APPAREL: market leaders – L.L. BEAN

For decades, everyone wanted to be as good as L.L. Bean. But over the past three years or so, Bean hasn’t been getting as many accolades as it used to. The $1.03 billion outdoor and casual apparel mailer has had almost flat sales, in part because by the late 1990s, its merchandise offerings were seen by some as dated and stale.

Refusing to budge from its longstanding offerings of basic apparel, Bean failed to capitalize much on the growth of the dress-down officewear market. L.L. Bean was also hurt (as were Lands’ End, Spiegel’s Eddie Bauer unit, and other mailers that specialize in outdoor apparel) by the mild winters the eastern U.S. has experienced the past three years.

But Bean has made some headway. Its Freeport Studio catalog of women’s apparel, which sells relaxed clothing suitable for work and home, got off to a good start when it launched in 1998, and is reportedly still doing well. And the company has gradually been sprucing up its overall catalog creative and is updating its merchandise selection.