Wednesday, November 16, 2022

#174 Bean Guarantee


Posted by Denny Hatch


 #174 Blog Post - Wednesday, 16 November 2022


Posted by Denny Hatch


Don't Let Your Lawyers

Castrate Your Guarantee



L.L. Bean, Granddaddy of Niche Catalogs


Leon Leonwood Bean (1872-1967) was a passionate outdoorsman. In 1911 he invented the "L.L.Bean Boot, made in Maine since 1912." He figured out how to combine a comfortable waterproof full-grain leather upper with a waterproof rubber bottom that keeps the foot absolutely dry.


Based on his remarkable invention he founded the business in 1912. Over the years, L.L. Bean expanded into summer and winter stylish, sturdy outdoor and indoor casual clothing and sporting accessories.


It was in 1916 that Bean came up with the simplest, most powerful and deeply personal guarantee in the history of direct marketing:



Why This Guarantee Is So Powerful
And How It Was Wrecked by Lawyers

 It's the ‘I’.
"The most important word in direct copy is not ‘you’ — as many of the textbooks would have it — but ‘I.' What makes a letter seem ‘personal’ is not seeing your own name printed dozens of times across the page, or even being battered to death with a never ending attack of ‘you’s.’ It is, rather, the sense that one gets of being in the presence of the writer... that a real person sat down and wrote you a real letter." —Richard Armstrong, direct marketing copywriter.


Okay, Bean's 16 words are not in a letter. Rather they are in the form of a simple blurb that can appear everywhere—as a small card or "lift piece" in a direct mail package or an ad in the catalog—all the way down to a label sewn onto an article of clothing. Note it starts with "I". It is signed by L.L. Bean himself, founder and owner of the business.


"Don't overlook the importance of your signature. Your signature is your handshake."

—Malcolm Decker


Danger: The Era of "Catalog Bandits"

Bean's Guarantee was operational for 96 years—from 1916 to 2018.


"A classic catalog bandit is the woman who has been invited to a formal gala evening. She goes to her favorite catalog source of dress clothes and orders three gowns. She tries them on in front of a full-length mirror and decides on which one to wear to the party. She receives compliments throughout the evening. The next day she packs up the three gowns, returns them to the cataloger for a full refund." —Bob Doscher


A Letter to L.L. Bean Customers

Since 1912, our mission has been to sell high-quality products that inspire and enable people to enjoy the outdoors. Our commitment to customer service has earned us your trust and respect, as has our guarantee, which ensures that we stand behind everything we sell.


Increasingly, a small, but growing number of customers has been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent. Some view it as a lifetime product replacement program, expecting refunds for heavily worn products used over many years. Others seek refunds for products that have been purchased through third parties, such as at yard sales.


Based on these experiences, we have updated our policy. Customers will have one year after purchasing an item to return it, accompanied by proof of purchase. After one year, we will work with our customers to reach a fair solution if a product is defective in any way. 


This update adds clarity to our policy and will only affect a small percentage of returns. It will also ensure we can continue to honor one of the best guarantees in retail, with no impact for the vast majority of our customers. To learn more, please view our full return policy at 


L.L.Bean has stood for quality, service, trust, and getting people outdoors ever since my great-grandfather founded our company over 100 years ago - and that will never change.


Thank you for being a loyal customer and we look forward to continuing to inspire and enable you to Be an Outsider.


Sincerely, Shawn O. Gorman
L.L.Bean Executive Chairman

February 9, 2018,
9:34 AM ET


The Current L.L. Bean Guarantee

Where This Current Guarantee Fails

• Obviously a CYA effort written and approved by lawyers.


"OUR GUARANTEE"... "We stand behind all our products..."


• A faceless group ("We" and "Our") can't guarantee anything. Only one real person can—a live person you can write to or call with a complaint. Clearly the Bean company is full of weasels where nobody has the cojones to use his or her real name to take responsibility of standing behind their products.


"For details, please refer to our Return Policy."


• Uh-oh. Clearly this is not the 16-word no-nonsense promise of old L.L. himself. It smells of disclaimers and complications.


A Quick Update on L.L. Bean's History

• L.L. Bean assumed room temperature in 1967.


• He was succeeded by grandson, Leon A. Gorman (1934-2015).


• Leon was succeeded by great-grandson, Shawn Gorman, in 2013.


• Shawn was succeeded by Stephen Smith, in January 2016


• Stephen Smith is the fourth president and CEO of L.L. Bean in its first 110 years.


• Today L.L. Bean has 57 bricks-and-mortar stores nationwide including its Freeport, Maine headquarters open 24/7 that welcomes three million visitors a year.


• L.L. Bean's net revenue at close of 2021 fiscal year: $1.8 billion.


• Adding to is retail reach Bean mails 200 million catalogs per year.


A New, Modern Guarantee Created

By Denny Hatch (Just for This Post)



Takeaways to Consider

  "Why is Ben and Jerry’s causing meltdowns in the sale of other ice cream manufacturers? Because everyone knows that these two guys not only make the stuff themselves by hand, but also personally examine each scoop.
     "Why is L.L. Bean the envy of Macy’s? Same reason. Because everyone knows that old L.L. not only sews the shoes himself, but also sees that they fit.
     "The two basic tenets of selling are that (1) people buy from other people more happily than from faceless corporations and (2) in the marketplace as in theater, there is indeed a factor at work called 'the willing suspension of disbelief.'

     "Who stands behind our pancakes? Aunt Jemima. Our angel food cake? Betty Crocker. Our coffee? Juan Valdez. Anyone over the age of three knows that it’s all a myth. But like Santa Claus and the tooth fairy, the myths are comforting."
—Bill Jayme, Legendary copywriter

• Note Steve Smith's line: "If you are not 100% satisfied with a purchase from L.L. Bean...." Obviously your transaction is in the L.L.'s computer. 

• Never demand "proof of purchase." It's a pain in the neck. What's more you might find yourself in a nasty fight over a Chinese counterfeit product.

• Make sure the guarantor uses his or her real signature in blue or black—not a phony-baloney, sanitized computer font. Your signature is your handshake.

• "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." —Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2, Act IV, Scene 2.




Word count: 1119




The Most Fun You Can Have
In the English Language
At age 15, Denny Hatch—as a lowly apprentice—wrote his first news release for a Connecticut summer theater. To his astonishment it ran verbatim in The Middletown Press. He was instantly hooked on writing. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1958-60), Denny had nine jobs in his first 12 years in business. He was fired from five of them and went on to save two businesses and start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 years he has been a book club director, magazine publisher, advertising copywriter/designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. He is the author of four published novels and seven books on business and marketing.


Note to Readers:  
May I send you an alert when each new blog is posted? If so, kindly give me the okay by send
ing your First Name, Last Name and email to I guarantee your personal information will not be shared with anyone at any time for any reason. The blog is a free service. No cost. No risk. No obligation. Cancel any time. I look forward to being in touch!

Google owns and this Comment Section. If you do not have a Google account — or if you find it too damn complicated — contact me directly and I will happily post your comment with a note that this is per your permission. Thank you and do keep in touch.

Invitation to Marketers and Direct Marketers: 
Guest Blog Posts Are Welcome. 
If you have a marketing story to tell, case history, concept to propose or a memoir, give a shout. I’ll get right back to you. I am:
215-644-9526 (rings on my desk). 

You Are Invited to Join the Discussion.


  1. Denny, That is a simple and compelling guarantee. Very few companies can afford that level of confidence in their product. Even a brief tour of the reviews of most products shows the outrageously high rate of shoddy workmanship, customer dissatisfaction, and product returns. L.L. Bean could be confident in his pledge. Sears was able to do it when they delivered powerful brands like Craftsman and Kenmore. There are very few brands that can be so generous with their customer satisfaction pledges. Inferior goods and services breed lawyers.

    1. Richard,
      Thank you for taking the time to write. Yours is a FASINATING COMMENT! It would be real interesting to take a survey of readers on their/our experiences with direct marketers from whom they are multi-buyers and who always give really good deals on service and product at good prices. I would put Amazon (Kindle and merchandise) in the 5-out-of-5-stars category along with Orvis, Bean (of course), Jockey and Zappos shoes. You'd think that everybody in direct marketing would bust their chops to always be excellent, because there are so many online venues able to publish terrible reviews that could wreck a person's business. Do keep in touch and thanks again! Cheers. —DH

    2. Jeffrey,
      Thanks for writing. Always great to hear from you! As I suggested to Richard Hren above, with the vast assortment of online venues with millions of viewers that can post poisonous reviews, direct marketers have to be nuts to treat customers badly. I disagree that mass production is responsible for shoddy goods. I love mass production! (I'm not happy about robots taking jobs away hard working men and women; but robots don't make mistakes.) Ultimately, I think it's untrained, un-mentored customer service people who are harried, underpaid and overworked who are unwittingly responsible for screw-ups. Anyway, thanks for writing. And do keep in touch! Cheers.

  2. Dr. James McAnally gave me the okay to share this email:

    Wed, Nov 16 at 1:17 PM
    Denny…this is stupendous and ACTIONABLE. Thank you!
    Our docs compete with a national corporate gorilla (who does a very, very good job in service and advertising using emotional selling but at the end of the day the customer is buying from the royal “We” not a doctor name they believe in).
    Too often the independent discounts/is ignorant of how much value it is in knowing WHO it is that the customer buys from. Not a generic “those people” but “THAT” specific doctor.
    Of course you have to position yourself to do your work to position yourself as that expert and you need to get your customers involved to SAY YOUR NAME in ways you can’t do it yourself AND you probably can’t do any of that heavy lifting with Google or Facebook!
    All the best,

  3. As always, a stimulating and informative letter. Thank you.
    We can point to the increase in mass production and thus a plethora of shoddy goods. At the same time, the consumer has become more cynical and hungry and dishonest. If he/she can get away with fooling the seller, he/she will invariably take that course. Perhaps it's not the shoddy goods but the shoddy people. Too much distrust; too much anger. Too many suspect leaders.

  4. Good afternoon, Denny!

    Is there a typo in the current LL guarantee? "After one years ... "? Seems strange that the same lawyers who labored so diligently over the new disclaimer / guarantee would miss that.

    Alas, you have one too, in your bullet on LL history: "Adding to is retail ... " I think you meant "its."

    That said, as Bob Doscher noted, there are chiselers out there. The question is, are there enough of them to warrant fighting with them? Even the folks at Tandy Corporation used to say, "Never make a 100 percent rule for a 1 percent situation."

    Best regards!

    Tim Orr

    1. Tim,
      Thank you, thank you for pointing out the typos. I retype some of this stuff, because the original fonts were in teensy mouse-type that did not show up well. My bad. I'll try to make the corrections. Do continue to keep me honest! Cheers.

  5. From Janie Bingham who gave me permission to share this email:
    Really who doesn’t love and admire a bean boot
    Have loved them since going to that sleepy store in Freeport years and years ago!
    Thanks for this recap. Still active customers🥰

    1. Janie,
      Thanks for writing. I love stories of men and women who come up with a single idea and turn it into a huge business. For example: As well as L.L. Bean and his boot, there are John Peterman and Lillian Vernon among a slew of others.

      = = = =

  6. From Seattle direct marketing wizard, Bob Hacker.
    I am reminded of a great Herschel Gordon Lewis quip…“Never forget, lawyers and accountants can’t sell anything.”
    And they can’t write either. Part One of law school is to make them forget English and start speaking legalese.
    Back in the day, I worked in the advertising department of a very large bank in Seattle. The goals for bringing in new savings accounts that quarter were a big stretch. So I told the agency to come back with a campaign that would work much better than average. They did a great job, the ad was a corker.
    I took it up to the lawyer for an approval. He would not approve it.
    “That ad is in compliance with all applicable regulations”, I said.
    “On the face of it, yes, it complies, but some could read it another way. If they read it wrong, it’s a technical violation,” said he. “If somebody complains the bank could get in trouble.”
    I came back with, “And what does getting in trouble mean?”
    “We could get a letter in our file and perhaps a cease and desist.”
    “And how long would that take?”
    “Probably a year.”
    “We’ll I’m going to run it. It’s one quarter campaign. A letter in the file will do us no harm I will have ceased and desisted three quarters back. So I’m going to run it, if you have a problem with that, call the Chairman of the Board, he’s the one who gave be a nearly unreachable goal.”
    He never called the Chairman, we ran the campaign and met our targets.
    Herschel Gordon Lewis was right.