Lands' End, come home to the Midwest

A few days ago I chimed in on Lands' End's Gloria Steinem controversy, which was badly mishandled by the catalog company.

But I didn't offer a solution, although I hinted at what I would do if I ran the Dodgeville, Wis., firm, whose reputation was damaged by its affiliation with the once-venerable Sears.

As a former public relations specialist and ad-agency creative type, I have a few ideas that involve truly taking the company back to its roots.

Lands' End was founded when Gary Comer, an avid sailor and Chicago native, left his ad agency job to explore Europe. When he returned, he started his own business selling sailing gear. He was joined by two Olympic Gold medalists, Robert Halperin, a sailor and football player, and also a Chicagoan, and Richard Stearns, a sailor.

Sailing and Chicago. Get it? That's why I suggested using a photo relating to the annual Chicago-to-Mackinac race on the catalog cover. I am sure the Chicago Yacht Club would love the tie-in.

The Midwest is full of sailors. I grew up in a city on Lake Michigan and summer here means sailing and racing. The shores of Lake Michigan and other Great Lakes are dotted with yacht clubs, marinas, beaches and lighthouses (the Lands' End icon). Here's a map of Lake Michigan lights. See what I mean?

But instead, Lands' End focuses on saving the Alcatraz Lighthouse. Is anyone at Lands' End paying attention?

Yes, I know: Alcatraz is a name everyone knows. But there are plenty of wealthy San Franciscans who will happily support its salvation as a local landmark.

Lands' End needs to take baby steps and build support in its own back yard. Make friends at home by supplying durable and classic sportswear we can wear sailing, bicycling, playing and watching football, raking leaves and doing all the things we do and that customers across the country do, too.

The Midwest offers scores of sports and outdoor opportunities, from Big Ten and NFL football to the Birkebeiner to local 5 and 10k walks and runs. We love baseball, softball and all manner of outdoor activities. We play tennis. We golf. We do it all.

Ever heard of Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers? Soldier Field and the Chicago Bears? Door County? Michigan Dunes? Boundary Waters?

Smart company marketing pros would have looked closer to home for assistance in bringing back the ailing company.

It's really pretty sad.

Lands' End not only erred in its approach to rebuilding its brand, it erred in hiring Federica Marchionni, who stipulated she'd take the job only if she could remain in New York City.

That was a warning sign, but no one was paying attention.


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