Despite double-digit sales increases in December, apparel and outdoor gear cataloger L.L. Bean announced that it will lay off as many as 300 staffers through April. In November, the Freeport, ME-based mailer had offered an enhanced early-retirement package to more than 500 employees. As of last month, roughly 200 workers had accepted the offer. L.L. Bean employs 4,300 year-round employees.
A shift in order volume from the telephone to the Internet and last year’s closure of the Freeport Studio women’s apparel catalog were factors in the decision to eliminate the jobs. But for the most part, the layoffs are “part of our continuing efforts to improve our efficiencies in the business and put us into position to market more aggressively and reinvest in the business,” says L.L. Bean spokesperson Rich Donaldson. “We’ve been working at taking the complexity out of the organization for the past couple of years; that runs the gamut from making merchandise decisions, such as how many items we want to develop, to deciding on how many catalogs we want to support.”
L.L. Bean will continue to invest in its Internet business, Donaldson says. “We’re also continuing to take a hard look at our product line, the assortment, and our prices,” he says, as overall declining prices in the retail apparel sector continue to put pressure Bean’s operating margins.
Bean’s spring 2003 catalog, for instance, features a number of callouts promoting lower prices, a trend “you can expect to continue,” Donaldson says, “because this is a price-competitive market. Through our various surveys and initiatives around managing costs, we’ve found that consumers are responding more to lower prices these days. We need to respond to that — not to make price reductions for all products, just those that meet consumers expectations around value.”