BANGOR, Maine — Maine-based outdoor goods retailer L.L. Bean told employees this week that it will institute a cost-saving measure beginning in May that will affect three-quarters of its staff at the call center in Bangor.
All but 50 of the 200 workers at the Bangor facility will be furloughed — or let go temporarily — under what the company calls an “extended lack of work” program.
“They will remain active employees with seniority and all benefits,” L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said Friday. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to reassess in the summer and bring them all back.”
This time of year is always slow for L.L. Bean — and most other retailers — but the soft economy has made matters worse, Beem said. Last month, the company released its 2008 financial report, which showed a drop in revenue of 7.8 percent from 2007. Because the company is privately held it does not release earnings num-bers, but the revenue decrease was only the third since 1960.
The company also announced last month that it would consider other cost-saving measures, including potential layoffs, although none has been announced so far. L.L. Bean has offered incentives to some employees for early retirement but that program will end later this month, at which point involuntary layoffs are likely, Beem said.
The Bangor call center was chosen for the extended lack of work program ahead of three other facilities — in Portland, Lewiston and Waterville —because Bangor was the newest call center to go online, according to Beem.
The 50 employees who will be kept through May and June will be picked by seniority. As L.L. Bean begins bringing call center employees back this summer, Beem said seniority also will determine who is brought back first.
A letter sent to employees this week from L.L. Bean’s human resources department said the company is in discussions with a potential business partner in Bangor to develop a shared facility and staff business model. Beem declined to comment on that but said more announcements could come later this month.
L.L. Bean operates a flagship store in Freeport, outlet stores in Portland, Ellsworth and Bangor, and additional locations in 10 states and Japan. The company also relies heavily on catalog sales to distribute its products worldwide and call center employees handle all catalog sales calls.
Despite the weak economy and tough decisions, Beem said L.L. Bean remains a debt-free company and is still in a better position than a lot of businesses. The company already had decreased spending at the end of 2008 and hired fewer seasonal workers than in years past. As a result, the company was able to award a recognition gift of $330 for all 5,000 of its full- and part-time employees at the end of 2008.
The Bangor call center, located at the corner of Maine Avenue and Godfrey Boulevard near Bangor International Airport, opened in the fall of 2005. The building used to house offices for Irving Oil Corp.