FREEPORT (AP) – L.L. Bean is making plans to open three to five new retail stores along the eastern seaboard in 2006 as part of its plan to grow revenues from retail stores and become less reliant on catalog sales.

The company said the rollout is also part of a strategy to introduce new customers to the brand in stores and then steer them to catalogs and the Internet for additional purchases.

The Freeport outfitter has opened three retail stores since 2000, in Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. It also has 15 factory stores on the east coast to sell discontinued or returned merchandise.

The company is now scouting locations for new stores, said company spokesman Rich Donaldson. It’s premature to say where those stores will be, Donaldson said, and the company is exploring a number of sites.

In choosing new store locations, the company is being mindful of their proximity to Bean’s distribution center in Freeport.

The company must also be attentive to its brand recognition in the selected areas. The name is most widely known east of the Mississippi River, but has strong pockets of awareness in Florida, Texas and California.

One goal of the retail expansion, Donaldson said, is to reinforce the Bean brand by directing shoppers to the catalog or Internet for items that aren’t carried in the stores. That will continue to reinforce the Maine connection that has been so important to the company’s reputation, he said.

“You’re still doing business with people in Freeport, Maine,” he said.

Bean’s strategy appears to be well thought out, according to Walter Loeb, a retail analyst who runs the Loeb Associates Inc. consulting firm in New York.

“The name is a brand that people trust,” Loeb said. “This is a way of reinforcing the brand, by letting people touch it and feel it.”

The company’s three retail stores have helped the company refine its formula on how to sell L.L. Bean-brand merchandise outside its catalogs.

The company discovered over time that the stores, which are located in upscale neighborhoods near metropolitan areas, needed a higher density of merchandise than initially offered, Donaldson said.

The company also found it must be more aggressive with in-store promotions, and with speeding the turnover of products to give shoppers fresh reasons to visit.

Bean also concluded that its 64,000-square-foot store in Tysons Corner, Va., is less productive and harder to manage than stores in New Jersey and Maryland that are half the size. Its flagship store in Freeport store is 120,000 square feet.

“We’ve learned a lot about how different retail is from being a direct merchant,” said Donaldson.

AP-ES-10-15-04 1120EDT



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