L.L. Bean hunts for women

Why would an industry giant like L.L. Bean launch a catalog and not endow it with the company’s 86-year-old brand? The perception that Bean’s fashion sense leaves women uninspired, for one thing. Stagnant sales, for another; Bean’s catalog revenue rose just 2% last year, to $926 million. But the outdoor gear and apparel marketer hopes its 1999 launch of the Freeport Studio catalog will counter both of these trends.

Aside from the title’s use of Bean’s Maine hometown, the catalog will make no reference to its parent company. Freeport Studio will mail in early 1999 to women on L.L. Bean’s customer file who, according to spokeswoman Catharine Hartnett, “haven’t seen themselves in our apparel.”

The catalog will feature a new line of more stylish clothes and won’t sell anything from the current Bean portfolio. Two other big-name casual apparel catalogers have spun off similar titles in recent years: Lands’ End launched First Person Singular, a catalog of tailored women’s apparel, and Eddie Bauer introduced AKA Eddie Bauer, which sells more-upscale clothing for both men and women.

If Freeport Studio succeeds in attracting women, Hartnett says it will address “one of our greatest challenges: excessive dependence on the Christmas season in previous years.” Sales of spring and summer apparel would create a second major selling season for the company.

But the company isn’t pinning all its hopes for growth on women. Bean has also committed to a revitalized retail strategy. “Our primary goal is to complement our active sports core brand,” Hartnett says. “In a retail environment, customers can try on ski boats and test-ride mountain bikes. Overall that will help us better present sports accessories.”

Bean currently has a 120,000-sq.-ft. store in Freeport, ME. Although still in the planning phase, Bean’s retail strategy will likely call for the construction of several large stores-60,000 sq. ft.-80,000 sq. ft.-in key regions around the country. The company is considering siting the first of these in New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania.

The active sports lines may occupy less space in the company’s flagship book once the new stores have opened, Hartnett says. Until then, though, no significant changes are in store for the current catalog.

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