As you might imagine, lots of interesting things began to happen when Lands’ End went international, starting in the United Kingdom in 1991 and then expanding into Japan and Germany.
We learned that in England, a sweater is called a jumper. And that in Japan, customers are crazy for embroidery – over 60% of the polo shirts we send out have a gymnast, dolphin, flag or other insignia on the chest.
But what happened in Germany tops everything. It had to do with our unequivocal guarantee – Guaranteed. Period.® – which is the very foundation of the way we do business.
You see, our founder Gary Comer didn’t believe in fine print. He believed in doing business in a fair and open-handed way, and doing whatever it took to provide 100% satisfaction. Like offering a guarantee with absolutely no limits.
So naturally, when we mailed out our first catalogs in Germany, they contained our Guaranteed. Period promise of satisfaction, inviting our new German customers to return anything at any time, for any reason, if they were not completely satisfied with what they’d ordered from us.
Well, much to our surprise, the bratwurst hit the fan. A group of 1600 German merchants called The Association Against Unfair Competition sued Lands’ End, claiming that our unconditional guarantee violating a German law that banned retailers from offering gifts to lure customers.
It wasn’t just neighborhood merchants fuming and sputtering. “There are a lot of huge companies who are hiding behind this association,” said Frank Kriegl, at the time our marketing director in Germany.
Lands’ End refused to back down. In fact, we launched an advertising campaign to win supporters to our just cause. Ganz Deutschland ist eine Servicewueste? asked one ad. Is all of Germany a service wasteland?
Alas, the merchant association won their suit when the German Supreme Court ruled that our promise was indeed a violation of German law. But still, we wouldn’t back down.
Phil Young, our European managing director, stressed that the ban would not affect how we treated our German customers. “This antiquated law will no longer allow us to communicate our guarantee to our German custom-ers,” said Phil, “but regardless of this, every single product we sell in Germany will be backed by our guarantee.”
We began running cheeky ads elsewhere in Europe, with headlines like:
“Introducing a guarantee so good the Germans banned it.” In Germany, we just blacked out the “guarantee” part of our ads, stirring up even more interest in the whole brouhaha. And in 1999, we launched the German version of our web site, which couldn’t mention the guarantee, but linked to a separate site that did. German customers began rallying to our cause.
The Association Against Unfair Competition was clearly on the wrong side of the fight, especially as the age of internet shopping picked up steam. Eventually, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s government revoked the antiquated 1932 law prohibiting discounts, rebates and lifetime guarantees.
Just like that, the great Guaranteed. Period. controversy in Germany was kaput. We began telling our complete and unexpurgated Lands’ End story again. And our business has been growing in Deutschland ever since.
The customer is always right, as Gary Comer might say.
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