Monday, July 20, 2015

L.L. Bean: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

L.L. Bean was founded in 1912 in Freeport, Maine, by Leon Leonwood Bean, to sell a single product – the “Maine Hunting Shoe.” The company now has about 5,000 employees, and annual sales of $1.61 billion. Its headquarters is still in Freeport, Maine, and it is still privately owned. The main About Us page is Company Information.


Products/Services: A minus
The Company Information page looks at first like a raging bore: long, dense, and with headings that are less than enticing (“Current Corporate Information,” “Products,” “Manufacturing,” etc.). In fact, however, the page is great corporate storytelling. It explains what the company does, and where and why and how. As a series of bullet points this sort of information would be unreadable. It’s fascinating here because we’re given a backstory (for example, the reason behind each expansion) and provided with several engaging quotes from past and present leaders of the company.

One quibble: many people read on their phones, where it’s easy to be interrupted and to lose one’s place on a very long page. A simple solution would be to split this page into separate pages for Products, Manufacturing, etc. – with copious links between pages, so that visitors would still be guided to read them in a certain sequence. Our Commandment 6 of About Us pages is, “Honor thy visuals.” Shorter pages on a specific topics could be made even more interesting by including photos from L.L. Bean’s century-long history.

There are numerous, excellent photos on the timeline, 100 Years and Counting. It’s cleverly compiled so that reading the blurb on each decade gives a visitor a short company history. The focus is on L.L. Bean, Inc. – as it should be - but enough national events are listed to set the context. There’s even an option for customers to share their own L.L. Bean stories – a great idea. Unfortunately, during our four visits to the site, the interactive aspect wasn’t working, so we’re not sure we’ve seen all of it.

High marks to the Newsroom page, which puts company press releases front and center, but has a sidebar, “As Seen In,” with links to products featured in sources as diverse as Redbook, Elle, and Field & Stream.

A downgrade: Yes, the company commissioned a centennial anniversary book, entitled Guaranteed to Last: L.L.Bean's Century of Outfitting America, by Jim Gorman. ( was not involved with it in any way.) Alas, there’s no reference to it on the history pages. To find it, we had to enter “book” in the product search box. If you’re still selling your corporate history book, why not make it easy to find?

Personality: A
The Company History page is also long, dense, and excellent. It begins as the story of an outdoorsman with wet feet, and tells how he solved the problem with the original “Maine Hunting Shoe.” Bean’s early trials and tribulations – 90 of his original 100 pairs were returned – establish the company’s dedication to quality and customer satisfaction. This is business history at its best.

Quotes from the founder and from later leaders liven up the text, as do occasional fascinating factoids. We learn, for example, that by the 1930s, L.L. Bean’s mail-order business comprised more than 70% of the volume of the Freeport post office, and that the flagship store has no locks, because it’s open for business 24/7.

The list of awards at the end of the Company History page would get more attention if it were on a separate page, with logos, but it’s great to see so many confirmations of L.L. Bean’s status collected in one place.

In a lovely change from celebrating one’s centennial and then forgetting about company anniversaries for 10 or 25 years, the Company History page ends with highlights of L.L. Bean’s centennial year. Here you’ll find quick bullet-point references to the aforementioned centennial book, as well as the timeline—but these should be hyperlinked.

The Leadership page is top-notch. Why? Because the bio of the founder and his three successors all focus on the values that drive them as leaders of L.L. Bean, and on the results they achieved there. Even the philanthropic activities and hobbies mentioned reflect the values of the company: for example, membership in the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy. Our Commandment 3 of About Us pages is, “Reveal thy personality.” We’ve seldom seen that done better than on L.L. Bean’s site.

Accessibility: A
How many times have you flinched from phoning a company’s Customer Service line because you were worried that the representative wouldn’t be able to speak English? L.L. Bean’s Customer Service page begins with a characteristically forthright note: no matter how you communicate with the company (there are options for Phone, Call Me, Chat, Email, and more), you’ll be speaking with a person in Maine: “because Maine is more than just an address – it’s part of who we are. It’s tough winters, Yankee ingenuity and a unique character you just won’t find elsewhere.”

Your company may not have the size or the hundred-hear history of L.L. Bean, but it’s unique in who founded it, where it’s been, and where it’s heading. Make your About Us page reflect that uniqueness with great content, well told.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company, although we have been satisfied customers for years.