For as long as anyone at Capel Rugs or L.L.Bean can remember, our two companies have worked together. As my friend and colleague Jennifer Benevides, L.L.Bean’s Corporate Merchant Manager, says, “The companies are like cousins. We carried Capel braided rugs before we even had a Home Department.”
I got on the phone recently with Jennifer to reminisce about our long-standing company relationship, talk about what has made L.L.Bean such an enduring company, and to get some ideas for how to make our own Centennial Jubilee meaningful and fun.
Jennifer Benevides, L.L.Bean, Corporate Merchant Manager
L.L.Bean celebrated their 100th Year Anniversary in 2012 with a huge celebration. Capel Rugs turns 100 in 2017.
The similarities in history and business ethos are striking between Capel Rugs and L.L.Bean. We are both still U.S.-based, family-owned, and committed to a high-level of customer service.
What’s the story behind the success of L.L.Bean?
Leon Leonwood Bean founded L.L.Bean in 1912 with a vision for providing the ultimate hunting boot to Maine hunters. He solicited the help of a cobbler and purchased the nonresident Maine hunting license list to get started. In no time, he’d sold 100 pairs. But the design was yet to be perfected, and 90 pairs were sent back.
While his first attempt at creating a comfortable boot that would keep feet from getting wet failed, Mr. Bean did not give up. He kept his word to refund the cost and went back to the drawing board.
How we respond to failure really defines our future. Everyone will fail at some point. You’ve got to learn from it and move forward. Mistakes are how we learn.
Mr. Bean’s now famous quote is still what company employees live by:
“Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings – and they will always come back for more.”
Throughout his life and the entire history of the company, L.L.Bean has focused on high-quality products backed by excellent service.
Talk a little about what it takes to be a vendor partner to L.L.Bean.
We work with companies that share our commitment to the highest levels of quality and customer service. We may be demanding, but it’s because we do not want to disappoint customers. Many suppliers just can’t meet the standard.
Made in America is a big deal to us, and when we can find partners that meet our demands and have U.S. operations, we look for ways to work together.
Our customers have an expectation that if we sell a product, it’s been thoroughly vetted. We’ve tested it in our lab and decided it’s good enough for our customer. We have a 100% satisfaction guarantee on all the products we sell. If a customer is not satisfied with the performance of a product, we take it back.
It’s the L.L.Bean world class guarantee.
Capel makes the best braids, still, which is why we have an exclusive 100 percent wool, heavy-duty construction braided line with you. The braids are something that can be moved around the house; they’re multi-purpose and so durable. Young people into heritage-like rugs still resonate with the L.L.Bean-Capel braided rug.
The Capel braid is a classic. It’s like the Oxford shirt; its popularity might go up and down, but it never goes out of style.
How did L.L.Bean celebrate their centennial?
We used the entire anniversary year to talk about our history and who we are as a company, then and now, in our catalogs and online.
The 100th anniversary was something special locally as well as nationally. If you live in Freeport, Maine, you know L.L.Bean; the company has touched your life. Many residents work for L.L.Bean.
The company sponsored a huge festival in Freeport. It was an all-day event with music, arts and crafts, and food for the community as well as visitors. Local nonprofit groups like Lions Club and 4H sold food. Many of our employees volunteered to help out. We also contributed to the development of a local fields and trail project, a statewide program focused on getting kids in the outdoors, and the National Park Foundation.
For us as employees, working here means you are part of something bigger than yourself. The high level of values rubs off on you.
How is the family involved with L.L.Bean?
Many members of the family work in the business as well as participate on the board and are involved in the charitable giving program of the company.
Long-time president and grandson of ‘L. L.” Leon Gorman initiated the stakeholder philosophy as the way of doing business, which states that the company purpose is to add value to the lives of people who have a vested interest in L.L.Bean. Leon demonstrated his care for our employees and that commitment lives on.
The family has never been boastful about what they do, but people in Maine know what they are about and how much they have given back.
Leon Gorman was a well-respected leader in the community. After retiring, he volunteered at the local soup kitchen. The story goes that after his shift, he would clean the place to perfection, even getting under the stove. When asked why, he told people, “If you do a job, you gotta do it right.”
We at Capel Rugs look forward to celebrating more milestones with L.L.Bean.
The synergies and relationship between the two companies are remarkable. The thread that binds us is a commitment to customer service and high-quality standards for products.