L.L. Bean sees sales boom amid pandemic's push to outdoors

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Will Foster, a worker at the L.L. Bean flagship retail store, adjusts display clothing on a mannequin, Thursday, March 18, 2021, in Freeport, Maine. Maine-based retailer L.L. Bean saw the best sales in nearly a decade during pandemic. Officials say the Freeport-based retailer started its fiscal year with store closings and worries about survival but the company weathered the turbulent times to revenue growth of 5%. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

FREEPORT, Maine – With Americans hunkering down and hankering to get outdoors during the pandemic, L.L. Bean recorded its best annual sales growth in nearly a decade, the company said Friday.

The Freeport-based retailer started its fiscal year with store closings and worries about survival but the company weathered the turbulent times with revenue growth of 5%, the best showing since 2011.

L.L. Bean was positioned to meet consumer demand for both comfy items for people working from home and outdoor gear as more people ventured outdoors to ensure social distancing and other pandemic-related protocols.

“What my great-grandfather knew more than a hundred years ago was that spending time outside is really important, and that took on more importance this year,” said Shawn Gorman, chairman and great-grandson of the company's founder, Leon Leonwood Bean.

The company’s 4,600 full- and part-time workers reaped some of the benefit from the net revenue of $1.59 billion. The family-owned company’s board on Friday awarded a cash bonus of 10% of workers’ salary and an additional 401(k) contribution equal to 8% of salary, said CEO Steve Smith. All told, the company gave back $72 million to workers, he said.

Smith praised the workers who endured the crazy year.

“They were resilient, resourceful, innovative. We took care of them from a safety perspective, and they took care of our customers,” he said.

L.L. Bean benefited from two of the hottest retail segments during the pandemic -- comfort items like slippers, pajamas and loungewear, along with outdoor gear like hiking boots, fishing gear and canoes, both of which were “right in line with the consumer psyche,” Smith said. All told, the company picked up 1 million new customers during the pandemic, he said.