Lillian to get even more personal

Oct 01, 2007 9:30 PM  By

It’s no secret that Lillian Vernon takes pride in personalization. After all, the venerable gifts and housewares cataloger was founded 56 years ago around a single product: a personalized belt purse. The company is now heavily investing in technology to make personalizing its products better, faster, and cheaper.

Lillian Vernon uses 15 different kinds of product personalization, says executive vice president of merchandising and planning Michelle Gershkovich. This includes embroidery, sandblasting, and several kinds of engraving via laser, heat stamp, foil stamping, and signature. “We actually personalize the most products in the country, about five million pieces a year,” she says, “which is more than L.L. Bean or Lands’ End.”

Some new technology used by Lillian Vernon includes Xenetech, which is a form of laser, Gershkovich says. “We’re excited because we drop-shipped a very successful ornament program last year, and now we’re able to bring this technology inhouse and we’re looking at tripling our capacity from an $800,000 program last year.”

With this machine, which the company bought in June, she says, “we can take an ornament and write a family name on it, or multiple family names, and do more than one order at a time.”

Lillian Vernon in May invested in two new machines from Impress Systems, which will enable it to personalize notebooks and round pencils. “This is something new for back-to-school,” Gershkovich says. “This has enabled us to personalize pencils and notebooks. It’s an ordinary item with a child’s name in it.”

Next year Lillian Vernon is looking to purchase technology that will enable it to personalize holiday cards inhouse. “We currently drop-ship these from the vendor, and we see a huge potential to bring this functionality inhouse,” Gershkovich says. Photo transfer is another big area of personalization, whereby a customer’s photos are reproduced and placed on T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, pillows, and even rugs. “It’s a new area where we’re seeing a lot of activity,” she says. “We don’t offer it, but we’re looking into it.”

The new technologies for customizing merchandise are “all very advanced,” Gershkovich says, and they save a lot of time. While she could not provide specific numbers, she notes that “we have seen a significant improvement in our operational efficiencies as a result.”

The additional cost of personalizing an item can range from as low as $1 to $3 or $4, Gershkovich says, depending on the complexity of it. How does Virginia Beach, VA-based Lillian Vernon stay on top of personalization trends? “There are personalization trade shows a couple of times a year,” she says.

Having the personalization technology inhouse is key to keeping costs down and quick order turnaround. Some catalogers who use personalization drop-ship those items to vendors equipped with those capabilities, but Gershkovich says that could add weeks to the process. Lillian Vernon turns personalized orders around in a few days. “We don’t have a backlog for lead time.”

Gift merchants need to constantly update their personalization capabilities. “For us, it’s central to our image and brand,” Gershkovich says. What’s more, she adds, it’s good for the bottom line: Personalized items perform better than nonpersonalized products.