L.L.Bean Expands With First U.S. Wholesale Partnerships
L.L.Bean is expanding from its original model of direct-to-customer catalog sales and in-stores sales with an agreement to sell its products in Nordstrom, Staples, and sporting goods chain SCHEELS, reports AP News. The company’s first wholesale agreements in the U.S. represent a push to get the brand's products in front of more consumers. The first phase started with L.L.Bean backpacks and water bottles that went on sale in more than 1,000 Staples stores two weeks ago. In the fall, L.L.Bean gear will be sold in a half-dozen SCHEELS stores in the Midwest and in 20 Nordstrom stores across the U.S.
A move into wholesale isn't unprecedented for the 108-year-old retailer: L.L.Bean inked an agreement in 2018 to sell products in Sporting Life, Hudson’s Bay and Mountain Equipment Co-Op stores in Canada. The company also reached an agreement three years ago to expand sales in Japan beyond company-branded stores. L.L.Bean remains committed to its own stores, as well, and will press forward with opening stores in select markets.
Total Retail's Take: As competition in stores and online increases, L.L.Bean is ensuring that consumers can touch and feel its products in more channels and locations than ever before. Wholesale partnerships can quickly expand the brand's physical footprint without adding to the cost of operating its nearly 50 store locations nationwide.
"It’s a smart strategy for retailers like L.L.Bean to reach more consumers without the risks that go along with opening new stores and signing long leases," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at The NPD Group. Consumers who don't live close to an L.L.Bean store will now have increased access to sample the product before making a purchase, which is sure to increase online sales of the brand's products.
Even considering the current unstable retail environment, the Maine-based retailer believes that "there’s an opportunity to expand while other retailers contract," said Charlie Bruder, L.L.Bean's vice president of merchandising. Bruder also said that the key to the company's successful retail partnership expansion was "finding a handful of retailers that share the company’s customer service philosophy" to ensure customer satisfaction at the locations now selling L.L.Bean merchandise. Dipping its toes into the wholesale market at a time of great uncertainty for brick-and-mortar retailers isn't necessarily the best timing, but considering the strength of the L.L.Bean brand, it's safe to assume this will turn out alright for the company — and its wholesale partners.
Kristina Stidham is the digital content manager at Total Retail and sister brand Women in Retail Leadership Circle. She is passionate about digital media and handles social media, video, and podcast production for both brands, as well as contributing articles and attending events. Kristina holds a B.A. in Media Studies and Production from the Temple University Klein College of Media and Communication in Philadelphia.