Signaling a better bottom line, L.L. Bean to award holiday bonuses

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L.L. Bean will award holiday checks to employees this year, an indication that the Freeport retailer is emerging from a tough financial year.

The company has seen an increase in sales this fall, a spokeswoman said, prompting executives to revive the holiday bonuses, which were suspended last year.

The gifts range from $35 to $165 and are a small fraction of the annual bonuses that Bean workers can pocket if the company does well at the end of its fiscal year. Still, the return of the holiday checks is a welcome sign in a year when the company reduced its workforce and repealed its legendary return policy.

The checks will be distributed next month. Amounts depend on whether workers are seasonal and part-time, or full-time and year-round, said Carolyn Beem, the company spokeswoman.

The gifts cap a tumultuous year for the company, which in February ceased its open-ended return policy, citing abuse of the no-questions policy by some customers. In March, the company reported flat sales for 2017 and the board determined there would be no annual bonuses for workers.

The company also decided to cut 100 jobs as part of an overall reduction in force of 10 percent that was achieved primarily through early retirement incentives.

The resumption of the holiday bonuses doesn’t guarantee the company’s decision on annual bonuses, which is still four months off.

But it does reflect an upturn in sales last month that renewed optimism for the holidays, said Stephen Smith, Bean’s president and chief executive officer.

“October really popped,” Smith said, noting that the sales of light outerwear were particularly strong.

He said that reflected Bean’s new marketing effort, highlighting outerwear with its “Be an outsider” slogan.

Bean boots are continuing to post strong sales, Smith said, and flannel, fleece products and fleece sweaters are selling well. All of those items indicate robust holiday sales, he said.

“Flannel is really rocking it,” said Beem of the October sales.

The resumption of the holiday bonuses doesn’t guarantee the company’s decision on annual bonuses, which is still four months off.

But it does reflect an upturn in sales last month that renewed optimism for the holidays, said Stephen Smith, Bean’s president and chief executive officer.

“October really popped,” Smith said, noting that the sales of light outerwear were particularly strong.

He said that reflected Bean’s new marketing effort, highlighting outerwear with its “Be an outsider” slogan.

Bean boots are continuing to post strong sales, Smith said, and flannel, fleece products and fleece sweaters are selling well. All of those items indicate robust holiday sales, he said.

“Flannel is really rocking it,” said Beem of the October sales.

Smith also said the layoffs and early retirement incentives shrank the company workforce enough and he doesn’t anticipate more reductions in the employee headcount.

“We did what we needed to do and it was tough,” Smith said, but workers have responded to Bean’s internal slogan for the year: “stabilize and perform.” Smith spoke Wednesday from Wisconsin, where he was touring a recently opened store.

He said it was an early start to an annual “holiday roadshow” to get a sense of what’s going on in the marketplace.

A group of 27 managers and employees breaks into four teams that visit 39 stores in three days, he said. The entourage, which includes people in marketing, finance and other departments, is a way to prepare for the key holiday sales period and get an early read on customer preferences. “You pack them into a van and hit as many stores as possible,” Smith said of the four teams.

Bean is privately held and typically only reports a small amount of financial data publicly.

Smith said in March that net sales in 2017 were $1.6 billion, slightly below the year before.

LL Bean giant boot located at the flagship store’s entrance in Freeport. (AP file photo)

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