L.L. Bean Denies Duck Boot Shortage is a PR Game

by Ben Popken /  / Updated 

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L.L. Bean is drowning in Duck Boot orders. Again. NBC News' Ben Popken asked Bean spokesperson Carolyn Beem why, after last year's shortage that at one point was 100,000 pairs behind, the company hasn't done more to ramp up production of the iconic cold weather boot?

POPKEN: This shortage is turning into an annual event -- are you just playing a scarcity game?

BEEM: Ha - that would be fun. I can tell you with great certainty that we're not in the business of disappointing customers. We've taken a careful approach to increase production, with equipment, resources, and employee count. We brought in a new $1 million rubber molding machine, increased stitching operations, increased employee count by 100 and are increasing it even more. It's a hand-sewn item made one boot at a time. We're not willing to compromise on quality. As orders are placed, we are making them. I get the PR game, but no.

image: Duck boots backordered
A screengrab showing backordered Bean Boots aka "Duck Boots" on L.L. Bean's website on Thursday, October 1, 2015.L.L. Bean
"I get the PR game, but no."

Under classical economics there's an easy way to deal with overdemand. Why don't you just raise prices?

We have a saying that started with L.L. (founder Leon Leonwood Bean), called "The Golden Rule: Sell good merchandise at a reasonable price and customers will always coming back for more." It's a good value. It's a good product. We think it's worth the wait. We regret disappointing people.

When will the backlog clear up?

We're making them as fast as we can. We have demand projections as to which sizes are selling faster, sometimes those have blips in the run, sometimes those backlogs for pre-orders are a week, sometimes a couple of weeks.

(The site now posts projected delivery dates for back-ordered sizes.)

How long does it take to train someone to make a Duck Boot? You can't just put an ad on Craigslist.

It takes about 6 months for training for someone to be up to speed on making a boot. You can't just flip a switch and hire additional people. There is a training curve.

By not increasing production even more aren't you worried about driving customer to your competitors?

There's always knockoffs. I think the appeal of a Bean boot is that it's a Bean boot, made in Maine, backed up by 100percent satisfaction guarantee. We have lots of other boots. If someone needs a boot, there's a boot to be had.

Side question, is it a "myth" that you can essentially return any L.L. Bean item at any time?

If you're not satisfied with the item you bought, you're welcome to return it at any time. If you have expectations that your jacket should last 100 years instead of 10... it's a customer-driven guarantee.

Because of the scarcity there's now essentially Duck Boot scalpers on eBay. What do you think of that?

You got to love people that take advantage of situations on the one hand. (sighs) On the other, it's not necessary because folks that need the boots will get the boots. It just takes a little patience.

If you can't wait that long to strap on a pair of duck boots, here are five alternatives.

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