2016-11-29 / State/Regional

L.L. Bean ramps up boot production

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LEWISTON (AP) — L.L. Bean is kicking it up a notch as demand continues to surge for its iconic boot.

The Maine-based outdoors retailer has leased a larger, 110,000-square-foot building and plans to install a third injection-molding machine to manufacture the rubber soles. It’s also hiring 100 more workers in the new year to make the boots.

Annual sales have grown from fewer than 100,000 a decade ago to more than 600,000 this year. The company expects to top 700,000 next year and 1 million in 2018.

A combination of form, function and nostalgia is behind the demand, said Willie Lambert, Bean’s merchandising manager for footwear.

“It’s kind of like ‘everything old is new again,’ ” Lambert said. “They’re gravitating to the past and anchoring themselves into it.”

The original leather-and-rubber “hunting shoe” was designed by Leon Leonwood Bean 104 years ago. The formula hasn’t changed — they’re still handmade in Maine — but Bean might roll over in his grave over some of the colors offered these days.

There have been red, blue, white and even purple versions in recent years. And the new manufacturing capacity that will come online in the new year will provide greater flexibility to provide funky colors, said Donna Berube, production facility manager.

The success is rolled up in a retro trend that strikes a chord both with baby boomers and younger consumers, who missed out on things such as phonographs and tape recorders.

The Urban Outfitters store in Manhattan has record players, old-school vinyl albums and tape decks in the front window this holiday season, Lambert noted. Doc Martens, Levi’s jeans and Stanley thermoses are all items that have benefited from the trend.

Currently some of the hottest-selling shoes are Adidas Stan Smith and Superstar sneakers, designs that saw their heyday 40 years ago, said Dan Hess, CEO of Merchant Forecast, an independent research company.

But retailers such as L.L. Bean should take a measured approach to growth, because it’s likely double-digit sales growth cannot be sustained over the long haul.

“There can be times when true classics become trendy,” Hess said from New York. “Teenage girls in Malibu are not always going to be wearing L.L. Bean boots, but they are right now.”

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