Catalog Newsmaker: Variety Makes Short Work of Long Days for Spiegel's Madonna

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Editor's Note: Spiegel Inc. said Monday that it filed for bankruptcy after missing performance targets tied to its beleaguered credit card business.


Though Newport News' parent company -- The Spiegel Group -- faces a lawsuit from the Securities and Exchange Commission and possible bankruptcy, Geralynn Madonna continues doing what she does every day: arrive at the company's Third Avenue offices in New York at 7 a.m. and leave at 7 p.m.


But don't think that the 12 hours are viewed as just a grind for the industry veteran. And don't ask about her typical day.


"There is no typical day," said Madonna, who declined to discuss Spiegel's difficulties. "I have a lot of energy. If you love what you do, it doesn't feel like 12 hours. That's why I'm a merchant."


Those days are about to get busier, too. Madonna was promoted Friday to president/CEO of Spiegel Catalog and Newport News.


In her year as president and chief operating officer at Newport News, Madonna's duties varied.


"It runs from 'What color should I make this dress?' to three-year planning," she said. "There's also Internet strategy, layouts, creative concepts, photography planning and what merchandise to put in next season's book."


Madonna began at Newport News as an assistant buyer in 1981, was promoted to buyer the following year, then senior buyer in 1986, followed by merchandise director the next year and general merchandise director for all product lines in 1990. She rose to vice president of merchandising in 1992, senior vice president of merchandising and advertising in 1998 and executive vice president of merchandising and advertising in 2000.


"When I became president, I took over the marketing department," she said. "[My job was to] keep the focus of the brand consistent through merchandising, advertising and marketing. The synergies I created between merchandising and advertising helped the brand, and the next normal step was to maintain the synergies between the three departments."


Madonna's boss, William Kosturos, chief restructuring officer and interim CEO of The Spiegel Group, now is looking for her to reinvigorate and refocus the Spiegel and Newport News catalogs.


"Spiegel and Newport News are very powerful direct mail brands," Kosturos said. "I am looking forward to the opportunity to further strengthen and differentiate both brands."


Madonna takes over the management responsibilities of Melissa Payer and George Ittner, who both resigned to pursue other interests.


Creating a new look for Newport News consumed much of Madonna's time this past year. She describes the Special Fashion Edition Spring 2003 book as "more editorial," with sections such as Steals, Splurges, Glamour, As Seen and a fashion Q&A.


"Everything is done internally, so it's been a lot of fun for the creative team and the inventory department," she said. "We've had an all-out effort to focus on this rebranding effort, and it has really paid off."


When looking to the future of cataloging, she echoes many of the concerns expressed by other senior executives: postal rate increases and the effect of the Internet.


"I think the biggest challenge we have ahead of us is how the Internet will interface with the catalog," she said. "There are a lot of planning considerations within merchandising we have to learn [as well as] complexities regarding circulation.


"We just started our Web site in 1999. It is now 15 percent of sales, growing to 20 percent by probably -- I think -- the end of this year. We also have to learn how to work with new affiliates [such as] Amazon and Yahoo."


Madonna has definite ideas regarding future postal rate increases.


"I don't like to pass them off to the customer [because of] our value price positioning," she said. "Every time there is a cost increase, it's something we have to evaluate."


She also commented on what she enjoys seeing in her mailbox.


"I love magazines," she said. "In my mailbox right now are Vogue Italia and British Vogue. I also receive a lot of catalogs -- home, fashion, etc. I get everything from Horchow to Pottery Barn to Neiman's and Bloomingdale's by Mail. Bottom line, I love a great shopping experience, whether it's retail or flipping through the pages of a good catalog. I'm always looking for that special item."


The DM News Newsmaker will run periodically at DMNews.com. If you know of a Newsmaker candidate, please e-mail editor in chief Tad Clarke at tad@dmnews.com.


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