In the beginning there was Gary
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?
The road less traveled
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.
The sea‚ by way of Wisconsin
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.
We’re still listening
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.
Gary taught us the importance of taking care of our customers and employees. This part of our heritage continues to be an unwavering focus today‚ and will be a critical part of our future success.
Senior Vice President
Employee and Customer Services
It was common for Gary to stop and chat with anyone in the company, regardless of position. He once asked me to keep him company in his plane one late cold January day while the engines warmed up.
Associate Facilities Engineer
Gary encouraged me to not be constrained by my perception of existing barriers. He asked me to dream big…
Gary wanted to make the company a great place to work. The kind of place most employees don't leave. The place where employees are proud to say, "I work at Lands' End."
Youth Program Coordinator