New Fingerhut President Looks to Net, Acquisitions for Growth

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From acquisitions to electronic and global growth, a host of initiatives awaits new Fingerhut Companies president William J. Lansing.


Lansing's appointment, announced earlier this month, added an extra executive to the catalog's management structure seven months after Fingerhut, Minnetonka, MN, declared its intentions to spin off its 83 percent-owned financial services subsidiary Metris. But, although Metris represents 15 percent of Fingerhut's $1.8 billion in revenue last year, Lansing said its divestiture in no way signals a shrinking of the company.


"There are a lot of huge opportunities in the market, and I think the company was looking for an extra person to help bring them in," he said. "We are open for business to anything that makes sense."


In his new role, Lansing will report to Fingerhut chairman and CEO Ted Deikel and will work closely with Peter Michielutti, chief operating officer of the company's catalog business.


Michielutti will continue to oversee catalog operations, including an upcoming and as yet unnamed catalog targeting people age 18 to 24 with electronics, furniture, jewelry and other merchandise. The catalog is scheduled to debut this fall with a 750,000- to 1 million-book mailing, 400,000 of which will go to names from the company's existing database.


Lansing will study several other growth strategies, including acquisitions.


"It's a big industry. It's a fragmented industry, and we're the big dog," Lansing said. "But even at our size, we're less than 4 percent of the industry, so we see a big opportunity for consolidation."


Lansing was vague about possible acquisition targets, noting that the company will not restrict itself to looking at companies whose customer bases are similar to its own.


Meanwhile, with an electronic commerce background that includes serving as chief operating officer at Prodigy and heading the Internet business at McKinsey & Co., Lansing will make building the company's Internet presence a priority.


The company's Andy's Garage site has built itself up from 400 products available online in the last fourth quarter to 7,000. In addition, the fingerhut.com site, has begun to put products online. Previously, fingerhut.com was able to process only catalog requests and merchandise orders from customers who could submit product identification numbers from catalogs they received at home.


"I think electronic retailing and going direct to consumer without paper and postage is a great idea, and we finally have the computers and modes of penetration to go forward," he said. "We plan to make it very easy to buy from us online."


The company is expanding overseas, with a follow-up mailing planned in the United Kingdom to build on a fourth-quarter mailing that came in above expected costs but brought in 50 percent more responses than projected, Lansing said.


Tests offering merchandise through credit-card inserts in Argentina also are scheduled.


To leverage the company's existing database and infrastructure, Lansing said Fingerhut, Minnetonka, MN, is considering developing clubs and other special offers and further expanding the list of companies that outsource fulfillment and call-center services from Fingerhut. Teen cataloger Wet Seal and software company Intuit receive fulfillment services from Fingerhut, and overflow Mother's Day calls to 1-800-FLOWERS were answered from the company's Tampa facility.
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