This Side of 60

Last Thursday, the phone rang and on the other end was my friend, Aldine—just the person I wanted to talk to.
I knew that Aldine always had lots of interesting catalogues. And for weeks, I had been trying to recall the name of a catalogue that I ordered from in the 1970s and 1980s.
It carried hundreds of useful items that I could never find anywhere else—a recipe drawer that attached under the kitchen cupboard, a long-handled reaching tool and, most important of all, a plastic clip to hold telephone messages.
For three decades, that clip was attached to the end of our kitchen cupboard. But one day recently, it broke. Our orderly way of leaving messages for family members was gone.
I looked everywhere for a new clip with no luck. So I thought of Aldine.
Together, we recollected the name of the catalogue—Lillian Vernon. I then searched the Internet for “Lillian Vernon,” and sure enough, she is still selling.
Unfortunately, I did not find a replacement clip. But what I did find was much more interesting—Lillian Vernon’s success story. It’s an inspiring story of how a woman equipped with a dream and $2,000 built a multi-million dollar company.
Lillian Vernon was born Lilly Menasche in Leipzig, Germany. Before World War II, she and her parents emigrated to the United States to escape Nazi persecution.
The family settled in New York City, where her entrepreneurial father began manufacturing leather goods. Lillian’s first jobs were working in a candy store and as a movie theater usherette.
Later, after she married, Lillian wanted to supplement her husband’s meagre income. Using $2,000 of wedding gift money, she founded a mail-order business with her kitchen table serving as an office.
Lillian spent $495 to advertise personalized handbags and belts in “Seventeen” magazine. With the rest of the money, she bought an embossing machine and inventory.
The ad was a smashing success—bringing in more than $32,000 in orders. And her business was launched.
At first, Lillian did everything herself—selecting merchandise, embossing handbags, writing ads, opening mail, and shipping orders.
That was in 1951. By 1970, Lillian Vernon had grossed $1 million. She named the company (and changed her name) after her hometown—Mount Vernon, N.Y.
In 1987, the stock went public and Lillian Vernon became the first woman to found a company publicly-traded on the stock exchange.
Today, the company’s corporate headquarters is located in a suburb of New York City. The national distribution centre in Virginia is 827,000 square feet—the size of 18 football fields.
The company offers more than 6,000 items, introduces 1,700 new items annually, and ships more than 3.8 million packages a year.
And Lillian Vernon is ranked with mail-order leaders Richard Sears and A. Montgomery Ward.
Recently, interviewed Lillian. When asked what she credited her success to, Vernon replied, “I never gave up, and I used the power of positive thinking to tackle obstacles and challenges.”
Don’t dwell on your mistakes or setbacks, but instead learn from them and move on. Never let mistakes defeat or discourage you, she went on to say.
At age 76, Lillian is still the company spokesperson. What an inspiration!
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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