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VERNON LOOKS TO CATALOG FUTURE HALL OF FAMER REFLECTS ON PAST AS SHE TRIES OUT CD-ROM

Published on .

Lillian Vernon is one of four direct-marketing leaders being inducted into the Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame this week at the organization's annual conference.

Ms. Vernon, founder of the catalog company bearing her name, is being honored along with Cornelius Keating, former chairman of Columbia House, and, posthumously, Willard Kiplinger and Robert Rodale.

Still chairman-CEO of Lillian Vernon Corp., Ms. Vernon was interviewed for DMA-TV, Advertising Age's daily broadcast for attendees of the conference. Following are her thoughts on various subjects:

On being a woman trying to start her own business in 1951: "There were people who just wouldn't sell me. There were box people who wouldn't sell me. Even if I sent them a check up in advance.

"I think being a woman in business was a very unusual phenomenon at that time. And there were people who wouldn't absolutely talk to me. It is better now. And if I've helped make it better, so be it."

On what being run by a woman has meant to her company: "As children are different if they are raised only by [one] parent, I think there is a difference. I have a vision for what I want to do. I have a vision about merchandise. ... And I have a very inquisitive mind and think that's very helpful. Not to say that men don't, but the formula has worked for me."

On the explosion of the catalog business: "There are many reasons. Women went back to work in the '70s. ... If you remember in the '70s, [America experienced] gas shortages; you had to get in a two-hour line [for gas]. I'm not sure [people] did that to go to a shopping mall. I mean it was hard enough to get yourself to work and back, and shopping for your groceries. And I think that was a compelling factor of our business, which was $1 million dollars in 1970 in the mail-order business....

"You've got convenience, which I think is critical to a businesswoman. There's so much available by mail. You get it overnight."

On making personalized items part of the Lillian Vernon business: "I started that way because it made mine stand out. ... I did $32,000 worth of business on a $500 investment.... We probably have the largest personalization plant in America. We do an enormous amount of [personalized product] business. I think at Christmas maybe 52% of our business, maybe even more than that, [is personalized products].... We have that competitive edge."

"We've started with CD-ROM, and we're continuing to investigate that. We're talking to other people about [home shopping TV] programs. And I think we'll just go into it; I don't have to leap into it. My business is the print media. But I feel that these are very viable future opportunities for us-additional opportunities to what we have now."

On not having regrets: "Never look back. I mean you really can't. There's so many things-I should have gone on vacation sooner. I should have had more children. I should have done this and that and the other thing. And if you do that, you only give yourself a tremendous amount of pain."

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