Attack Aftermath: Less Flying, but Still Buying

The days when you would hop onto a plane with as little thought as you would climb into a car are over, at least for the foreseeable future. And that’s irksome for catalogers that rely on overseas suppliers for merchandise.

Respondents to Catalog Age’s most recent Benchmark Report on Merchandising (November 2000 issue) averaged five domestic and three international sourcing trips a year. But even inveterate travelers, such as Lillian Vernon and her merchandising team, may be delaying or canceling trips in the coming months.

Already, Vernon has postponed a trip to India that was planned for later this year, says David Hochberg, spokesman for Lillian Vernon Corp., the $246.6 million gifts mailer. “We contacted our vendors in India, informed them we won’t make our customary visit, and encouraged them to visit us and work with us here, or asked them to send us samples or photos of new products they want us to consider,” he says.

Apparel and home goods cataloger Lands’ End will likely cut back on overseas travel as well. Officially, “international travel is on hold,” says spokesperson Beverly Holmes, “but depending on the circumstances it may be approved on a case-by-case basis.” The destination is one factor in approving a trip. And if two employees were planning to visit different locales in the same region — say, Tokyo and Singapore — Lands’ End may now have one employee travel to both destinations. About 75% of the $1.36 billion cataloger’s raw materials and manufactured goods come from overseas.

Fears of terrorism, security delays, and reduced flight schedules aren’t the only problems merchants now have to deal with when sourcing internationally. With the U.S. now striking back, certain regions may be unreachable or cut off from trade. Lands’ End, for one, is reviewing whether any of the countries from which it buys goods are likely to be affected by military action, “and whether we can set up backup locations and sources for those fabrics or items that come from countries that may experience some disruption,” Holmes says. So far, the Dodgeville, WI-based cataloger hasn’t made any sourcing changes.

Nor has Rye, NY-based Lillian Vernon. In fact, as of late September, Hochberg says, company founder Vernon was planning to go ahead with her mid-October trip to Hong Kong and China. “We’ll just continue closely monitoring the situation to see if other trips have to be postponed or canceled.”

Then again, Tom Rosenbauer, vice president of mail order for outdoor gear and apparel cataloger/retailer Orvis, doesn’t anticipate any problems when it comes to sourcing and importing merchandise from overseas. The Asian countries from which Manchester, VT-based Orvis sources “are supportive of the U.S.,” he says, “so it shouldn’t be a problem.”

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