Spiegel, Brylane, Lillian Vernon Cut Jobs

When business was booming in the late 1990s, consumer catalogers had a tough time finding seasonal help to take and fulfill the crush of holiday orders. But during the holiday season just ended, a falloff in sales prompted Downers Grove, IL-based The Spiegel Group to lay off workers.

The $1.7 billion cataloger/retailer on Dec. 15 laid off 95 workers from its Spiegel Group Telesales unit, which consists of 4,000 employees in five facilities that service all of the general merchandiser’s catalogs, including apparel books Eddie Bauer and Newport News. Spiegel spokesperson Allison Scherer says that following a 17% sales decrease in November, holiday sales peaked between Dec. 1-6 but then plunged after Dec. 10. That led to a reallocation of work shifts followed by the layoffs.

The layoffs affected workers in Spiegel’s Bothel, WA; Wichita, KS; Hampton, VA; and Rapid City, IA, facilities. The company’s St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, facility, which opened in May, “is still building its associate base,” Scherer says, so no layoffs occurred there.

At press time Scherer said that the company hoped to rehire most, if not all, of the laid-off employees by mid-January, once the spring business for Newport News picks up. Then in late March, Spiegel expects to staff up “a little more.” Newport News’s business typically peaks in April thanks to swimwear sales.

Spiegel not alone

A few others catalogers have been quietly eliminating positions as well. Beginning in late December, an undisclosed number of employees accepted Chadwick’s of Boston’s “voluntary separation” offer, says Russell Stravitz, president/CEO of New York-based parent firm Brylane. “It’s not a job cut,” he explains, but rather “based on seasonal sales volume trends.” The offer was scheduled to wind down by mid-January.

Also in late December, gifts and home goods cataloger Lillian Vernon Corp. revealed that in October it had laid off 22 people and eliminated another 10 unfilled positions out of 327 positions in both its Rye, NY, headquarters and its Virginia Beach, VA, fulfillment center. In addition, the cataloger’s salaried employees were forced to take pay cuts of 3%-6%, depending on their salary level.

The cuts came on the heels of a nearly 20% plummet in fiscal third-quarter sales, from $104.1 million in 2000 to $87.0 million.

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