business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Outdoor retailer LL Bean, which in recent years has hooked its Rambler wagon (comes in red, $199, delivered in 1-2 weeks) to a “Be An Outsider” strategy and marketing message, now is taking the initiative one step farther.

To work.

The company yesterday announced its “Be an Outsider at Work” initiative will launch tomorrow in New York City's Madison Square Park before moving on later this summer to Boston, Philadelphia, and Madison, Wisconsin. The initiative consists of LL Bean - in partnership with co-working provider Industrious - to build an outdoor co-working space, “complete with individual workspaces, collaborative conference areas, cycling desks and outdoor teambuilding activities.” (You can see a video about the installation at left.)

The installation is open to the public, and companies are allowed to make reservations. In addition, the company said, its “Outdoor Discovery Program experts will also be on-site to facilitate a short team-building exercise, which will involve a group problem-solving activity designed to highlight teamwork, communication, and leadership skills.”

The retailer says that it conducted a survey that “found that while most people enjoy the outdoors, many of them rarely take time to work outside. In fact, 87 percent of indoor workers consider themselves someone who enjoys the outdoors but 75 percent of indoor workers rarely or never take time to work outside.”

Indeed, 74 percent of survey respondents said that working outdoors would improve their mood, 71 percent said it would lower their stress, 69 percent said it would provide relaxation, 66 percent said it would promote health and wellness, and 64 percent said it would result in increased happiness.

Steve Smith, LL Bean’s CEO, put it this way: "So many of us love spending time outdoors and appreciate the benefits, yet for many people outdoor time is only spent away from work and on weekends. We hope that the 'Be an Outsider at Work' initiative will inspire employees to be creative in finding new ways to incorporate outdoor time in their day. We also hope that by demonstrating the benefits, employers will be supportive of this idea.”

In reading about the initiative and watching the video, I though for a moment about Steve Jobs - who used to like to take walks outside while holding meetings or conducting business conversations. It was, he thought, a good way to stay stimulated and open one’s mind.

I think this is very smart - it isn’t about selling clothes and gear as much as it is about evangelizing for a way of life and an approach to work; it is a canny way to attach the brand to something broader than just the product. And I think it positions LL Bean to do more down the road in terms of education and illumination.

It is the very definition of an Eye-Opener.

KC's View: