Live from NEMOA: Garnet Hill–a Jewel in the Cornerstone Crown

Cambridge, MA–Apparel and bedding merchant Garnet Hill has sure come a long way. What started out as a flannel-sheets mailer in 1976 in the White Mountains of New Hampshire has grown into a multichannel powerhouse that’s now part of home-shopping network HSN and its parent company, IAC/Interactive Corp. Right now, according to Garnet Hill’s president/CEO, Russ Gaitskill, one of the cataloger’s–and the industry’s–challenges is the need to “move the brand forward in ways that may not be traditional.”

In his keynote address at the New England Mail Order Association (NEMOA) spring conference, held here March 22-24, Gaitskill detailed Garnet Hill’s highs and lows in its journey from start-up to direct response TV star. In 1985, a year after founders Grant and Peggy Dowse were killed in a plane crash, Roger and Tish Hamblin took over the business. The Hamblins ran Franconia, NH-based Garnet Hill until 1987, when it was bought by conglomerate Cornerstone Brands. Cornerstone, whose other apparel, decor, and home accessories titles include Ballard Designs, Frontgate, Smith & Noble, The Territory Ahead, and TravelSmith, was sold to IAC for $760 million a year ago.

What’s life like under the $2.4 billion HSN? Gaitskill admitted that it was too soon to tell but he predicted that “it’s going to be fun.” The parent company has already exposed some Cornerstone Brands catalogs, including Garnet Hill, to interactive TV. The separate hour-long programs are fully branded, “so it’s our models and our products,” Gaitskill said. It’s the way of the future, he noted: “In the next 10 years, we’ll all be talking about some kind of interactivity with customers.”

Gaitskill also addressed the fact that catalogs such as the upscale Garnet Hill and the seemingly more downmarket HSN channel appear to make odd bedfellows. He said he’s been asked “Doesn’t it bother you that HSN is so downscale?” It doesn’t. Eight years ago no one was buying in TV, he said, but they are now. What’s more, many naysayers also once proclaimed that “nobody will buy apparel on the Web,” and clearly that category has taken off online. “So be careful,” Gaitskill said.

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