By the time Gary Comer reached his thirties, he was already an award-winning copywriter, champion sailor and world traveler. In 1963, he added entrepreneur to his list of accomplishments when he and four friends opened Lands' End in a basement office on Chicago's Elston Avenue.
Launched as a mail-order operation for yachting gear, the business filled about 15 orders on a good day. It took the team three years to see a real profit, and those returns had little to do with fashion. There were 84 pages to the Lands' End Yachtsman's Equipment Guide, Gary's first catalog. Only two or three pages featured any clothes at all. And right there, on our very first cover, was a typo.
Who could know that it was the start of something great?
From the beginning, Gary set out to make Lands' End different. While others took weeks to deliver a catalog order, Gary made sure orders shipped within two days. Keenly aware that returning catalog purchases could be frustrating, he instituted the company's now-famous unconditional return policy: "If you're not satisfied with any item, simply return it to us at any time for an exchange or refund of its purchase price." Guaranteed. Period.®
Gary also relied on his advertising roots—and the help of Creative Director Bernie Roer—to create a catalog unlike any other. Models looked like real people. Breezy copy told engaging stories. And quality products lured readers in, until they could almost feel the softness of a knit shirt or the warmth of a wool sweater.
The company grew with every innovation. By 1977, Lands' End was a million-dollar business. It was time to move.
There was something about Wisconsin's rolling farmland and friendly Midwestern ways that impressed Gary Comer. He liked the rural work ethic, and the promise of a bigger corporate campus would give him the chance to pursue a new goal: helping employees and their families lead healthier lives.
By the 1980s, Lands' End was headquartered in Dodgeville, Wisconsin. Within ten years, Gary had built his dream: a multimillion-dollar employee fitness center that would eventually offer dozens of wellness programs, an on-site medical clinic, day care and recreational activities.
In 1984, Gary wrote an article for the summer catalog. He called it "The Principles of Doing Business." In it, he outlined the values that had guided Lands' End from its "15 orders a day" beginning more than 20 years before.
On the list? Extraordinary service. An excellent product at a fair price. Integrity. And caring for people in a way that makes calling, clicking or visiting Lands' End feel "a little like coming home."
Gary meant every word of it. And although he passed away in 2006, Gary Comer remains an important part of Lands' End today. Because his vision doesn't just shape our past. It makes our future successes possible.