BRUNSWICK, Maine—The L.L. Bean boot was set to hit the road Tuesday, as a giant, motorized version of the Maine icon set out on a promotional trip to Times Square in New York City.
The boot was built to help the Maine retailer celebrate its 100th year in business. In 1912, Leon Leonwood Bean founded the company with one product, a hunting boot. His first design failed, and he refunded 92 out of 100 customers their money. But he redesigned the boot and built the rest of the company around the product.
The boot-mobile was built in Florida, and started its promotional tour Monday at Bean’s manufacturing facility in Brunswick where the actual boots are made. From Brunswick, the big boot was set to hit the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, make a quick stop at a garage for an inspection sticker, and then make its way to New York.
“If you know someone who takes a size 747 shoe, tell them ‘L.L. Bean has a boot for you,’” joked company CEO Chris McCormick, to a crowd of about 130 employees.
The boot is 13 feet tall, 20.6 feet long and 7.6 feet wide. The laces are tugboat mooring laces. And while a famous giant lady resides in New York City, the boot would be too big for her, according to Bean.
The boot would fit someone 143 feet tall, 32 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, according to a Bean release.
Bean’s 100th anniversary comes as the iconic boot is resurging in popularity among younger generations, according to media reports and McCormick. McCormick said the company was on track to make more than 400,000 pairs of boots in the current year, which ends March 1 for the privately held company.
“Never in our history have we ever done that,” he said.
McCormick told the Bangor Daily News that Bean’s holiday sales were “OK,” and should be in the high-single-digits for the percentage of growth in sales over the 2010 holiday season.
The unseasonably warm weather through late fall and into early winter hurt Bean’s outerwear sales, said McCormick. And competitors ran heavy discounts as promotions over the holidays, taking up to 80 percent off goods, he noted. Bean had to respond with deep discounts, said McCormick, and while that may have boosted sales, it did affect profits.
For the coming year, Bean plans to open a retail store in Danbury, Conn., a popular shopping mecca near the border of New York. The company is also looking at opening at least two more outlet stores, though he wouldn’t discuss locations. And Bean is looking at further expansion into Japan and China, he said.
Bean currently has 17 retail stores outside Maine, and 12 outlets throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions.
It opened its first international retail operation in Tokyo in 1992, and now has operations in several cities in Japan. It opened its first store in China in 2008, and now has 30 stores in that country.
The company has annual sales of $1.44 billion, employed more than 4,500 year-round in 2011 and more than 8,700 during the holiday season.
As workers gathered outside to take pictures with the big mobile boot, they were treated to a wintry mix of gray clouds, snow and cold temperatures that had been absent in Maine until very recently. That weather suited the occasion, and Jack Samson, L.L. Bean senior manager for manufacturing, noted that there’s “no such thing as bad weather.”
“Just bad gear.”