Sales grew at L.L. Bean in fiscal 2011 for first time in three years thanks to a 29% jump in sales at the company’s online channel, which overtook brick-and-mortar to become the company’s dominant sales channel.  Net sales rose 5.2% to $1.44 billion for the year ended Feb. 27, 2011, as the company logged near record customer growth and a surge in sales during the peak holiday season.

The retailer said sales of sporting equipment, including boating, camping and cycling products, set growth records, while sales of the company’s iconic Bean boots soared 57% following a tripling of capacity at its Maine boot factory the year before.

Key initiatives included growing store counts by one to 19 stores in Japan, 33 stores for a total of 62 in China and adding an LEED-certified store in Victor, NY. The company also launched its Signature clothing line last spring and built up its online presence in a bid to lure younger customers. The Signature line aims to expand L.L. Bean’s presence in the casual workplace with a line of higher-priced apparel that will appeal to 20- and 30-somethings. While derivative of L.L. Bean’s preppy tradition, Signature features a tighter fit and better finishes aimed at luring younger consumers.

Company President and CEO Chris McCormick said the retailers had a challenging spring season, but a very strong peak holiday season. January and February remained strong.

L.L. Bean’s board of directors followed up McCormick’s praise by approving a cash award of 5% of annual pay to approximately 5,000 eligible employees in recognition of the performance. The company also donated $1.7 million to charity, including $500,000 to the Maine Community College System.

“We are committed to investing in the business and growing the brand as we see continued strengthening of the economy,” McCormick said of the current fiscal year. “We will have future announcements of new store openings, and significant new marketing initiatives. We're looking forward to another successful year leading into 2012, which marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of our company in 1912 in Freeport, Maine.”

L.L. Bean reported its sales declined 6.6% in fiscal 2009, when it laid off more than 200 employees furloughed 150 more at a call center. Sales declined 7.8% in fiscal 2008 when it froze salaries and offered early retirement to cut payroll.