Lillian Vernon Shares Insight, Wit With DMCNY Audience

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NEW YORK -- More than a half-century of direct marketing experience, wisdom and wit was on display yesterday as catalog icon Lillian Vernon was the featured speaker at a Direct Marketing Club of New York luncheon.

Her five minutes of opening remarks included a mention of her "greatest passion and joy -- merchandising -- traveling the world, looking for new products." She also said her company had a great Christmas season and that 35 percent of its orders were realized via the Web.

Then she spent about 35 minutes in a Q&A session that covered everything from the start of her firm to its sale. She was asked about Direct Holdings Worldwide LLC's acquisition of Time Life Inc., the music and video direct marketing subsidiary of Time Inc. Direct Holdings Worldwide also owns Lillian Vernon Corp.

"I think it will be good," she said. "They needed a partner. You put two good brands together and you've got something to shout about."

She provided some laughter following a question about whether she has offered any advice to Martha Stewart.

"Martha gives advice, she doesn't take advice," Vernon said.

More laughs were generated when moderator Ruth Stevens asked whether customers were signing up for an e-mail newsletter.

"Whatever we offer, they'll sign up for," Vernon said.

She was asked after the event whether conditions exist currently that would allow her to start her company as she did in the early 1950s. She began shaking her head, indicating that the answer was "no," before the question could be asked completely.

"You would need much more money now," she said. "I had $5,000 in wedding gift money. Circumstances are much different, and it was a different retail environment. What is $5,000 worth today, $100,000? You couldn't start a mail-order business now with $100,000."

When asked the amount of money needed now to start such an operation, "I have no idea," was her response.

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