BUSINESS

L.L. Bean reverses two years of sales declines

A shopper leaves the L.L. Bean retail store in Freeport, Maine.
File photo | AP
A shopper leaves the L.L. Bean retail store in Freeport, Maine.
Posted March 14, 2011, at 11:13 a.m.
Last modified March 14, 2011, at 4:40 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — After two consecutive years of declines, outdoors and clothing retailer L.L. Bean finished 2010 with a 5.7 percent increase in sales, indicating skittish customers are feeling better about opening their wallets, the company said Monday.

Revenue for the privately held Freeport, Maine-based company came in at $1.44 billion for the fiscal year that ended Feb. 27, President and CEO Chris McCormick said. The year before, revenue was $1.37 billion.

After declines of 6.6 percent in 2009 and 7.8 percent in 2008, the company appears to be bouncing back from its worst revenue decline in decades.

“The last time our sales fell off that much was after World War II. So we’ve never experienced this sort of decline for economic reasons, at least not in recent history,” McCormick told The Associated Press. The company dates to 1912.

Online sales, which in 2009 surpassed catalog sales for the first time, grew 29 percent from the previous year and demand for made-in-Maine Bean boots grew 57 percent, the company said. The company also launched a Signature line aimed at luring younger customers. Other highlights included the opening of 33 stores in China.

While sales haven’t yet reached their prerecession levels, the performance was enough to warrant a 5 percent bonus — which averages out to $3,800 apiece — for about 5,000 year-round L.L. Bean employees, the company said.

L.L. Bean tracked slightly ahead of the overall retail sector, which saw 4.8 percent growth last year, with traditional retailers seeing some of the biggest gains, said Craig R. Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy in New Canaan, Conn.

Bean reported big gains in outdoor sporting equipment and men’s clothing, sectors described by Johnson as beneficiaries of pent-up demand. Men’s clothing saw a 23 percent jump and sales of sporting equipment were up 20 percent, McCormick said.

L.L. Bean has 62 stores in China, as well as 19 in Japan, which was rocked by last week’s earthquake. Five L.L. Bean stores in Japan suffered minor earthquake damage and all employees have been accounted for, said spokeswoman Carolyn Beem.

The Japanese stores account for 5 percent of L.L. Bean’s revenue, and the Chinese stores even less, Beem said. Bean also has 28 retail and outlet stores in the U.S., with more stores planned.

As for the coming year, with consumer confidence at a three-year high, McCormick said he anticipates even stronger growth. That would be music to the ears of workers who are sharing in the company’s $19 million cash bonus.

Chairman Leon Gorman, grandson of company founder Leon Leonwood Bean, described the extra cash as a “well-deserved bonus.”

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