Lillian Vernon: Merchandising Maven
Lillian Vernon began selling personalized belts and handbags with a black and white ad 50 years ago. Now, the company offers more than 6,000 items through nine catalog titles and a growing Web business
What do Katie Couric, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hillary Clinton all have in common? It’s not their political affiliations. Think porcelain Easter baskets and personalized bean bag chairs. Now you get the picture: These celebrities are among the 23 million people who have shopped the pages of Lillian Vernon’s catalogs.
The namesake business Lillian Vernon launched in 1951 on the kitchen table of her small, Mount Vernon, NY, apartment has grown to a more than $240 million catalog and online retail enterprise. A lot has changed in 50 years, but what hasn’t changed is the focus on merchandise.
It all started with a $495 ad in Seventeen magazine selling belts and handbags that could be personalized for free with the customer’s initials. That ad brought in $32,000 and launched her business.
Today, Lillian Vernon Corp. mails more than 166 million catalogs in 33 editions each year. Its stable of nine titles includes its flagship Lillian Vernon, Sales & Bargains, Favorites, plus five spin-offs—Lilly’s Kids, Lillian Vernon Gardening, Neat Ideas, Christmas Memories, Personalized Gifts—and one acquisition: Rue de France.
Kevin Green, president of Lillian Vernon Corp., has a background in marketing and merchandising—most recently as the executive vice president at Lillian Vernon overseeing those areas—as well as past experience at Doubleday Books and Music and Better Homes & Gardens Book Clubs. He is working to move the company forward in new directions while maintaining focus on the mission of “helping our customers live better for less.”
Accomplishing this feat means first knowing who the company’s customers are and what products they want.
Married with Children