9 things L.L. Bean taught me

I spent nearly 15 years of my career at L.L. Bean, and consider myself fortunate to have worked a good chunk of my career at such a terrific organization. I began to reminisce on a recent visit to its Freeport, Me., campus, and decided to pen the top lessons I learned during my days as a “Beaner.”

Customer Focus
The company has many stakeholder groups, from employees to vendors, but the customer comes first. Leon Leonwood Bean’s customer service philosophy begins, “A customer is the most important person ever in this company – in person or by mail.”

Stand behind your products
L.L.’s guarantee, established in 1912, remains the gold standard today. Few companies support their products or services so strongly. Customers notice.

Do the right thing
I can’t count the number of times I heard a leader say “We’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do. Integrity was part of the Bean way well before it became vogue. And when leaders model the behavior, employees notice. Soon it becomes part of the culture.

Offer quality and value
You can buy lesser quality merchandise for the lowest price — and that works for many people. While L.L. Bean products may cost more than others, customers know they’ll last longer. L.L.’s Golden Rule: “Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings and they will always come back for more.”

Be humble
Despite its long history of success, the company culture remained humble. Boasting was frowned upon, and success was shared. Good work was recognized by others, and teamwork was a way of doing business.

Embrace change, but be thoughtful about it
The company was very thoughtful about course changes, whether that meant a new product line or store expansion. Leaders understood the importance of prioritization and tackling the most important items first.

Everyone chips in
During a long-ago visit to the Flagship Store, I spotted the store’s director on the floor, sorting hats into the correct size bin. A busy customer day had left the display a bit messy, and he wanted it right.

Treat employees well
Happy employees tend to be better employees. It seems obvious, but I think a lot of companies miss this one. As an employee, I enjoyed good benefits and a generous discount. Plus, treating people well is the right thing to do (see number 3).

Be a good neighbor
Bean gives back to its community in many ways, ranging from free summer concerts and fireworks on Independence Day, to a Road Race and countless sponsorship, particularly when it comes to the environment.

  1. #1 by Gloria Maher on October 25, 2012 - 1:01 pm

    Hi John,
    Nice post! These are the qualities that I think make a company exceptional.

    Gloria Maher

  2. #2 by Daryll Kemp on October 25, 2012 - 1:13 pm

    I share your “learnings”, John. I think that the L.L. Bean’s legacy for it’s employees and customers is CHARACTER. It has influenced us all.

  3. #3 by lhnatow on October 25, 2012 - 3:05 pm

    Hey John-so nice to see this post. Great summary and i can say, every one resonated with me and brought a smile. However, I wonder why there wasn’t anything in there about treating your cubicle neighbors well-you know, bring them baked goods and coffee from the coffee cart. Surely you learned that.

  4. #4 by Cheryl Bascomb on October 25, 2012 - 7:01 pm

    Hi John,
    Very true, even for those of us who were there for a few years (5?). Great stuff! I think supporting a culture of fitness and health falls in a number of the above categories, but also deserves a mention on its own.

    • #5 by johnlamb1 on October 25, 2012 - 7:42 pm

      Very good point. Thanks, Cheryl

  5. #6 by cheinz on November 10, 2012 - 12:14 pm

    I had never worked for a company that emphasized customer service and quality the way LL Bean did until I came to work there. It really became the yardstick for how I measured other companies and the cornerstone for the companies I started after I left LLB. LL’s Golden Rule never goes out of style.

    • #7 by johnlamb1 on November 10, 2012 - 10:09 pm

      You’re so right, Cathy. Thanks for your comment.

  6. #8 by Leslie Harkins on December 9, 2012 - 10:41 pm

    Hi, John.
    Love your post. Like you, the biggest chunk of my career was spent at L.L. Bean. I was blessed to start my career at Bean and am so thankful that I did as I took that remarkable experience with me to three other companies. So many lessons learned, so many talented co-workers and mentors… a company I was proud to represent. I left Bean in the summer of 2000 but my heart is still full with wonderful memories of all of you.

  7. #9 by Brian O'Connor on January 5, 2013 - 11:58 pm

    John, I would say that my years with L.L. Bean Inc. were some of the best working years of my life. But is it the same today?

  8. #10 by Jo-Jean on March 14, 2013 - 4:00 pm

    I apply many of these same ideas to my current reincarnation as a Childrens Services Librarian. Thank you for a great reminder!

  9. #11 by Lisa Stoddard Pelletier on March 17, 2013 - 6:26 pm

    John I love this. Having spent 25 years there myself, I can say honestly that L.L.Bean is one of a kind and a hard act to follow….Thanks for sharing!

  10. #12 by Claire Anton on September 5, 2015 - 1:02 pm

    I never saw this when you first posted it, John, but I totally agree with everything you said. Working at LLB for 17 years was the best experience I ever had. I miss being there and seeing all my many friends. The environment was conducive to caring for the external and internal customer; all thanks to the groundwork established by LL and by Leon. He will be sadly missed.

  11. #13 by Roger L. Castonguay on September 8, 2015 - 6:48 am

    There’s one more residual quality of having worked at L.L. Bean: personal worth or value. Every time I mention L.L. Bean proudly to prospective employers I feel like I have thrown in the “golden chip” into the pot. Having worked for L.L. Bean is inestimable in value, and everyone knows that. 1989-2009, retired.

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