Quack, Quack: L.L. Bean sets up shop on campus



Lexi Nahl

L.L. Bean’s “Duck Boots” are waddling right off the shelves. The company has been reporting shortages of the popular style boot since early autumn. Now, with the fall season in full swing, the retailer continues to struggle to meet the consumer demand for the boots.  

This is the second year in a row of duck boot shortages for the retailer, whose line of duck boots are officially referred to as “Bean Boots.” Spokesman Mac McKeever told CBS News, “we are doing all that we can to make the boots as quickly as possible without compromising the quality and we are constantly looking for ways to do just that….making these boots takes time.”

The boots have reportedly been on backorder for months now, and Villanova students are taking notice. Carolyn Lowe (’18)  has only experienced one fall season at Villanova, but she quickly realized the undeniable trend. “I’m from California, and we don’t have snow, so I didn’t really know what kind of boots to get for the winter, but last year I saw that everyone has these.” 

According to Keith Smith, a “Bootmobile” Marketing Specialist who visited campus last week, these sales are unsurprising. Smith remarked that Duck Boots are the best on the market, saying “these boots are special because they’re waterproof and the leather is so comfortable. And of course, you can’t discount the fashion trend—you know, they’re very lumberjack chic.” Smith and his colleagues have been coming to Villanova for the past five years as part of the company’s “Wintervention Tour” that launched in 2012. The tour aims to market L.L. Bean products to college students on select campuses, particularly in the New England area. 

Villanova has been an important stop on the tour throughout the campaign, according to Smith. “Villanova is a campus with a student body that is relevant to our demographic that we’re marketing to,” he explained. “We want college students everywhere to know that there’s something for them at L.L. Bean so we just keep bringing our more popular products back and we’re seeing results from this campus.” 

L.L. Bean opened 103 years ago in Maine, and the company has maintained its “down-home” feel throughout the years.

According to the company, quality shoes are a product of high production standards. The shoes are manufactured from just two domestic factories (in Maine) and are hand-sewn by well-trained L.L. Bean workers. This kind of production process is both meticulous and time consuming, but the company does not plan to outsource manufacturing.

Though the company invested $1 million in labor and capital in response to last year’s shortage, Duck Boots continued to sell on the “black market” throughout the season. Certain styles were selling for roughly 3 times their retail price on eBay last year. This year, the many sizes and styles of the hot shoe are already backordered on the L.L. Bean website, and the boot black market is rising once more. Vendors on sites like Amazon and eBay vendors can expect to make some cash even on pre-owned boots this season. Still, the Bean Boot trend does not appear to be losing steam, and the company is confident in its superior product. 

L.L. Bean’s unique hands-on production process creates sturdy and lasting shoes. “LL Bean’s ‘Bean Boots’ are the original duck boot…It’s all American made and we have 100 percent satisfaction guaranteed, so if some reason 30 years from now you’re dissatisfied, we stand behind the product,” Smith remarked. 

Though L.L. Bean continues to outsell its competitors, some students have turned to brands like Sorel and J. Crew for similar style boots. Some students like Izzy Sellhausen (’18) actually prefer other brands for their perceived superior quality and comfort. Sellhausen purchased a pair of Sperry duck boots last season, remarking,“I liked the style better because the top part is leather and lined with wool on the inside so they’re warmer and more comfortable than bean boots! They have more colors and even quilted patterns now but I’ve had my brown ones for over four years because they’re just as durable as LL Bean boots and I wear them all through fall and winter because they’re so classic”

Ashley Fischer Kennedy (’16) also turned to an alternative brand. She explained, “I was looking at Tory Burch shoes and was surprised to see a duck boot style shoe. However, I liked the hunter green color and thought the fur on the top made them a little bit more feminine than duck boots. Plus, Bean Boots are much harder to get.” 

However, it is clear that the scarcity has not turned off students like Carolyn Lowe. “I tried to ordered my Bean Boots in November of last year and they were backordered until June,” Lowe said. 

Her story is not uncommon. Smith explained that the company is well aware of the shortages and has made significant efforts to increase production this fall as a result. 

According to Smith, the company has hired 60 new employees this year alone to help with production.  Lowe was successful in ordering her boots this year, but had to do so in early September to insure that she got a pair.

The boot scarcity is not hurting the retailer, for L.L. Bean expects to sell about 500,000 pairs of duck boots this year alone—this would represent a 12.5 percent increase over last year’s sales. It’s consumer demand like this that makes the boots “trendier” than ever, and despite an increasing variety of boot brands on campus, Villanova students continue to support L.L .Bean’s duck boot monopoly. 

Catherine Poch (’18) remarked, “What’s really nice about Bean Boots is you can buy ones that are insulated inside, so it’s like a built-in sock. So you can wear them when it’s cold out, and they’re so durable. I wouldn’t buy any other duck boot.” 

Smith acknowledged the steady demand on the University’s campus, vowing “Villanova is a campus we will keep coming back to.”