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Lillian Vernon is one of America's most accomplished and well-known leaders in the catalog industry. She is a pioneer, blazing trails for women in a field once dominated by men. Her achievements rank with those of mail order leaders Richard Sears and A. Montgomery Ward.
Lillian Vernon was born Lilly Menasche in Leipzig, Germany. To escape the perils of World War II, Lillian and her family fled to Amsterdam, Holland then to the United States, settling in New York City. She attended New York University, but, like many women at the time, left after two years to get married.
Two years later, in 1951, using $2,000 of wedding gift money, a 4-month pregnant Lillian Vernon started her mail order business. Her goals were modest at first: earn a few extra dollars to pay household bills and keep occupied while awaiting the birth of her child.
She placed a $495 sixth-of-a-page ad for a personalized handbag and belt in Seventeen magazine and filled orders from her suburban Mount Vernon, New York apartment using her kitchen table as her office. She used the remainder of the money to buy an embossing machine and the handbags and belts. The ad was a tremendous success, bringing in more than $32,000 in orders--and her business was launched.
Early on, Lillian handled virtually the entire operation by herself--selecting and designing the merchandise, writing the copy, opening the mail and shipping the orders. Today, during our peak season, more than 5,500 people are working to serve you at Lillian Vernon.
Lillian soon outgrew her kitchen. In 1954, her company took over a storefront for a warehouse. She rented a building next door for her monogramming operation, and a store across the street became the shipping department.
Two years later, the Lillian Vernon catalog was born--16 pages in black and white, mailed to 125,000 customers who had responded to her ads. In 1965, Lillian Vernon Corporation was formed and five years later annual sales soared past $1 million for the first time as women began flooding the workplace and had less time to shop.
Today, Lillian Vernon has sales of over $240 million dollars, with its corporate headquarters in Rye, New York and its national distribution center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Each year, the company introduces more than 3,000 new products and receives 4.6 million orders.
As chief executive officer and chairman, Lillian Vernon continues to play a central role in the company, travelling around the world searching for new products and overseeing the design, layouts and copy of each catalog. In addition, she believes strongly in giving back to her community. The company has donated funds and merchandise to more than 5,000 local charities, religious and civic organizations.
Lillian serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations, including Lincoln Center For The Performing Arts, Virginia Opera and The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. She has spoken at many universities and has received several honors, including induction in the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, Big Brother/Big Sisters National Hero Award and Gannett Newspapers Business Leadership Award.
She is especially committed to encouraging the careers of women. "When my company became a big supplier to Revlon in 1963, I was told that Charles Revson was surprised to hear that a woman headed Lillian Vernon Corporation. Why, did he think the name wasn't a woman's? When I shopped for merchandise at trade fairs, suppliers would frequently ask 'Are you buying for a gift shop?' or 'Do you run a little business in your basement, dear?'"
"I think about how far ALL women have come in the past 49 years. Once I was considered unique, a pioneer woman. Today, a successful woman is no longer a novelty. Still I'll always remember the salesman who asked, 'Do you girls really know what you're doing?'"