LL Bean pleased with 2018 performance, awards bonuses

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FREEPORT, Maine (AP) L.L. Bean enjoyed a small increase in sales in the past year, enough so that it's restoring bonuses for its 5,400 eligible workers, officials said Friday.

The Maine-based retailer's revenues grew by 1 percent, nearly flat at $1.6 billion, in a changing and challenging environment for retailers.

Steve Smith, president and CEO, said in a statement that the company "performed well in a very competitive industry and a very difficult retail economy."

The board on Friday awarded performance bonuses of 5 percent of pay for workers. Last year, there were no annual bonuses for the first time in a decade.

L.L. Bean is coming off several years of flat sales and belt-tightening that included a reduction in workforce, changes in its generous return policy, restrictions on free shipping, and a paring of product lines to refocus on the company's outdoors roots.

Last year, the company announced it plans to open L.L. Bean-branded stores in Canada as part of its strategy to return to growth.

Behind the scenes, the company completed an upgrade of tech and warehouse systems, which allowed it to process an all-time 315,000 orders in a single day in early December, spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said. The company's iconic boot remained popular with 40 pairs a minute sold on Black Friday, she said. There also were improved delivery times and reduced product backlogs.

The upgrades and cost-cutting led to improved profits which were above projections and significantly better than the previous year that will help L.L. Bean invest in the future, the company said. The privately held retailer doesn't disclose profits.

"We are on a journey towards growing our top line and the improvement to our bottom line is a critical first step," Smith said.

It's been a challenging period for many retailers, especially clothing retailers, said Marshal Cohen, an analyst at NPD Group.

Millennials are now starting to have families and some aging baby boomers are spending less, causing new spending patterns that favor tech over apparel. "People are clearly investing in their lifestyles more than wardrobes," Cohen said.

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