Gary Comer, Lands’ End founder, died on October 4, 2006 at his home in Chicago, he had been battling cancer for some time. “All of us at Lands’ End are deeply saddened. Our thoughts are with Gary’s wife, Frances and the entire family,” said Lands’ End president David McCreight. “American business has lost an icon. Gary Comer was a visionary entrepreneur, whose passion for excellence created a legendary company. His adventurous spirit, environmental stewardship and legacy of philanthropic leadership continue to inspire us.”
Comer grew up an avid sailor on Chicago’s South Side. His love of sailboat racing and his entrepreneurial spirit came together when, at age 33, he gave up a 10 year career as an advertising copywriter at Young & Rubicam to start his own company. In 1962, he started a mail order sailing equipment business. In 1963, Comer and five partners incorporated Lands’ End Yacht Stores in a rent-free basement office on Chicago’s north side. The misplaced apostrophe was a typo that became part of the firm’s history. By 1965, they had begun to make a small profit and they printed their first catalogue.
In 1978, Comer moved the warehouse and phone operations to Dodgeville. In 1986, Lands’ End went public. As Lands’ End grew, so did the company’s reputation for high-quality products and innovative customer service.
While he stepped down as president in 1990, Comer remained chairman of the board and the majority stockholder until Lands’ End was sold to Sears in May 2002.
Don Libey shared his thoughts with CEB, “Gary Comer. His name alone inspired thousands of stories about vision, intelligence, dedication, caring, generosity, and similar virtues. But, the stories came from the people he worked with, and that was what set him apart. He was a giant among cataloguers, yes, but he was heroic to his employees. On my many visits to Lands’ End, I was always aware of smiling people, happy in their work, focused on the customer, building something better, and it was the inspiration of Mr Comer that each of them lived. In the middle of the Lands’ End campus in Dodgeville, Wisconsin is the Employee Family Center, a huge fitness and recreation facility that Mr Comer gave as a gift to the families of Lands’ End, a gift that represents how much he cared about the quality of life for others. That same outward giving was a part of everything he did, from his insistence on top quality products and value to his unwavering concern for the customer. In every regard, Gary Comer chose the High Road and the result was unparalleled success. He was rare. He was truly a good man. His like will never be seen again in this changing world of cataloguing. His work was noble.”