Live from NEMOA: treat your vendors right

Cambridge, MA–Be good to your vendors, Home Decorators Collection president Gil Kemp told attendees of the New England Mail Order Association (NEMOA) Spring Conference, and they’ll be good to you–and to your business.

Kemp spoke Thursday morning at the NEMOA conference, held March 20-23 at the Royal Sonesta Hotel here. His session, “Lessons Learned: The First 12 Years of Home Decorators Collection,” discussed the genesis and continuing evolution of the home decor catalog, originally called Kemp & George, that he cofounded in 1989.

Kemp focused heavily on merchandising in his speech, recalling a lesson he learned from listening to catalog doyenne Lillian Vernon speak more than 10 years ago: “Vendors are your most important aspect.”

To that end, Kemp holds an annual vendor conference, gathering his suppliers to the company’s St. Louis headquarters. “Have them spend time learning what you do and how you can work better together,” he suggested.

He also makes a point of sending vendors copies of the catalog with notes attached–as many as 150 an edition. The notes may address specific problems, though often they’re simply a thank-you and a heads-up that the catalog is in the mail.

Kemp drew knowing laughter with another of his suggestions for keeping vendors on your side: being sure to turn up for appointments on time.

Home Decorators Collection typically features 400-500 items a book, Kemp said. The product mix has changed over the years–for instance, in its first year, the catalog sold nary a rug, whereas today rugs account for as many as 29 catalog pages.

Explaining his attitude toward winning and losing products, Kemp said, “A loser is a loser only once, and then we can jump on the winners” for future books.