Today we’re going to look at how a young man who couldn’t hold down a steady job and couldn’t get his mind off of hunting and fishing turned his passion into a business and would later be called one of the Top Ten Entrepreneurs of the 20th Century by the Wall Street Journal. This is the story of L.L. Bean and the top 3 lessons that you can learn from his success.
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My name is Evan Carmichael and I believe that the fastest and most effective way to build a business is to model the strategies of people who have already done what you’re trying to do. I call it Modeling the Masters.
“Sell good merchandise at a reasonable profit, treat your customers like human beings, and they will always come back for more.” – Leon Leonwood Bean
Leon Leonwood Bean (November 13, 1872 — February 5, 1967) was an inventor, author, outdoor enthusiast, and founder of the company L.L.Bean. As a young man, Bean couldn’t hold a steady job and drifted from place to place. He would much rather be out hunting and fishing than working for someone else. After a series of outdoor expeditions, Bean returned home with his feet soaking wet because there wasn’t a good shoe that could keep them dry. He set out to solve the problem by visiting a local cobbler and creating a new shoe for outdoorsmen. He called it the Maine Hunting Shoe.
Bean got a list of hunting license holders, set up shop in his brother’s basement, and drafted a letter to be sent by mail to his list. Bean wrote: “Outside of your gun, nothing is so important to your outfit as your foot-wear. You cannot expect success hunting deer or moose if your feet are not properly dressed.” The letter was a success and he sold 100 pairs only to have 90 of them returned because they broke apart. Bean refunded his customers the money, took out a loan to modify the design and began selling again.
By the time Bean died in 1967, company sales had passed $4 million per year and the Wall Street Journal named him one of the Top Ten Entrepreneurs of the 20th Century. Today, with over $1.7 billion in annual sales, L.L. Bean remains one of the most successful family-run businesses in the U.S.
Action Item #1: Care for Your Customers
Action Item #2: Be Your Target Market
Action Item #3: Network
When Bean first threw away the keys to his store and invited hunters and fishermen to come visit the store whenever they wanted, he installed a late night bell to allow people to ring for assistance. Customers who arrived late at night would see the bell and a sign that read: “Push once a minute until clerk appears.” Pushing the bell would bring a watchman and often even Bean himself to come help the customer, no matter what time of day it was.
“Above all, we wish to avoid having a dissatisfied customer.”
“We consider our customers a part of our organization, and we want them to feel free to make any criticism they see fit in regard to our merchandise or service.
“A customer is the most important person ever in this office — in person or by mail.”
What Do You Think?
What do you do for your customers to show that you care? How have you become a part of your target market to create new products and services? What part of L.L. Bean’s message impacted you the most? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts if you leave a comment below!
To learn more check out my list of LL Bean articles at
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