FILE - In this March 8, 2012, file photo, shoppers arrive at the L.L. Bean retail store in Freeport, Maine. L.L. Bean officials said Wednesday, March 11, 2015, the company plans to make a bigger push into retail stores by more than tripling the number of locations over the next five years. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
FREEPORT, Maine — L.L. Bean is preparing for the largest number of store openings in the company's history, but they won't be megastores along the lines of Bass Pro Shops or Cabela's.
The Maine-based outdoors outfitter will be aiming for smaller stores, along the lines of 15,000 square feet apiece, instead of larger stores from some competitors have been opening across the country, said Chris McCormick, president and CEO.
The smaller stores are big enough to present the brand to new customers as the company opens stores in new markets including the Pacific Northwest, McCormick said.
"We're using these stores to introduce new customers and a new generation to the brand. A smaller-store format is more efficient and more productive. It has the right amount of space to provide an array of products," said company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem.
For the new stores, a quarter of the space will be devoted to outdoor equipment like tents, sleeping bags and kayaks, Beem said, and each will have an outdoor discovery school offering with access to a space for classes for outdoor activities.
Smaller stores are in keeping with a trend in which retailers aim to offer shoppers the basics in neighborhood locations while saving their full inventory for online transactions, said Wendy Liebmann from WSL Strategic Retail in New York.
For L.L. Bean, several of its first stores outside of Maine in the early 2000s were large "anchor" stores in malls, like the first one at Tysons Corner Center mall in McLean, Virginia. But the company has settled on smaller stores as its preferred option, McCormick said.
The retail push represents a change in philosophy for a catalog and online retailer that has moved cautiously when it comes to retail stores.
But it also fits with McCormick's view that the company has to be ready in all retail channels to meet the demand of customers.
With the economy improving and five consecutive years of sales growth, it's time for the company to move forward with the small-store push, especially now that retail growth is outpacing growth of the company's online channel, he said.
"Retailers have to be ready for the customer regardless of the point of contact they choose, whether it's the catalog, website, smartphone or retail store. You have to be there for the customer," McCormick said.
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