L.L. Bean reports flat sales in tough year for retailers

FREEPORT, Maine — Outdoors specialty retailer L.L. Bean on Friday reported flat sales in 2015, which was a tough year for the retail industry, especially clothing retailers, officials said Friday.

Revenue hit $1.6 billion for the family-owned company’s fiscal year that ended Feb. 28, CEO Steve Smith told workers in a memo. The disappointing news that the company missed its growth goals came after five consecutive years of sales growth.

The 104-year-old company in Freeport “performed well given a challenging retail environment,” Smith said Friday in a statement.

Warm weather in the critical fourth quarter was particularly tough on apparel retailers, and many of them resorted to steep discounts on winter clothing.

“The fact that L.L. Bean is even with where they were last year is a strong result compared to many of their peers,” said Dan Hess, CEO of Merchant Forecast, a New York-based independent research firm. “Flat is good in this environment.”

Despite missing sales targets, the board approved a modest bonus for its 5,900 year-round workers. The bonus amounts to 3 percent of wages, or about $1,000 for the typical full-time, hourly worker, said company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem.

Smith told workers that the company has no plans to back away from investments in 2016 on business transformation efforts, including retail expansion and web development. The company is in the midst of a $150 million, multiyear investment, Beem said.

Last year, the company announced plans to more than triple the number of retail stores, with a goal of reaching 100 stores within five years, and that effort remains on track, Beem said.

Stores opened in 2015 in Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Virginia; and Leawood, Kansas. Store openings will accelerate starting in 2016, she added.

The past year was a time of big change at Bean. Smith, who was hired in November, is the first person from outside the company to be hired as CEO. The year also marked the passing of Leon Leonwood Bean’s grandson, former president, CEO and chairman emeritus Leon Gorman.

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