Lillian Vernon

Queen of Mail Order, Lillian Vernon

Faced with growing anti-Jewish sentiment, Lillian Vernon’s (born Lilli Menasche) family fled their native Germany in 1937, emigrating to the US. There, her father started a manufacturing business selling leather goods, many of which were designed by Lillian.

As WWII began, Vernon and her brother joined the US Army and Woman’s Auxiliary Canteen respectively in support of the war effort.

After the war, Vernon married and to supplement the family income, she began a mail order business from the kitchen of her home. She invested $2,000 – her wedding gift money – and placed an advert for her fashion accessories in a teen magazine. The response was overwhelming and so began The Lillian Vernon Company.

The company expanded quickly as Vernon eyed the global market, most noticeably Europe and China. The Lillian Vernon Company diversified into wholesale as well as toiletries and kitchen supplies.

The business, founded in 1965, went public in 1987 making Vernon the first woman to found a publicly traded company on the American Stock Exchange. Her catalogue business became an icon of American life.

Both during and after her time at the company she founded Vernon was known for her philanthropic works and generous donations to civic and non-profit organisations.

Lillian Vernon’s Rules of Success

  1. Be fully committed. To succeed, you have to be passionate about your goal. If you’re not, it’s probably the wrong goal. Half-hearted enthusiasm won’t cut it.
  2. Be ready to work hardAre you prepared to give up your evenings, weekends, holidays, social life to work towards your goal? Pursuing a dream requires huge amounts of effort, often for zero return. Are you ready for that?
  3. Be mentally prepared. How do you cope with stress? Uncertainty? Anxiety? And every other negative emotion you can think of? You have to be mentally strong enough to ride through tough situations whilst still maintaining focus.
  4. Be open to new ideas. Can you accept other people’s ideas? Do you welcome different opinions? Can you admit when you’re wrong? To succeed you must be open-minded, flexible and able to work with viewpoints other than your own.
  5. Be a good problem solver. You need to be able to think problems through logically and identify the best solution. Stick with problems for a long enough to find a way over, under, around or through. You have to be willing to face difficulties head-on and not put your head in the sand or deceive yourself.
  6. Are you prepared to give the next few years of your life to this? Everything worthwhile in life takes time to achieve. On the road to your goal there will be difficulties, obstacles, upsets and problems – perhaps a lot of them. This is why you must love what you do or you’ll just quit.
  7. Have a good support team around you. Banks may not be prepared to lend you money. Do you have friends, family or colleagues who believe in your vision who would be willing to invest in you and your idea?
  8. Have an eye for detail. You need to be able to take care of the details of your business. Don’t lock yourself away in your ivory tower. Roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Know everything that goes on in your business. As soon as you neglect the details, things can unravel.
  9. Write down the best – and worst – outcomes possible. You need to go into your venture with your eyes wide open. Specifically, know the worst outcome possible. Is it too painful? Or can you live with it? Know what you’re getting yourself in to.
  10. Be optimistic. Problems, setbacks and disappointments are guaranteed. You need to be able to roll with the punches, learn from the experience and bounce back stronger and wiser. If you have a tendency to catastrophize and make mountains out of molehills, you’re in for a hard time.


  • “Toughness is a good thing, yet it is considered good only in men. When a woman is tough, men can’t stand it. I like being tough and smart.”
  • “Don’t try to be all things to all people. Concentrate on selling something unique that you know there is a need for, offer competitive pricing and good customer service.”
  • “I had a business, a lot of orders, and a baby howling for supper. You balance it. You give your baby supper first and then get your orders in. I have worked on more holidays… but what are you going to do?”

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