One thing that L.L. Bean is famous for is their satisfaction guarantee on everything they sell.  At first this may just seem to be part of a marketing ploy to credit their products as excellent quality, but I’ve seen their commitment to this firsthand.  My cousins owned a pair of Adirondack chairs purchased in 1992 which were supposed to be durable in any climate, and after owning them for 10 years they began to rot and grow fungus.  They went to L.L. Bean to buy new ones and explained to the clerk that they owned these before and wanted the same one, to which he replied that they could have the chairs for free because all L.L. Bean products have a lifetime guarantee.  This may sound like a gimmick L.L. Bean uses to add some perceived value to their products, but it is one that they can be seen upholding time after time and it represents an attitude that is relevant to “The Story of Stuff”.  In the video, Annie Leonard describes how companies are incentivized to product low quality products because it will keep customers coming back to buy more often.  L.L. Bean rejects this model with their satisfaction guarantee and therefore creates their own incentive to manufacture products that are durable and of high quality for their customers.

This introduces the other part of the video which talks about how companies increase their profits by finding ways to externalize costs.  L.L. Bean is considered to be an expensive clothing retailer by many, but this may be the result of the company charging prices which actually reflect the cost of the production of products.

Interestingly, L.L. Bean has posted on their sight a response to allegations of “abhorrent labor conditions in Jordanian facilities”, a country in which L.L. Bean has factories.  The response explains L.L. Beans complete rejection of these conditions and that the allegations do not apply to the specific factories in which L.L. Bean contracts work.

One thing I found interesting in relation to this was the wording of the company’s code of conduct which states with regard to wages, “Employers shall pay employees, as a floor, at least the minimum wage required by local law or the prevailing industry wage, whichever is higher, and shall provide legally mandated benefits.”  What I found particularly interesting here is that although the wording sounds good, the company has only really promised to either pay at the legal lowest limit, or else the industry standard.  An industry standard in this case would be the market rate, so obviously they wouldn’t have the option of paying less than that.  This reminded me again of the ways in which the video explains the externalization of costs, and it seems to suggest that L.L. Bean is willing to save their customers money at the expense of employees in their manufacturing facilities.


5 responses »

  1. […] Products Made to Last ( […]

  2. Jordi says:

    I am glad you mentioned the “Story of Stuff.” I enjoyed the way it was presented and the simplicity with which presented topics that can sound daunting like “ethically-responsive global supply chain management in brand-saturated sectors.” 🙂

    Given LL Bean’s famous replacement policy, is the product expensive? If I am going to buy a product with a long life span, including replacement form the manufacturer, then shouldn’t it cost more than chair 3.0 which will be replaced with chair 4.0? Is LL bean actually, subtly, trying to “retrain” customers?

    But, the larger, harder piece to tackle, what SoS touched on, is that the whole economy’s growth cycle depends on the constant cycle of growth. Once we all have our LL Bean Adriondack chairs, where is their growth?

  3. Jordi says:

    What did you think of the “Story of Stuff?”

    • Jim says:

      I thought the video was ok. It was certainly interesting, but I felt that she was talking down to the audience and I would have like to follow some more empirical examples of products from start to finish down the chain she described. One thing I did like was the emphasis on sustainability. I’m beginning to think that sustainability is something that needs to be addressed not just from an ecological standpoint, but across industries. Particularly I think that the financial industry could talk about how to arrange a system of incentives and regulations such that it can sustain investment in our economy without the kind of meltdown we witnessed in 2008.
      I thought there were some good points, but overall if I’m being honest I was lukewarm on the video.

      • Jordi says:

        Thanks for the feedback. They made others that are more sector specific, like the story of electronics. Maybe they avoided specific products to avoid entanglements with whoever would be featured and be less than happy about it.

        As to it “talking down,” you may already know a lot about these issues and I think they were trying to “sell” a sustainability ethos as broadly as possible without seeming anti-stuff or too preachy.

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