Business

L.L. Bean’s sales level in 2016 as company weathers boycott

A early version of the Maine Hunting Shoe is displayed at the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, Maine, Friday, March 17, 2017. The company reported a slight increase in sales for 2016 and said Friday that employees will be given a 3 percent annual bonus. The family-owned company said annual net sales last year were $1.6 billion. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Robert F. Bukaty/AP

A early version of the Maine Hunting Shoe displayed at the L.L. Bean flagship store in Freeport, Maine.

FREEPORT, Maine — Outdoors specialty retailer L.L. Bean said sales were flat for a second straight year in 2016 — a year in which the family-owned company weathered a boycott over a relative’s political contributions in support of President Trump.

Revenues were $1.6 billion for the fiscal year. Prior to 2015, the Freeport-based company a run of five consecutive years of growth.

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The L.L. Bean family and board of directors approved a 3 percent cash performance bonus to its approximately 6,000 workers, the company announced Friday.

‘‘While it has been a challenging year in the retail environment, our employees delivered world class service and products to our customers,’’ said chief executive Steve Smith.

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The year marked continued growth in sales of the company’s iconic boot — but also controversy surrounding an L.L. Bean board member’s political contributions.

The Federal Election Commission questioned whether a $60,000 donation by Linda Bean, founder Leon Leonwood Bean’s great-granddaughter, to a political action committee supporting Trump exceeded limits.

But the PAC’s chairman cited a paperwork error and said it was supposed to be registered as a super PAC with unlimited donations. Updated reports indicated that her donations were overstated and that she actually gave $25,000.

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The reports and an ensuing call for a boycott amounted to unwanted attention for a 105-year company that tries to be apolitical.

The company had declined to say if the publicity hurt sales.

Looking ahead, L.L. Bean plans to cut costs by freezing pensions and offering voluntary early retirements, and company officials say they are going to re-examine its generous shipping and return policies. The company expects to trim the workforce by about 500 workers through early retirement incentives next year, officials have said.

It’s part of a broader look at all aspects of the business. Smith said the company is trying to return to the stronger growth that it experienced in the 1980s and 1990s so it can invest.

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