Lands’ End History Case Study

Lands’ End History Case Study

Lands’ End, Inc. is a well-known marketer of traditionally styled casual clothing, available through catalogs known for their folksy, chatty style. In Land’s End’s history, the company’s focus on providing quality merchandise and sustaining good relationships with customers through quality customer service has established its top position in the mail-order marketing field. Starting as a seller of sailing equipment for racing boats, Lands’ End has grown to become a leading company that manufactures clothes for children, tailored clothes for men and women, and even home products. The company now has an online website where customers can view merchandise and place orders, a huge development from when it started in 1963. This article explores in-depth the history of Lands’ End.

The Beginning of Lands’ End History

The Beginning

In 1963, Gary Comer, a successful advertising copywriter working in Young & Rubicam who had long pursued his love for sailing in his spare time, decided to act on his dream fully by opening his own business. Comer quit his job of 10 years and used $30,000 in initial funds to start his company. His company was only one shop in a storefront that manufactured sails and sold other marine hardware. The shop was located on North Elston Avenue, along the Chicago River in the city’s old tannery district.

Lands’ End’s First Mail Catalog

The following year in 1964, Comer produced a catalog that offered Lands’ End’s goods through physical mail. The first catalog had 84 pages printed in black and white. It was named “The Racing Sailors’ Equipment Guide.” However, a printer’s error resulted in the company’s name being printed as “Lands’ End,” with the apostrophe in the wrong place. Having already printed the booklets, Comer decided to change the company’s name to Lands’ End to correspond with the brochure since he could not afford to reprint.

Distinction and Implementation of Ideas in Lands’ End History

Lands’ End’s Distinct Catalog Copy

In the next catalog, Comer used his copywriting skill, writing informative, casual engaging copy that also sympathized with the pain points of his customers. His copy resonated well with his target audience rather than the dry, plain, technical and brief copy that was the norm. These qualities helped to create a bond with customers on a more personal level. Comer is said to have originated the concept of the “Magalogue,” in which pictured items for sale are surrounded by texts and illustrations.

The Customers’ Idea

The resonant copy in Comer’s catalog made customers feel at ease with the company and its products to the extent that some customers wrote to the company to ask about purchasing foul weather gear and duffel bags. Listening to its customers, Lands’ End created a clothing section featuring raincoats, canvas luggage, shoes, sweaters, and other pieces of clothing. The catalog was named “The Lands’ End Catalog.” Items sold in this category soon became the company’s most profitable offerings. Throughout the 1960s, the company continued to sell clothing equipment and related items through its catalog.

New Implementations In Lands’ End History

Expanding Into Sail-related Clothing and Bags

In the 1970s, Lands’ End computerized its inventory, and sales operations have grown big enough. In 1973, Lands’ End expanded its focus away from solely creating sailing equipment. The company began to make its duffel bags. The following year, the company started to market its brand of rain suit. The rain suit was a two-piece outfit worn by sailors in foul weather.

Lands’ End’s First All-Color Catalog

In 1975, Lands’ End released its first-ever all-color catalog, featuring 30 sailing equipment pages and two clothing pages. By the next year, in 1976, Lands’ End focused more on selling clothing, including a men’s Chamois cloth shirt and duffel bags in their catalogs. By 1977, Lands’ End issued its first catalog that heavily focused on clothing. The company also introduced its line of soft luggage called “The Square Rigger.” Due to these changes, sales revenue topped $3.6 million by the end of 1977.

Series of Developments In Lands’ End History

Lands’ End Stops Selling Sailing Equipment

In 1978, Lands’ End had phased out selling or manufacturing sailing equipment. Although, the company retained the rugged, reliable, and traditional nature that sailing implied, applying it to a wider variety of clothing. The company expanded its first button-down Oxford-cloth shirt. This move ushered Lands’ End’s venture into its offerings of solid, conservative, basic clothing upon which it built its future.

The company moved from its Chicago warehouse to an empty garage in rural Dodgeville, Wisconsin, in 1978. That same year the company began shifting its operations from its Chicago base to Dodgeville. This shift in location was because of Comer’s love for the rural area, and the costs in rural Wisconsin were extremely low. 

Lands’ End Buys Its First Toll-free Line

Also, in 1978, the company moved from filling orders by mail to filling orders by phone. The company incorporated another point of contact with its customers by buying its first toll-free 800 number, with operators on standby to take customers’ calls. The company made sure to ensure politeness and quality customer service. Operators were allowed to chat with customers for as long as it took to make a sale.

In 1980, Lands’ End moved into its new office space on “Lands’ End Lane.” By this time, the clothing section of the company’s catalog had already expanded. Lands’ End expanded the 800-number service to provide 24-hour customer service calls. 

Expansion And Computerization In Lands’ End History

Lands’ End Expansion

Intending to gain more control over the quality of clothes manufactured, the company began recruiting employees knowledgeable about fabric and making clothes. Lands’ end opened new facilities in Dodgeville and an outlet store in Chicago, one block away from its original location. 

Seeking to expand in size, Lands’ End began working on a 40,000-square feet addition to its warehouse in Wisconsin in 1981. The company also began manufacturing its soft luggage line in West Union this year.

Lands’ End Branding Strategy

In 1981, Lands’ End embarked on a national advertising campaign to boost its brand and support its sales and reputation. This campaign aimed to increase awareness of Lands’ End’s business philosophy and to associate its name with exceptional service, quality and value. The company used the expression “Direct merchant” to describe its relationship as a manufacturer and distributor with the customer.

Continuous Expansion

In 1982, Lands’ End invested heavily in computerization, introducing online products and sales to speed up processes. The efficient use of computers was a keystone of the Lands’ End program for success. Lands’ end continued to expand and started to build a 126,000-square feet warehouse across the street from its Dodgeville facilities.

The following year, in 1983, Lands’ End moved into the new facility. This facility required unloading 8000 boxes of goods to make the company’s automated sorting system operational. 

The Charter Club

Still, in 1983, a nationwide boom occurred in mail-order shopping, and Lands’ End sales revenue began to grow. By this time, Americans were increasingly willing to shop by phone, using their credit cards. Lands’ end took advantage of this opportunity. For the first time in the history of Lands’ End, the company introduced a more sophisticated and expensive clothing line for men and women named “Charter Club” in 1983. The charter club’s products were made from Italian silks and other luxury fabrics instead of the typical cotton and wool. Soon after, this line had its catalog of offerings. 

In 1984, Lands’ End registered its logo as a U.S. trademark, becoming a full-fledged manufacturer. The demand for Lands’ End products skyrocketed, and the company began to issue catalogs monthly instead of seasonally. Lands’ end also added yet another warehouse.

In 1986, Lands’ End discontinued the charter club line of dressier clothing, even though it was profitable. Lands’ end wanted to maintain its solid, traditional, and no-nonsense culture. This same year, sales topped $200 million with over $14 million in profits. 

Land’s End Goes Public

A few years later, Lands’ End went public, offering 1.4 million shares at $30 each. The following year in 1987, Lands’ End shares began to be traded on the New York Stock Exchange, racking up about $15 million in earnings.

In response to customers’ requests, Lands’ End introduced a line of children’s clothing in 1987, which yielded sales of $15 million in the first year. By 1988, the company had built up a loyal tribe of catalog shoppers. The company also spent heavily on technology to improve customer service and add new sorting, packaging, and sewing equipment. Lands’ end also acquired an additional phone center about 30 miles from Dodgeville, planning to add 100 employees to its payroll. Seeking to serve customers who wanted to shop in retail, Lands’ End opened retail stores. Although, the company had no intention of branching out from the mail-order business into conventional retail.

Difficulties In Lands’ End History

Competition and a Hike In Cost Expenses

 By the end of 1988, Lands’ End revenue had nearly doubled since its first initial offering, topping $456 million for the fiscal year ending in January 1989. However, two months later, the company experienced a sharp drop in earnings. Sales continued to grow but at a slower rate, and costs continued to grow at a much steeper rate. Confident that sales would continue to grow strongly after the boom in 1980, the company had amassed a large merchandise inventory. This situation forced Lands’ end to send out a costly and large number of additional catalogs when sales slowed in an attempt to win more customers.

Mailing cost rates increased by 17 percent, and Lands’ End faced severe competition. The company lost ground to Eddie Bauer, a marketer of rugged outdoor wear, and the L.L. Bean company. Lands ‘ end’s products began to be categorized as old-fashioned and outdated. The company struggled to update its offerings without alienating customers who appreciated its solid and traditional goods.

Lands’ End’s Efforts To Stay In Business

By the end of the first quarter of 1990, Lands’ End had experienced a two-thirds drop in profits. In response to falling profits, the company increased the amount of new merchandise in its catalog by about 18 percent. The company began to market: “Mom packs,” which was a combination of merchandise packed together to be presented as mother’s day gifts; “Buttondowns and Beyonds,” which featured men’s tailored clothing; Coming home with Lands’ End, which featured products for bed and bath; and a separate clothing line for children called “Kids.”

In 1992, Lands’ End created its “Corporate Sales Unit” that distributed five catalogs per year to Corporations that regularly purchased gifts for clients mad employees.

In 1993, for the first time in Land’s End history, Lands’ End expanded the sale of its items overseas. The company started by mailing a catalog to potential customers in the U.K. Later in the late 1990s, Lands’ End published catalogs for 175 countries, with prices converted to the British pound, the German mark, and the Japanese yen. The company also introduced three international subsidiaries of these nations.

In the late 1990s, oversaturation in the catalog sales market caused Lands’ End profit margins to drop, even though sales continued to increase. Lands’ end eliminated ten percent of its salaried jobs in 1999 and closed three of its 19 outlet stores.

The History of Lands’ End’s Catalog Strategy In the Late 1990s

Lands’ End First Inlet Store

In 1997, Lands’ End opened its first inlet store, described as a “catalog come to life.”  This inlet store was decorated in warm tones and had a comfortable, home-like atmosphere that put customers at ease and weakened their buying resistance. Due to the successful launch of the inlet store, the company began converting existing outlet stores into inlet stores. 

An Online Catalog

In 1998, Lands’ End launched a website that allowed potential customers to peruse and purchase from an online catalog. The online shopping catalog also allowed shoppers to add accessories to their purchases. This online site represented savings in catalog distribution costs.

3D Apparel Modelling

In 1999, Lands’ End became one of the first to provide 3D apparel modelling for women. Here, online shoppers could put in their measurements, and their 3D apparel model would appear on the screen. This innovation helped customers determine whether the clothing suited them. This 3D apparel model innovation attracted media attention, and customers were happy with the development.

Final thoughts

Lands’ End’s history is a success story with its ups and downs. Lands’ End has tried to stay true to its brand through frequent changes and developments in fashion. The company still tries to keep that solid and traditional feel to its product merchandise while remaining competitive in the market. We hope this article provides insight into Lands’ End’s history since its inception.

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