Lillian Vernon Revising B-to-B Strategy

Media management firm ZelnickMedia, which backed by a private equity fund managed by New York-based Ripplewood Holdings bought Rye, NY-based general merchandise cataloger Lillian Vernon earlier this year, continues to exert its influence over the property. ZelnickMedia recently ordered a new business plan for Lillian Vernon’s corporate gifts division and has brought in a consultant to oversee the initiative.

“We’re doing a formal business plan for that division,” says spokesperson David Hochberg. “We hadn’t been approaching the division in as analytical and methodical a way as [ZelnickMedia principal] Strauss Zelnick wants. Zelnick wants us to study what the best focus and emphasis should be going forward.”

For Lillian Vernon, which doesn’t currently use a catalog to target large businesses for corporate gifts such as business-card cases, paperweights, and commuter mugs, this isn’t the first time the company has sought to reinvent its b-to-b division. The company began wholesaling jewelry accessories, Christmas ornaments, and lipstick holders, among other items, to such manufacturers as Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden, and Revlon back in 1954, just three years after the company was founded.

Then in 1978, the company developed the Provender catalog. But because it had difficulty collecting from large gift retailers while smaller retailers all too often went out of business, Lillian Vernon got out of the wholesale business when the lease to its Manhattan showroom expired in 1983.

Now look for the company to turn a new page in b-to-b. “We’ve been looking at Lands’ End’s corporate catalog—it’s a well-executed sales tool,” Hochberg says. “And Zelnick realizes the potential is greater in b-to-b for us.”

In other Lillian Vernon news, last month Ms. Vernon started writing a syndicated business column for Scripps Howard News Service. The column, “Lillian’s Business,” comes out every Friday and is available to the hundreds of Scripps Howard-member newspapers and broadcast outlets nationwide.

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