Anonymous said...

I miss the reliable ol' L.L. Bean, too. But, there are options to be pursued. Mrs. Aldrich has a chart on Preppy companies on this site. You may have to search a bit to find what you need.

We did not abandon L.L. Bean. They abandoned us.

Anonymous said...

I believe that, unfortunately, some items (women's, in particular) which were once available at L.L. Bean simply can't be found elsewhere. For instance - plaid flannel shirts in the same style, plaids and fabric weight as the men's version.

I want to address the "women's flannel shirt" issue briefly. I commented above about how L.L. Bean finally brought back the plaid flannel shirt for women, except that it is flimsy and not in the classic plaids. I'll add that it is also sort of fitted and "western" in style. It's clearly for someone who wants the somewhat current trendy look of the western-styled plaid shirt, and NOT for someone who wants the functionality of a flannel shirt. I've also complained that the new Bean's chamois shirt for women is lighter-weight than the men's, and not in the classic colors. But, one might well ask how many women want to wear traditional plaid flannel shirts, or chamois shirts? Certainly, only a tiny number, right? Well, probably a lot fewer than when I last found the plaid available, in the 1990s, when grunge ruled and EVERYONE wore flannel shirts. But I doubt it is as tiny a number as people might think.

From my comments, people might have the impression that flannel and chamois are core items in my (female) wardrobe, and as such, I am unusual and probably not a customer Bean's is looking for now. But as I mentioned, I'm generally in what I would think is a desirable demographic for L.L. Bean - 34, very well-educated, professional, with a fair amount of disposable income. And yes, I desperately want the old L.L. Bean flannel shirt. No, I'm not going to wear it everyday. I'm from Maine, but I am not a farmer or a logger - my lifestyle doesn't allow for constant wearing of that kind of clothing. Still, my husband and I own about 9 acres of land in New Hampshire, and I spend a lot of time outside even when I am at home. There are nippy summer evenings, crisp fall days when I rake leaves, fall and winter evenings when we spend time around our firepit, etc.. I would also wear a flannel shirt under a vest if I went applepicking, or maybe to a flea market, to a fall farmer's market, while camping, etc.. I do like the "rugged" look of the shirt, but I also like the functionality of the heavier-weight flannel. Not everyone has a lot of land, but a lot of professional women spend time outside in a casual pursuit, whether it's shopping, antiquing, raking a yard, shoveling snow, or just out on a walk. And of course, there are other women who will use such shirts in their daily lives.

In short, this shirt has its place in the wardrobes of plenty of women, at least in cooler climates. Maybe it wouldn't sell well. But L.L. Bean has such a HUGE offering of items now, with many being deeply discounted at the end of the season, that I suspect a lot of things don't sell well. They could at least bring it back as an experiment, manufacturing a relatively small number to see how many sell.

In college, I had a huge pile of the flannel shirts. I wish I had never gotten rid of them. Who knew that such a staple L.L. Bean item would someday not be available?

Emily said...

Yes,Anonymous@9:00, I agree. I have several 15 year old chamois women's shirts from LL Bean and a few flannels. They are very tired, but as you point out, cannot be replaced.
My daugter-in-law admired them so much I gave her two of the chamois shirts.
It would be great if Bean would bring back such items, wouldn't it!

Anonymous said...

anon @ 9:00, I agree. I am a SAHM in the PacNW. During the winter I would (and do, I wear my husband's) flannel during a lot of the days to run errands. It is warm and it stands up to being in a lot of rain. It drives me mad that Bean and other companies think that I want some thinned out pseudo-flannel that 'hugs my curves'. No, I want to be and look tidy. I don't ask for much. Warmth and a sense of modesty. At least I thought what was not much but in this day and age... And p.s. I don't want pink flannel shirts. My family is from Wales and I have yet to see a family with a pink tartan, although it would be a sight. Ha.

Carol said...

I no longer buy much clothing from L.L. Bean. They are definitely on the wrong track as far as garments are concerned.

For the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that recently, after a long search, I did purchase a piece of luggage from L.L. Bean. A huge 6,000 square inch, behemoth bag called an Expedition Rolling Duffle in bright orange. Which I need for a transatlantic ship crossing and a month in Europe this fall. I purchased for the size and I think orange will stand out from the sea of black and blue bags one normally sees.

Quality? Seems to be ok. Durability? We will see. I am hopeful that this bag, made in Vietnam, will survive the trip.

Anonymous said...

Due to good care, some of the clothing I purchased from Bean over ten years ago I still have and wear. However, it's been a long time since I've bought any more their clothing because I dislike the women's styles and colors. Unclassic, ill-fitting, hideous colors, poorly made. Their free shipping isn't even an incentive to buy.

The same goes for Eddie Bauer. I still own several beautiful parkas purchased well over ten years ago that can no longer be found. Now they have some of the trashiest looking clothes out there that wouldn't even be appropriate for Goodwill.

This is so discouraging, yet I really appreciate and agree with each and every comment above.

Billsburg said...

After reading all the interesting comments above, one thought has occured to me.

Twenty years ago, our small city had one outstanding gift shop. If you needed a gift or wanted to buy from someone's registry, that was where you went. The service was wonderful and the shop was basically the only game in town.

About five years ago, the management team changed and the long time employees retired. For some odd reason, management hired several attractive young women who look and smell good and are collectively as dumb as a bag of hammers. They don't listen, they literally cannot add 3 and 5 and as a friend said, you can look into their eyes, see the light is on but no one is home.

Until recently, the shop has been able to coast on its reputation. However, there have been increasingly negative and ugly comments about it over the internet. I have tried and tried and tried to explain this to the store's manager; I've shown him the comments and he simply refuses to understand the impact bloggers and others can have on his business through the internet.

As a comparison, I've noticed something on "Trip Advisor". We have several favorite hotels and the one thing they all have in common is a management team who responds to each and every complaint even if those complaints are so ridiculous they are laughable. Most of the time, the managers will graciously respond to glowing and good reviews but they ALWAYS respond to the negative reviews in an equally gracious manner and they obviously follow up with their staff.

In the future, I suspect the successful businesses will be the ones who follow their internet "reputation" and quickly respond to any problems which could derail the business.

What was the old ratio about complaint letters? For every one received, you could assume 100 other people felt the same way but didn't take the time to sit down and write a letter? If that's still true, then the LLB management could assume that 15-16000 people feel the same way as most of Muffy's readers here.

If you were part of the LLB management, wouldn't THAT statistic make you sit up and notice?

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Billsburg!! Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Well, well, LL Bean... as this blog's poll winds down in the final hour, we hope you've learned something from this and have learned what you're doing -- and what is going -- wrong. Unfortunately, we won't hear from you personally, or we may get some generic response. In any event, may this be your wake-up call, in case you weren't aware, that you are definitely on the WRONG track.

Thanks to Muffy for such a wonderful post and for everyone's comments.

Susan R said...

Holy Moly, what's with all the anonymous comments here?
All I have to add is this...PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE mail a copy of this post and all the comments to L.L. Bean executives and employees. It may get some reaction, it may not, but at least they know we aren't happy with the utterly pitiful direction they have gone in and still seem to be going in. They just haven't seemed to catch on to the fact that the public will look elsewhere for quality.
I'd rather buy old vintage L.L. Bean on eBay than the new stuff out of the catalog.

Anonymous said...

I wrote LLB several days ago to request that they take note of everyone's pleas, requests, and comments on Muffy's blog. Unfortunately, I received an unsatisfactory, generic response - written by someone who clearly appeared to lack customer service skills. I also called, and that individual was not much better; I was told that they've had an overwhelmingly positive consumer response to their line of clothing.

Tim_McD said...

My LL Bean purchases have dwindled significantly over the past 10 yrs, as the constant changes to fit and finish have made online and catalog purchases a crap shoot. I would also challenge those defenders of the customer service, as it too is a shadow of its former self.

The company's current policy for returns or exchanges without a receipt is to provide a credit equal to the lowest price that the item has ever been sold for. I bought a pair of their Year-Round wool trousers and the hook closure ripped within six months. I wished to exchange them, but the store didnt have them in-stock and would only offer a credit for one third the cost - as the pants had gone on sale since my purchase. That was the last straw and I ended an increasingly one-sided relationship.

For much of my wardrobe, I have switched to Brooks Brothers. They are not perfect, but on sale the clothes are about the same price as retail LL Bean, while the quality is far superior. After years of brand loyalty, I no longer buy Bean boat shoes. My last pair of Bean boat shoes lasted 2 summers and the Sperrys I chose as replacements lasted even less - I am currently satisfied with Sebago.

I like to put on a well coordinated outfit and then forget about it. Easy to do with better quality, well constructed and properly fitting clothes - and increasingly more of a challenge now that the brands that I have trusted for years become indistinguishable from what is offered in warehouse clubs.

While the desire to purchase items made in the USA is understandable; the truth is that the vast majority of the public is willing to accept the trade off of quality for price. It is hard to seek out and pay $125 (plus shipping) for a pair of cotton khakis made in the USA when the $30 imports are so widely available. Just getting an average of 2 yrs wear from the inexpensive khakis means that the higher priced "made-in-the-USA" pants would need to last over 8 years.

I will pay for high quality business clothing items (Allen Edmonds shoes, Brooks Bros shirts and dress trousers), but most casual clothing with the "made-in-the-USA" up-charge doesnt have a high enough value proposition to justify the additional cost.

It is more the pity, as there was a time where I could be decked out in LL Bean clothes from Monday to Sunday and be completely satisfied. Now I pick through the few remaining Bean items that are worth buying (and keeping every receipt) as I wander from clothier to clothier trying to recapture what used to be automatic.

Marc said...

I have a pair of the Signature blucher mocs that I bought last fall. I have worn them at least three times a week every week since I've had them. Sometimes I wear them everyday because they are such a simple all-around shoe that work in a business casual setting just as well as they do with a pair of jeans for a walk with the dog along muddy trails. They still look fine, and after a coat of mink oil and a good brushing, they look just about good as new and are still very comfortable, with or without socks.

Not bad for $70.

Anonymous said...

Marc,

Please forgive my suspicious nature. If this is a genuine comment, then that is very good to know, and I would be interested in hearing other people's experiences as well with Signature blucher mocs.
But because Signature employees have a history of submitting comments to their own review sites and to Facebook, and due to the wording of your comment that to me sounds more like copy, plus it lines up with the L.L. Bean PR official misdirection given to an earlier commenter on this post about how much everyone else loves Signature, I also have to consider the possible inauthenticity of this statement. If you are from Signature, I understand that you are asked to leave such comments by your boss, but please also listen to what I and others have said here. You can confuse the marketplace in the short run, but not the long. Don’t let this be your only response to this issue. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I was casually browsing LLBean.com the other day and came across these new items:

Women's Scotch Plaid Flannel Shirt
http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/70362?feat=607-GN1

French Sailor's Shirt, Turtleneck
http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/70214?feat=508875-GN2

It's a start...right?! Anyone ordered either?

Muffy Aldrich said...

@Anonymous 4:35 - Good eye! I just ordered the turtlenecks in the Navy/Natural and Natural/Navy. Funnily, this is not a new item. They used to make them and I still have mine, and was wearing one of them today. The flannel shirts do look promising. The weight of the material is the same that they use for their Men's (5.3 ounces), which is great. I am not all that keen on the tartans that they chose - Black Watch is better - but yes, it is a start.

spudnik99 said...

After 30 plus years, L.L. Bean is now on my don't buy list (along with Brooks Brothers, except for their PINK OCBD shirts) . I purchased a chambray shirt in 2008 that's now frayed at the collar, cuffs, and armpits after 20 washes. I have 25 year old Bean chambray shirts that are faded, but in great shape. I'd pay a bit more for better quality goods. My next round of chambray shirts will be from Dave Mercer (www.mercerandsons.com).

Anonymous said...

The New York Times article which Muffy currently mentions at the top of her page (a book review of "100 Years of L.L. Bean" at http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/06/bookshelf-100-years-of-l-l-bean/) has so far attracted two comments of the negative variety -- one directly addresses the continuing deteriorating quality issues at L.L. Bean Inc., and the other says that L.L. Bean 2.0 has nothing to do with the comapny that we all knew and loved (while also mentioning that everything is practically Made in China). It's a great American pity; but obviously, the company considers this progress. Nothing to do but look for the goods we desire at other purveyors who are willing to supply high quality, American-made products to the public that is willing to pay for them.

Ben said...

I posted a comment to the article, mentioning this poll here, but New York Times did not post it.

Anonymous said...

For all of you asking for L.L.Bean to bring production back to America are asking for them to go out of business. The American consumer has spoken with their wallets, and they have said loud and clear that they want a deal, a sale, and a lower price. A shirt that costs you $20 made in China or Turkey, or wherever would cost you nearly double that if made here in the States.

Think of what the salaries would be for those people, think of the insurance costs to the company, think of the energy costs. Add all that together with materials, and you would be paying a lot more for your clothing.

Yes it would be awesome to say "oh this shirt, MADE IN THE USA!" But honestly, how many tee shirts at $30 or $40 are you going to buy as opposed to $20? How many of you look for sales before you purchase? You want Made in the USA, but you do not want to pay the cost.

And for those of you who say I will buy nothing made in another country. Really? Look at where you cell phone, or lap top, or tablet, or tv are made.

L.L.Bean is doing what it has to do to stay in business and maintain its employee base. They are no different then Land's End, or Eddie Bauer, or any other American company. If you want something so bad, then stop waiting for someone else to do it, and open your own manufacturing center and get to work.

Anonymous said...

I'll never buy any furniture items from LLBean again.

I ordered two different lamps.

I needed an hour to assemble the first lamp, because the paper instructions were for a completely different lamp, and I eventually figured out that a major component was installed backwards.

For the second lamp, the bulb cover is screwed onto the lamp with a very small screw threading, so that the bulb cover frequently came off, and I had to painstakingly screw it back on. I eventually superglued it together.

These lamps were made in China, naturally. I understand that companies outsource production to China, but I don't understand why LLBean stopped caring about quality.

MOLLIE'S MOM said...

Bean is not on the right track at all and I'm about to send them a very long letter.
I am a conservative ( not trendy) dresser and I always loved Bean's high quality " conservative' products of the past such as a nice tweed blazer with jeans or chinos and nice blouse and loafers. Those items would last a lifetime and I didn't mind paying a little more such style and quality. But, in the last 5 years, opening up their website or catalog is like looking at any typical trendy tacky department store's fashion.
My biggest complaint today is that they have nothing in inventory to purchase except the trendy seasonal junk. I did a little research and discovered that Bean decided to downsize their staff, close some of their stores and warehouses and only keep a small supply of seasonal items in inventory. I understand that the economy is tough for everyone but the marketing firm that is advising them is clueless about Bean and the type of customer that shops there. Many of us can wear Bean's clothing year round in some fashion whether it's a polo shirt under a sweater or sweatshirt or a cotton turtleneck with shorts. Many of us travel to different climates throughout the year and like having a few coats and gear to choose from year round. Sure, there may not be a need to carry millions of down coats year round but having none available year round is ridiculous for an outdoor retailer. Yet, they have limited to no quantity of these ' essential' items. I've noticed too that many of their items that suddenly appear on their website are sold out the same day without even one review???? They have some 'summery' inventory like 3/4 sleeve tshirt that won't even arrive until late fall. They have lots of bathing suits though but most folks would not be purchasing expensive bathing suits at Bean during this economic crisis. Bathing suits are too specific and are not even versatile like polos or chinos or loafers or boat shoes.
Bean's prices are very high for the quality of product they are selling. " Free Shipping" means that they included shipping in their new pricing strategy. Did Bean actually believe that we intelligent ' Beaners' would fall for that? Their shipping for an entire order rarely ever exceeded 13 dollars and now I'm paying 10 dollars more for each item shipped. Obviously, they are making lots of extra money with this strategy! Their jeans and other pants have so much " one-way-stretch lycra spandex in them vs cotton that within a few hours of wearing them, they have stretched two sizes. Their pants are at least one inch shorter this year and not even the petites like myself can wear them. Is this their idea of cutting costs?
Their color palette reminds me of cheap retail store merchandise with those nauseating pastels and drab drab blues and greens.

When I shop at a store like Bean, I'm not looking for cheap and tacky trendy clothing. If I wanted that I would just go to Walmart for a ' Whole Lot Less'. Their competitors like Bauer and Orvis have also resigned to this same undependable cheap outsourcing.

Personally, I think Bean should fire that marketing analysis firm and refer to their old business model to attract the type of people who appreciated Bean's quality and style. I think they panicked too soon and made a horrible decision to downsize in the wrong way.

The local Bean outlet in my area closed in July and I'm truly disappointed because I could usually find older stock in there. Like another poster, I'm now scouring Ebay for older items.

Bean has also become rather defensive in their customer service and is not as gracious and easy to work with--- another redflag that indicates they have become just another typical cheap, greedy, American retailer that pays pennies on the dollar for their merchandise and sells at over-inflated prices.



SO SO disappointed. Where to shop now? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Anonymous said...

No more %50.00 shirts from LL Bean. They only last two years before I must throw them away.

Anonymous said...

I've been a Bean customer for about 25 years; usually buying shirts. The quality of the fabrics--at least in the more casual button-front shirts I buy--has declined in the last five or so years. When 10 year old shirts are still in service while two year old shirts are now trash, something's different. I'd gladly pay more for the guaranteed durability that comes with better fabrics. Not to mention being able to find, this year, what one bought last year (or the year before)--when you finally find something good.

On the other side of the coin Bean is to be praised for at least rescinding the attempted death of 'tall' shirt sizing. Not everyone in the US is shaped like a tree trunk these days.

Anonymous said...

The other day I tried on a pair of Dad's LLBean red flannel lined khakis. I am 52 and the pants predate my parents' marriage. They fit, are wonderful, and look great.

Growing up, I was allowed an occasional Bean item for Christmas. I still have some socks from when I was 15.

Once I became an adult with my own income, I bought Bean for the classic style and beautiful wear.

Since 2005(?) the quality has dropped yearly. This year, I literally sent back EVERY item I tried. I am a voracious clothes horse-LL Bean should want me as a customer. I have called, I have emailed, I have reviewed. Nothing.

Once LLBean got the box of clothes I returned en masse, they did call and listen, then credited my account. But I doubt they CARE.
Here's the big 3:
1. fabric is being made with THINNER thread. It wrinkles more and loses shape, pills and loses color quickly. The weavers need to use better, thicker thread to make the fabric.
2. Preshrunk the fabric before cutting the pattern. That's sewing 101.
3. Recreate the old styles by taking an old LL Bean shirt apart and patterning it. I want the old styles and the old colors.

I will pay more for good, US made clothes of decent fabric in classic styles. I may purchase fewer, but LL Bean will regain my trust (and more of my cash when I buy gifts)

Josh said...

Just a thought. The perennial priority of soujourning to Freeport for Christmas shopping has been noticably absent this year. Perhaps their holiday sales for Christmas 2012 will slap some sense into them.

Anonymous said...

I have been a frequent Bean customer since the late 1960s.
There is no question that the quality has dropped dramatically over the past 5-10 years.
I still try but end up returning most of what I order.
I pestered the CEO (by email) for years to add more Made in USA and higher quality items at higher price points. I was delighted to see Bean add a limited selection of Made in USA mens clothing this fall but it is too limited.
I have not found an adequate alternative yet.
Right now what works for me includes: Bill's Khakis, Robert Barakett (tee shirts), Agave polo shirts, Orvis (sweaters) and Mephisto boat shoes (harder to get; will try Quoddy this spring). I still wear a lot of my older Bean purchases.
I would love to know what alternatives your oyher readers may have found.

Peter said...

Its another american tragedy what has become of this great company... It seems LL Bean is no longer concerned of quality and long term reputation for value. Just like Sears, we can see where LL Bean is going. LL Bean needs quality intervention quick to save it!

Anonymous said...

I'm late to the party, but so glad to see it's not just me. I've been ordering from Lands' End and LL Bean for almost 30 years. I'm still wearing some of my 20+ year old simple, classic knit shirts, cardigans, skirts and sweaters from both companies. Then Lands End went quickly downhill, and in the last few years, Bean's quality has declined at a breakneck pace. I always saw these two companies as competitors, keeping each other's standards high to avoid losing customers. So it seems to make sense that once one company declined, the other would feel free to do the same.

But the odd thing is that, in the last year or two, Lands' End mail order seems to be getting better. I had completely given up on them, then they tempted me back with a nice coupon and what looked like a return to some of their classic styles. Amazingly, the quality on the 2-3 things I bought was pretty good, too - actually better than Bean, lately. Substantial fabric, well-stitched and flattering instead of flimsy, falling apart and too tight in odd places. I'm hoping this means that LL Bean will take notice and start to improve, too.

I'm also amused to see that I'm not the only one who thinks the Signature catalog is a good joke. Like a parody of outdoorsy products, made by someone who has never set foot outside a high rise.

Rockinon said...

Compared to the stuff in the stores where I live in Canada, the L.L.Bean shirts are absolutely wonderful. Comfortable, traditional styling, great colours and patterns and all at a price, even with duty added, that beats the local competition. After reading the other comments, I'm sorry I did not discover L.L.Bean years ago. If I think the stuff is good today, just imagine what I would have thought a decade ago.