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A Midmarket Icon: The Story Behind L.L. Bean's Online Sales Success

L.L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon

For those with Northeastern roots, L.L. Bean of Freeport, Maine, may not be the regional icon that Starbucks is to Seattle, but it's close enough. Founded in 1912 by Leon L. Bean -- a huntsman so dissatisfied with commercial options that he crafted his own boot for sale -- the retailer of outdoor gear and weekender style grew from $4.5 million in sales during the 1960s to $1.4 billion by 2006. In L.L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon, author Leon Gorman, former president of Bean, recounts the catalog pioneer's effort to grow while contending with the vagaries of fashion, global competition and a faltering sales model.

While it was successful in the 1980s, Bean struggled by the 1990s. So it rewrote its business plan, offered new women's apparel and moved to the Web. The changes paid off: By 2005, online sales surpassed phone orders generated by catalog, and the website made the top 50 list of best retailer sites.

If your closet has ever included Bean gear, the account makes these items, and a brand, come alive with the struggles devoted to creating them. ($26.95, 288 pages)

Lauren Horwitz, former managing editor, production, for CIO Decisions, is now managing editor for TechTarget's Data Center Media Group. Write to her at

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