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Don’t ‘Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny’

22/05/2012

The 1999 Back-to-School catalogue from L. L. Bean Inc. (“Outdoor Sporting Specialties since 1912”) offered Teddy-bear backpacks, sports leggings, hiker boots, quick-drying socks and more; all of it the latest attire for the hip and rugged child. But when eager would-be customers called the phone number listed in the catalogue, they were surprised not to reach a friendly operator speaking in a clipped, New England voice from the company’s order centre in Portland, Maine.

Point of reference and reminder: this was 1999, in the mists of internet pre-history before widespread online commerce (PayPal only arrived in 2000) and when people used to order things by telephone; how quaint.

However surprised the customers were, they were not half as startled as the person whom they did reach. Those sweet late-twentieth-century people, shoppers in a bygone era, found themselves listening to the bemused Southern twang of a woman at home in rural Virginia. She, in turn, suddenly found herself inundated with callers from across the U.S.A, all of them seeking the latest in outdoor Bean-wear: bear-cub sherpa pullovers for high-altitude toddlers and children’s cargo-vests with separate pockets for crayons, rulers and pencils.

The correct number should have been 1-877-LLB-KIDS. An employee working on production of the catalogue, in the unshakeable belief that all toll-free numbers begin with 800, changed it to 1-800-LLB-KIDS on many (but, strangely, not all) of the pages. Oops. The ‘victim’, who seems to have taken orders with good old Southern courtesy, was mollified with a substantial gift token. Now, that wouldn’t have cost them that much, of course, but consider the fact that, 13 years later, the cock-up is still around to provide me with amusing blog-fodder.

As an occasional customer of theirs, I won’t hear a word against L. L. Bean products, though; especially not in its centenary year. They are of the highest quality, last forever and never look dated. After all, as Coco Chanel said, “Everything that goes out of fashion is fashion”. Furthermore, this was Leon Leonwood Bean’s idea of customer service right from the start, and the same guarantee prevails to this day:

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