Muoio Up for Challenge at Lillian Vernon

Michael Muoio was never one to back down from a challenge. His latest task: leading White Plains, NY-based gifts and housewares cataloger Lillian Vernon Corp.

Shortly after announcing its acquisition of Lillian Vernon from Direct Holdings Worldwide on May 30 (see “Lillian Vernon Corp. Sold”), investment firm Sun Capital Partners sent out another release naming Muoio as president/CEO of Lillian Vernon. He replaces Jonathan Shapiro as president of the cataloger.

During his stint at Oshkosh, WI-based gifts and home decor cataloger Miles Kimball, from 1991 until he resigned as CEO in October 2005, Muoio helped grow the company from $50 million to $200 million in sales. Although Lillian Vernon has been privately since Direct Holdings purchased it in July 2003, it’s believed that the cataloger’s sales have been declining. Its final sales numbers as a public company were $287 million, $259.6 million, and $238 million in fiscal 2001, 2002, and 2003 respectively. Corresponding losses for those years were $1.4 million, $9.1 million, and $18.6 million.

Fred Anderson, managing director of Anderson Direct, a South Orange, NJ-based consultancy and financial intermediary, believes Sun Capital hired the right man for the job of shoring up Lillian Vernon. “It’s an excellent vehicle for Mike Muoio,” says Anderson. “He’s got the experience, particularly in the personalization area.” Lillian Vernon is known for personalizing hundreds of types of products, from wallets to toy boxes. Miles Kimball also personalizes a fair amount of products, particularly its holiday cards.

“I’m very excited,” Muoio told MULTICHANNEL MERCHANT the day after his appointment was announced. The 55-year-old Lillian Vernon is “a tremendous business. It certainly has been a lot larger than it is today. We hope to help nurse it back to health and get us back on track. There are lots of things to do. We met with the team today, and I’m back to White Plains next week.”

Muoio, who was working as a consultant after leaving Miles Kimball, says he hopes to gain a “better understanding” of the Lillian Vernon merchandise, which he adds is fairly similar to that of Miles Kimball. “There are some differences between the brands fundamentally,” he says. “There are a million things I want to do, and we’re going to take one at a time and execute them well.”

Muoio does have any sort of timetable in mind regarding turning things around. “We just really want to make sure we’ve identified what we need to do and really make sure we’re executing a flawless business,” he says. “That’s kind of where my mindset is.”

In spite of financial struggles at the company, Muoio remains optimistic. “Absolutely it’s a challenge,” he says. “I wouldn’t have taken the position if it weren’t a challenge.”

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