with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

From My Kitchen Tabletop to Your Computer Laptop

In a fascinating article on SCORE, veteran catalog guru, Lillian Vernon, shares her insights about the move From My Kitchen Tabletop to Your Computer Laptop, covering the history of the Lillian Vernon Corporation and catalog from a small kitchen business to a worldwide company with millions of dollars in sales online every year.

When I founded Lillian Vernon Corporation on my yellow Formica kitchen table in 1951, I couldn’t have imagined selling to customers linked by little boxes called “laptops” to a “tabletop” of mine that is actually a big box called a server, located in cyberspace rather than physical space.

Back then, a visit was a friend stopping by for coffee, the number of hits told us if the New York Yankees would make it to the World Series and a web was spun by a spider. The only thing launched in the 1950s was a rocket in a Buck Rogers serial, and a site was something for sore eyes. User friendly? Well, in those days, we didn’t even talk like that in mixed company!

So, you could imagine my hesitation when, four and a half decades later, in 1995, we took our first steps into what is now called “e-commerce,” or selling electronically. That year, realizing that e-commerce would play an important role in the future of catalog retailing, we set up an online shop through America Online, where we thought our customers were most comfortable.

The following year, we unveiled our own online catalog, featuring 200 of our best-selling items, at our new address on the Internet: www.lillianvernon.com. And in December 1998, we completely redesigned the site, expanding our online offerings to more than 400 products in nine categories. In doing so, we enhanced our customers’ ability to shop with computers.

The article not only addresses the history of her evolution as a company from home business to modern tech corporation, she talks about how she had to “go with the flow of technological change” as a benefit for her customers. From mail order to telephone orders to fax order to online Internet orders, Lillian Vernon has seen as lot of technological growth and had plenty of opportunity to shy away from the changes. She didn’t, and she speaks candidly about what she’s learned from the process.

We’ve all come a long way with our online exposure especially businesses. It helps to step back for a moment to look at how far we’ve come and the lessons we’ve learned along the way. Lillian Vernon took a simple idea, bringing things people wanted that were hard to find but helpful to their lifestyle to their door rather than the customer coming to the store. The online world makes this easier, but it all starts with that appointment with your kitchen table to plan it all out.

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