L.L.Bean has decided to follow the same strategy as Wal-Mart as it moves its brand forward. The outdoor retailer announced that it will focus on building smaller stores rather than huge shopping destinations. The move comes as the camping retailer strides into the digital age by offering the convenience of in-store pickup of catalog items.
The Maine-based chain's decision runs counter to what Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's are doing. L.L.Bean plans to open stores of around 15,000 square feet, with a quarter of the area set aside for outdoor equipment. A dedicated portion of each new space will include an outdoor discovery school for classes to show off products and provide camping skills demonstrations.
L.L.Bean's competitors have recently created huge megastores with destination shopping concepts. Bass Pro Shops is working on high-profile projects such as the pyramid in Memphis, a structure the retailer is converting from a basketball arena to a megastore. Other Bass Pro Shops buildings come with a huge lake to showcase fishing boats. Meanwhile, L.L.Bean has decided that a better strategy revolves around creating smaller stores in more areas to introduce new generations of customers to the brand.
Smaller spaces provide a retail location to allow customers to find basic products that sell easily, but these stores also serve as catalog outlets that allow customers to pick up items bought online. The idea is to have a place every customer enjoys, whether they like to shop in person, online, by mobile app or through a paper catalog.
The outdoor classroom idea is designed to bring in customers who otherwise would not enter an L.L.Bean store. Camping experts and outdoor enthusiasts can meet in a place geared towards the event or class they need. A community gathering space provides an alternative method of advertising simply by getting potential customers inside the retail space.
The shift in strategy is a change from 15 years ago when L.L.Bean opened huge stores. The first store outside of Maine opened in McLean, Virginia, as part of the Tysons Corner Center mall. That store provided a lot of merchandise, but not all of its products sold well. Those large outlets were opened before Internet shopping became the norm, so the change in consumer habits is part of what has fuelled the chain's decision to go for smaller spaces for convenience and cost effectiveness.
The outdoor retailer's move comes just months after Wal-Mart announced sales at its Supercenter stores had declined, while sales as Neighborhood Markets increased in the second quarter of 2014. Instead of building more huge stores, Wal-Mart plans to open retail spaces just one-fifth the size of Supercenters. These supermarkets will provide basic necessities in city centers or small suburbs giving quick and easy grocery shopping to a new range of customers with the same low prices as other Wal-Mart outlets.
When shopping apps and online catalogs let shoppers purchase items online, it makes sense to have free shipping to stores for customers to pick up items. L.L.Bean may have the right idea since smaller outlets mean customers can try on items and be sure of the fit even if they then buy different styles from the website.
Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart at Flickr.com