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L.L. Bean Employees Pushed To Know The Outdoors

October 12, 1987

CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine (AP) _ The wilderness guide heaved his 65-pound backpack onto his strapping shoulders, looked at the 10 people dressed in an assortment of polypropylene underwear, chamois shirts, wind-resistant pants and waterproof hiking boots and said, ″Let’s go to it troops.″

Call it a business trip. The two women and eight men who fell in behind Paul Farrington and headed for the Appalachian Trail were L.L. Bean employees becoming familiar with the company’s outdoors equipment.

They looked like a living incarnation of the L.L. Bean catalogue, laden with stuffed backpacks and armed with whistles and compasses as they headed into the mountains of the Bigelow Range north of this western Maine town.

″For salespeople to talk intelligently (about our products), they should be using it and experiencing the outdoors. So we get them out there,″ L.L. Bean training coordinator Ed Babino said at the store’s headquarters in Freeport.

The idea harkens back to the philosophy of store founder Leon Leonwood Bean, who wanted hunting and fishing gear he began selling in 1912 to be ″tried, true and tested.″

″It was always hands-on with L.L.,″ said Everett Bucklin, facilities manager at L.L. Bean. ″If he didn’t use the equipment himself, he made sure someone else did.″

Bean opened shop in what was then an isolated town in southeastern Maine with a borrowed $400 and a way to make innovative hunting boots featuring rubber bottoms bonded to leather tops. Bean promised his customers 100 percent guarantees and ″no-questions-asked″ refunds, a policy that continues.

But 75 years later, L.L. Bean has grown from a handful of avid hunters, anglers and trappers who sold a small inventory of goods to a mail order business with thousands of employees, some of whom have never seen the Maine back country.

Celebrating its 75th birthday this year, the company garnered the top spot among mail order businesses rated by Consumer Reports magazine readers, with 97.5 percent of the respondents indicating they were completely or mostly satisfied with products and service. Company sales reached $368 million last year.

″We call ourselves ‘the store that knows the outdoors.’ We want to protect that reputation,″ Babino said.

Store employees get training in activities such as backpacking, kayaking, snowshoeing.

″We pay for travel to and from a location. We pay them a regular wage to participate. We supply the equipment. All we ask is that they pay their fair share of the food,″ Babino said.

The Bigelow trip in early October was the first backpacking experience for many of the participants.

″We want to get them interested in the outdoors and give them enough knowledge about safety, gear and clothing so they’ll continue to enjoy the activities,″ saleswoman and trip leader Nancy West said.

″You get a guy out of Harvard, with his Gucci shoes and business suits,″ said camping enthusiast and salesman Christian Frahm, ″he comes to Bean with an attitude that he’s going to show everybody how to do it.″

″The next thing he knows, he’s out on an experience program dressed weird,″ he continued. ″He meets himself for the first time on the mountainside. When he comes down, his whole perception has changed. He’s become more company-oriented and more customer-oriented.″

″It’s a lot easier to give customers first-hand information. You’ve been there, you know what works best,″ said Senter Shaw, a salesman in the women’s clothing department.

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