That’s the promise and the title of a wonderful new book by Jim Gorman about “the” icon of Maine outdoors businesses, L.L. Bean. Not only has L.L. Bean lasted for 100 years but it has shown the same resilience, imagination and strength in its business philosophy that is reflected in the character of our traditional Maine Guides and sportsmen and women who call our state home. For it was these same people that Leon Leonwood Bean decided to serve those 100 years ago. And today the company that he started still serves the present day advocates of those original customers.
Starting with the cover the reader gets a “feel” for the book with its stitched, canvas covering, reminding one of the famous boat bag, and an attached Bean label, the same that you would find in its products today.
Mr. Gorman’s 224 page missal pays homage to the company through old photos, hand written letters, artwork from past catalog covers, product innovations, and an interesting timeline that runs throughout the book that highlights timely events in American history with corresponding company history. For example, in 1924 Flapper dresses are all the rage. Ever faithful to his core philosophy and not straying from that, L.L. Bean introduces the Hudson Bay Blanket in its catalog that year.
Beginning with the humble Maine hunting shoe that turned out to be the bedrock of the company, the book progresses through time and the many successful product lines, and some not so successful, that L.L. Bean introduced. And the descendants of these successes are displayed to this day on the shelves of its flagship store in Freeport.
Of interest to me was the constant tinkering of product improvement, including the venerable hunting shoe which at first failed, but from which was born the famous Bean guarantee of complete customer satisfaction.
The reader is treated to backroom strategies and opposing opinions of company direction, early photographs of original employees and work areas, Bean’s family and friends, the introduction of the small women’s department at the insistence of Hazel Bean (and we know how that turned out), letters from presidents and housewives, and much more. All thoroughly researched and presented in a very informative and entertaining manner.
For what it’s worth, I highly recommend “Guaranteed to Last” to any L.L. Bean customer, devotee or fan. More than just a store, L.L. Bean is a Maine experience and Mr. Gorman’s book offers the reader added appreciation to that experience.