Given that she will be living out this winter (and, if all goes well, the next several winters) in Vermont, we decided that it might be a good idea to send Fangette back after Thanksgiving break with a pair of snow boots. We try to be good parents, at least where foul weather gear is involved. Plus, we want her to be able to get to class. I don’t want to hear any bullshit about how she couldn’t make it through the snow because she only has “cute” boots. She needed something more utilitarian than cute.
About a month ago I asked her to choose a pair from the L.L. Bean website. We went back and forth about it. God love her, she was trying to save me money. I told her that I didn’t care about saving a few bucks on a pair of boots that carried a Lifetime Guarantee. I just wanted her to be feet to be warm and dry.
She kept dragging her heels. I kept hounding her. Finally, she agreed that we would go to the local L.L. Bean store when she was home from school this week. (Having never owned a pair of L.L. Bean boots, she wanted to try them on in person.) It wasn’t a bad idea. I didn’t think that waiting until the end of November would be a big deal.
Do I even need to tell you that it was a very big deal? Of course it was. Would you like to know why? Because L.L. Bean has almost NO boots left in their inventory — not in the store, not online, not in the catalog. It’s not even officially winter yet! When do these outdoorsy types purchase their snow boots? August?
The gentleman who was doing his level best to put my daughter into a pair of snow boots today informed us that she could have her boot of choice if she was willing to wait until the end of February — February of 2015. He told me that “the great boot shortage” occurs every year. He said this as if it was something that every little schoolboy should know. (Obviously the outdoorsy types DO know this.)
What I wanted to know, not being an outdoorsy type my own self, was how a company as reputable as I’ve always found L.L. Bean to be did not solve their annual limited inventory problem by, oh, I don’t know, manufacturing MORE boots? His answer? All of L.L. Bean’s boots are made in America.
Seriously. This was his answer. I was about to point out to him that he might want to keep that information under his crushable waterproof hiking hat, but he wasn’t finished. He went on to proudly explain to me that all L.L. Bean boots are hand sewn right here in America. In an effort to appeal to my obvious patriotism, he asked me if I wanted L.L. Bean to farm out the hand-sewing of their boots to, say, China?
Without missing a beat I arched my brow and said, “Would that solve the problem?” Flustered, he sputtered something like “Maybe.” I let him know that I understood that this would create other problems for his company, but I wondered aloud if, perhaps, the solution to the annual dearth of available winter boots for a company widely known for such a product, might not lie in shipping the work overseas, but, rather, in hiring enough workers right here in the good old USA to keep up with the demand for said fine product?
He went on to tell me that the company had just recently hired 125 workers. No doubt this is just the type of management decision that will be responsible for the buttload of boots that will enter the marketplace in late February of 2015, but it won’t help anyone now — and by anyone I really mean us “late to the party” decidedly NON-outdoorsy types. I told him that they should have hired 250 workers back in July. This is when he decided to check something in the back room.
I’m no Economist, but this idea seems like it should have occurred to someone at L.L. Bean before I had to come up with it today. Me, the waitress. Me, the consumer. Me, who knows little to nothing about how business works. I’m just a woman who puts on an apron and serves food to idiots all day.
As many of you may know, I’ve been looking to change careers. I’m toying with the idea of writing to the folks at L.L. Bean — offering them my services. Clearly they are in need of someone who will help them to effectively use the American worker and, in turn, make “The Great Boot Shortage of 2014” the last of its kind.
Let me just mention that my daughter did acquire a pair of boots. They were not the color she wanted. They were not the height she wanted. They were also almost twice the price of the basic boots that were her first choice. We had a coupon, though, so that was good. Also good? I will probably own a pair of slightly used 10″ sheepskin-lined white snow boots next July — because that’s when I will, no doubt, have to buy her the ones she really wanted this year. Unless, of course, L.L. Bean hires me. Fingers crossed, shoppers!