By Craig Patterson
U.S.-based outdoor specialty retailer L.L.Bean has unveiled its first Canadian storefront, and it saw lineups of excited shoppers on its opening day last week.
Canadian distributer The Jaytex Group says that it could open as many as 20 L.L. Bean stores in Canada in the coming years. L.L. Bean has also partnered with retailer Hudson’s Bay to operate L.L. Bean branded shop-in-stores, with more than 50 of them either open or in the process of being merchandised. L.L. Bean is also currently distributed in Sporting Life, and MEC stores, while also operating a new a direct-to-consumer e-commerce site as L.L. Bean blitzes the market ahead of the busy fall shopping season.
L.L. Bean’s first Canadian store is located at Oakville Place in Oakville, which is an affluent community located between Hamilton and Toronto. The L.L. Bean store spans just over 14,000 square feet in a retail space formerly occupied by upscale Toronto-based grocery chain Pusateri’s Fine Foods. The popular ‘Bootmobile’ was on hand to greet the store’s guests at the grand opening.
The Oakville Place store features branded hunter green signage both on its rounded curved exterior, as well as from its interior mall entrance. Flooring is of light wood that contrasts with dark fixtures and wood slat ceilings. The space appears modern yet ‘outdoorsy’ as per the photos supplied for this article by George Pimentel.
L.L.Bean partnered with Toronto-based distributor The Jaytex Group on the Canadian expansion, including L.L.Bean’s current wholesale distribution as well as a retail expansion. Privately-owned Jaytex Group was founded in 1978 and features a portfolio of private label and lifestyle brands licensed in Canada.
Howie Kastner, President of Jaytex Group, told Retail Insider that the company plans to have shop-in-shop L.L.Bean stores in every Canadian Hudson’s Bay location by next spring and will expand to about 20 standalone stores in the country within 10 years.
Mr. Kastner explained that Jaytex had worked out a deal with Hudson’s Bay where the best of L.L.Bean products in all categories would be sold in self-contained branded shops ranging from 300 square feet up to 2,000 square feet. Recent social media posts from J2 Merchandising have showcased some of these displays.
“The Hudson’s Bay locations that we’re rolling out this fall will cover the top 57 stores from coast to coast right from the flagships in Toronto, Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver down to mid-size and smaller stores,” he said. The brand is also now available on thebay.com.
Mr. Kastner told Retail Insider journalist Mario Toneguzzi, “Ultimately our plan is to get to 20 standalone stores within a 10-year period and it’s really all going to depend on getting the right locations, the right deals, and the right space. We’re going to focus on Ontario first by opening four or five stores, and then start to branch out across the country. We have the postal code data from L.L.Bean from their online and catalogue business. We know where the L.L.Bean customer is.”
“We’ve historically had an active and loyal customer base in Canada,” said Steve Smith, President and CEO of L.L.Bean. “Developing a true omnichannel presence that includes a wholesale component, as well as new brick and mortar retail stores and a dedicated Canadian website will give our Canadian customers a better overall L.L.Bean experience and make it much easier to shop in the channel that’s most conducive for them.”
Family-run L.L.Bean was founded by Leon Leonwood Bean in 1911 when he developed the brand’s flagship product, the Maine Hunting Shoe, which combines rubber bottoms with leather uppers to ensure one’s feet remained dry while hunting. L.L.Bean was officially founded in 1912 and has been in business for nearly 107 years.
The company’s original Maine flagship complex has been open since 1917, spanning 220,000 square feet and is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The motivation behind L.L.Bean’s always-on hours was to accommodate visiting sportsmen who would drive all night and wanted an early start the following day. The store has been open continuously since 1951.
L.L.Bean also operates 41 locations across the United States as well as 10 outlet stores. L.L.Bean opened its first international location in Tokyo, Japan in 1992 and manages 28 stores and outlets in that market. The outdoor retailer hosts special events like clinics and demonstrations in all of their stores throughout the year.
About 75% of L.L.Bean’s manufacturing is overseas, much of it in China. The company’s signature boots and other products are still manufactured in the United States, however, producing about 600,000 pairs of boots annually at its factories in Maine.
L.L.Bean’s retail outlets feature education programs and activities where customers can sign up to participate in various outdoor activities such as archery, clay shooting, fly casting and sea kayaking, with all equipment and instruction provided.
Oakville Place is managed by landlord RioCan. The enclosed shopping centre spans more than 460,000 square feet with almost 2,300 parking spaces. The population within 10 kilometres of the centre is in excess of 335,000 people boasting an average household income of nearly $150,000, according to RioCan marketing materials, with a median age of 42.
Competitors for L.L.Bean in Canada include retailers like: Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, SAIL, and MEC. It will be interesting to track the Maine retailer’s journey in the Canadian market, especially following reports of combined Bass Pro and Cabela’s stores on the horizon.
L.L.Bean is the latest international brand to enter the Canadian market by opening stores. In 2017, Canada saw more than 50 brands open standalone stores or concessions, and last year, we tracked more than 30 entrants. This year is shaping up to be similar as retail becomes more global and brands look to Canada to drive growth.
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd. Email Craig: email@example.com