Behind the Scenes with Jim Gorman on Guaranteed to Last

Recently, we sat down with Guaranteed to Last author, Jim Gorman, to talk about his experience writing L.L.Bean’s centennial story. As an avid outdoorsman and lifelong fan of L.L.Bean, Jim had dozens of his own outdoor stories to share with us.


Credit: Patrick Snook, Photographer

Jim Gorman, Author of Guaranteed to Last (Credit: Patrick Snook, Photographer

How did you approach the writing of this book?

L.L.Bean played a huge and slightly mythical role in the town I grew up in New Jersey. We were prepped out long before the rest of the nation was swept by the Preppy Boom in the early ’80s. Norwegian Sweaters, “duck boots,” Fair Isle Sweaters, and down vests were vital parts of our uniform, and Bean was the purveyor. In those pre-mall, pre-internet days, shopping for clothes involved a degree of difficulty hard to imagine today. When the L.L.Bean catalog arrived in our mailbox, it incited squabbling between my siblings and me. By the time the catalog got to me, it was dog-eared and marked with emphatic ink circles. For this child of the suburbs, the L.L.Bean catalog inspired dreams of snowshoeing through a blizzard to a log cabin in the Maine Woods while warm and snug in that mackinaw jacket I just had to have.


You spent a lot of time exploring L.L.Bean’s facilities in Maine while doing research for Guaranteed to Last. What were your impressions of the facilities and the people who work in them?

I think a lot of people would be very surprised to see how big an operation L.L.Bean really is. I was in one distribution center so incredibly large it reminded me of that scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark where a forklift tucks the ark away in this giant vault of a warehouse. The employees of Bean are, and always have been, the company’s best asset, from the superhelpful women and men who handle phone orders and customer problems, to the dedicated creative and design staff who devise the clothes and gear that appear in the catalog. I kept hearing time and again from employees about the customer. How can we anticipate the customer’s needs; how can we make their experience fully satisfying?


What is it about the culture of L.L.Bean that has made its customers so loyal?

Out of all the many hundreds of letters, emails and tweets I’ve read that were sent in by customers dating back at least 70 years, two themes emerge: constancy and decency. The constancy part comes from L.L.Bean selling heritage products like the Chamois Shirt, Maine Hunting Shoe, Boat and Tote, and many others year in and year out. When the rest of the world is changing by the minute, that kind of dependability means a lot. Of course, as we discuss in the book, those heritage products, including the venerable Maine Hunting Shoe, have been subtly updated. To Beaniacs, though, those heritage products are links to their own past and to simpler times. The decency part of the loyalty equation pertains to the Bean guarantee and the unspoken pact ­ based on mutual trust ­ that binds each customer and the company. Oh, and one other thing that breeds loyalty: Bean employees are so damn nice and helpful.


Can you share with us some of most interesting discoveries you made about L.L.Bean during your research?

For starters, that the “L.L.” in L.L.Bean was a real, live and most remarkable man. L.L. was part sage, part huckster. He knew his customers’ desires and aspirations and matched that knowledge with an uncanny merchandising sensibility. For all of his focus on hunting and fishing, the man had a real notion for what was unaffectedly stylish. How else can you explain the Blucher Moccasin or Ladies’ French Sailor Shirt? The other interesting discovery was just how close the company came to going belly up or being purchased during L.L.’s later years. It took the restless mind and native business sense of L.L.’s grandson, Leon Gorman, to rescue the company and put it on the path to becoming the $1.4-billion company it is today.


Can you tell us what your favorite L.L.Bean product is and why?

I own many Bean products but my favorite is no longer in my possession. My mom got me a Zipper Duffle when I went away to college. Mahogany colored canvas, bands of green reinforcing, and leather handles and leather piping, that baby looked like something Jay Gatsby would toss into his roadster. That bag and I went everywhere: the beach, the mountains, my first cross-country road trip. Somehow the Zipper Duffle and I got separated, probably in the midst of moving from one post-college group house to another. Bean built the Zipper Duffle to last and last, so I know mine is out there still traveling. Come back.


Check back in the coming weeks for Part 2 of our chat with Jim.

  1. PaPa Craig | January 23, 2012 | 6:42 pm

    In the early ’90’s I had purchased a Magellan handheld GPS and was planning to use it on my next Michigan North Woods Deer Hunting Trip. I was packing my duffle bag for the trip and tested the GPS unit and it was dead. Changed batteries and it was still dead. I called Magellan to see about getting it repaired or replaced and was told to send it to them and they would decide then what to do. I took a chance and called LL Bean from whom I had purchased the unit 8 months earlier. I was told not to send it to the manufacture but they would send me a brand new unit and upon arrival to send the not working unit in that package and they would credit my account. I explained that I was planning to leave the next day for Deer Hunting Camp and I was told if I could fax them a map of our camp, they would UPS the unit to our camp in the North Woods. I explained that was not really necessary so they then offered to Air Freight Next Day Air for speedy arrival. I received the new unit shortly after noon the next day. I was elated and so appreciative of the effort but forth to accommodate my trip plans. I knew LL Bean was a good company but now I knew they were a Great Company and they stood behind their warranty offer of it is warrantied until the last time you use it. I have shopped there since first seeing a catalog at work one evening in the middle ’80’s. The quality of products, tall sizes, and the professional staff of helpers continue to bring me back time and again, year after year. My favorite place to Christmas shop is from my leather recliner with a fire in the fire place and a hot beverage for family and friends is LL Bean. I know the merchandise will arrive on time as promised and the quality will satisfy all who receive the gifts wrapped in a green bag or box with a red or white bow.

  2. Deborah | January 23, 2012 | 9:02 pm

    Hi, Jim,

    I’m curious how you were matched up with LL Bean to write the book. I look forward to purchasing a copy!



    • Sara | L.L.Bean | January 24, 2012 | 5:34 pm

      When we decided to write L.L.Bean’s centennial story, we set out to find an author who shared the same enthusiasm and love for the outdoors as us. When we met Jim, we felt that from his great experience, vast knowledge of the outdoors, and wonderful writing style, he’d be the right guy for the job. Of course, we also loved that he shares his last name with our chairman and L.L.’s grandson, Leon Gorman. It was meant to be.

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