Old Boots, New Tricks: L.L. Bean Taps Into Craft Movement with ‘Small Batch’ Boots

published Apr 16, 2017
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(Image credit: Michael G. McKinne)

Freeport, Maine, is a lovely little coastal town, home to upstart craft brewery Maine Beer Co. and legendary outdoors outfitter L.L. Bean. But the two companies have more in common than just their quaint hometown.

Maine Beer’s tremendously popular flagship IPA, Lunch, still flies off the shelves in Boston-area liquor stores years after its debut. But even harder to get is Dinner, a stronger, hoppier, double IPA only released in small batches a few times a year.

Now, its world-famous flannel-clad neighbor down the road is taking a page straight out of the craft brewery playbook: L.L. Bean has been churning out its trademark waterproof duck boots for over a hundred years, but this week announced a new line of “small batch” boots — limited runs of seasonal styles to be released throughout 2017.

(Image credit: L.L. Bean)

The spring lineup essentially features classic boots in new colors, like plum or olive with orange or red soles. August brings more new colors, padded collars, and a streamlined Chelsea boot for urban puddle-jumping. But the fall and winter releases include some more interesting twists, like canvas hunting shoes (September), a flannel-lined boot (October), and the Wicked Good Boot (November) — a sure-to-please, shearling-lined boot inspired by Bean’s super-soft slippers.

And like your favorite seasonal or small-batch craft beer, the new boots won’t be available for long. “We are indeed offering these in limited quantities, and once they’re gone, they’re gone,” L.L. Bean spokesman Mac McKeever told Bloomberg.

“Creating a seasonal or limited-release item is a great way to generate demand while experimenting with new styles,” says Jason Notte, who writes about the beer industry for MarketWatch. “Just as seasonal beer can be a great gateway to a brewer’s year-round styles,” he says, a seasonal boot can introduce new consumers to the flagship product. “[But] there’s a fine line between seasonal excitement and pumpkin-spiced oversaturation,” he adds, noting that sales of some seasonal beers have slumped in the past two years.

(Image credit: L.L. Bean)

Now, L.L. Bean doesn’t really need a marketing stunt to sell its boots. Whether because of their legendary durability, their unmistakably unique style, or the fact that they’re still hand-sewn locally in Maine, L.L. Bean’s duck boots have experienced a resurgent popularity in the past few years. They constantly sell out, with a wait list as high as 50,000 backorders at one point, prompting the company to invest more than $1 million in new equipment, hire an additional 100 factory workers, and to run production in around-the-clock shifts to try and meet demand.

But when you have a devoted customer base who can’t get enough of your product, it makes plenty of sense to stoke that feverish fandom with something akin to a collector’s edition. Who knows, maybe people will even line up outside the Freeport flagship store, waiting to buy them — before heading down the road to pick up some IPA.

Or perhaps they’ll shrug off the seasonal styles and keep buying the original boots for the same reasons they always have. “L.L. Bean duck boots — with their iconic look and lifetime guarantee — are the pilsner of footwear,” Notte says. “They’re the old reliable that you come back to.”

Do you own a pair of Bean boots? Would you buy a seasonal version to mix it up?