We’re back with the second part of our interview with Guaranteed to Last author, Jim Gorman. In the first part of our interview, Jim shared his discoveries in authoring Guaranteed to Last. In today’s post, Jim describes his own experiences growing up with L.L.Bean and exploring the outdoors.
L.L.Bean was founded upon the idea that time spent in the outdoors adds value to people’s lives. As an outdoorsman yourself, what is it that inspires you to get outside?
Quiet. Getting far removed from man-made things and all the urgencies of modern life gives me time to think and gain perspective on life. I’ve been in harsh and awesome places where I was just a transient speck on the landscape. In that context, my worries and concerns seem laughably trivial. Those places existed a long time before I came through and will do so for a long time after, sensible people willing. I find that both humbling and uplifting.
In all the time you spent at L.L.Bean did you develop an affinity for a specific product?
I have a serious jones for the Field Coat – cotton-lined, saddle color. But that affinity predates me writing the book. It goes way back to college days when more than a few guys and even a few girls wore one. Those coats were invariably frayed and faded, and seemed to have stories to tell that might possibly involve having been hunkered in a duck blind in predawn hours or walking a fine Irish setter on the beach at Marblehead on a crisp autumn day. Little did I know how many repeated trips through the washer and diligent rubbing on concrete it took my classmates to achieve that “history” instantly. In our book, I go into extensive detail about the colorful background of products like the Field Coat (read chapter 3!). That only made me want one worse. Everything about the Field Coat – the gusseted shoulders, tawny color, tough fabric weave, tagua nut buttons – served a purpose for the upland game hunter. That it looks casually cool is mostly accidental.
What would you say is your favorite way to spend time outdoors?
I’m big into backpacking. I love its raw physicality and how it forces you to be self-reliant. Probably only wilderness canoeing can get someone as reliably far away from civilization as backpacking.
A big part of our 100th anniversary celebration is asking our community to share their L.L.Bean stories with us. Would you share your favorite L.L.Bean outdoor moment?
I own an L.L.Bean Double Cross tent, which I took with me while canoeing with a Boy Scout troop on the upper Delaware River dividing Pennsylvania and New York. I was writing a story for Boys’ Life Magazine. Our first night, spent at a private campground, was truly the worst night I’ve ever spent in the outdoors: people partying loudly until dawn, music, and then a freight train screeched through right nearby in the dead of night. Everybody was exhausted the next day. That next night, though, we found an ideal, riverside spot in a quiet park. It was only us. The kids ranged far and wide through the woods playing capture the flag, then we sat around the fire making s’mores, telling ghost stories, and looking at the stars. I never slept so well in my life.
Finally, having spent time getting to know L.L. and the people he has inspired to continue his work, what is your favorite “L.L.Bean-ism”?
For someone who came to his life’s calling in middle age, L.L. knew his mind. More than once in the early years he was known to have said, “I do not consider a sale complete until goods are worn out and customer satisfied.” The success of the company is owed to that straightforward sentiment. It led logically to the 100-percent, no-questions-asked guarantee that became a cornerstone of Bean’s incredible growth and the undying devotion of its customers.