In an interview on CNBC, L.L.Bean CEO Stephen Smith, shown above, contended that the recently passed $2 trillion stimulus package does not address “middle-market retail” companies such as his. Essential retailers are continuing to operate, he said, while smaller retailers with fewer than 500 employees are eligible for Small Business Administration loans. The middle market, he said, employs up to 30 million workers, either directly or as vendors.
“All of those apparel retailers, every label of a piece of clothing that someone is wearing right now, all of them are struggling mightily with full rent, full payroll and, if they’re store-based, close to zero sales,” Smith said.
L.L. Bean’s U.S. retail locations have been closed since March 17 out of precaution for the spread of the coronavirus although it continues to fulfill orders placed online and on the phone.
A message posted on the Bean website says the retailer has implemented “temporary measures such as voluntary unpaid days, extended lack of work programs as well as reduced workweeks and reduced pay for salaried employees across all levels. This will allow us to continue to offer medical coverage for our hardworking employees and help them quickly return to serve our customers when stores are back open and business resumes.”
Like other companies that have stepped up in this crisis, Bean is employing workers to make face masks for medical workers and expects to turn out about 10,000 masks a day by the end of this week. The material used in the masks comes from the company’s dog bed liners.
“A number of our employees said, ‘Hey, we are the best stitchers, cutters and sewers. We make the best boots in the world. … We can make masks, gowns and booties as well,’ and they immediately started experimenting,” he said.