Leon Leonwood Bean sold his first pair of boots back in 1912 — and it swiftly kicked him, and his pride, right back. Of the first 100 pairs he sold, 90 were returned because the leather separated, according to the Associated Press.
Rather than call it quits, his solution proved to be the launch of a venerable brand that turns 100 on January 18th: a money-back guarantee, for which he borrowed some cash and started over again, opening his iconic store in Freeport, Maine, five years later.
The outdoorsman’s genius, clearly, was in his marketing. He obtained Maine’s list of people with hunting licenses who lived out-of-state and sent them notices about the boot. Since then, Bean has done well as a catalog merchant and now online. According to the AP's report on the anniversary, the “privately held company expects to have $1.5 billion in sales in its 2011 fiscal year.”
To celebrate the L.L.Bean brand centenary, from Maine to Manhattan, the public will be treated to the sight of a massive version of the company’s hunting boot rolling through the streets this week. Forget the Batmobile — L.L. would no doubt get a chuckle from the Bootmobile, which will be parked in New York's Times Square from 1pm to 3pm on Wednesday.
The stunt kicks off a year-long celebration, including special products to commemmorate Bean's 100 years, and additional promotion on its social channels.
All fun aside, the outdoor outfitter is a tad nervous for the future, largely because of “the nation’s sedentary lifestyle,” the AP reports: “For us the challenge is people spending less time outside and engaged in traditional activities,” said company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem.
Because Bean actually used and tested the products that he sold, it initially made for a very eclectic mix of goods, such as Underwood Deviled Ham, horseshoes, and pipes, the AP points out. "He liked what he sold, and he sold what he liked," said his grandson, Leon Gorman, the chairman of the company’s board.
"When he died in 1967, we were concerned that the company wouldn't survive his passing," Gorman added. "The company not only survived but thrived under Gorman, who took over. Unlike his grandfather, Gorman is reserved and soft-spoken, but he gets credit for modernizing the company, formalizing Bean's 'customer first' policies and creating the first computerized customer database."
To celebrate L.L.Bean's 100th anniversary, there's also a collection of special-edition products, which has been, as the lifestyle brand puts it, "all handcrafted and inspired by the gear our founder used. The 100th Anniversary Maine Hunting Shoes are designed to closely replicate the very first pair L.L. built. Made here in Maine, one boot at a time, they even feature the red brick bottom found on the original pair."
Find out more about the centenary collection and marketing below, and tell us: what do you think the L.L.Bean brand needs to do to survive and thrive for another 100 years?