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A really busy day in the holiday life of Lands’ End

December 10, 1996

DODGEVILLE, Wis. (AP) _ Phone lines are crackling and box-stuffers are jumping in this village of 4,190 as the days speed toward Christmas.

Welcome to Lands’ End, the billion-dollar catalog retailer whose business surges from a normal 45,000 phone calls a day to about 85,000 _ sometimes even as many as 145,000 _ during the holiday season.

In the room where a beefed-up crew takes orders, hundreds of phones are ringing. Every seat is taken, and as soon as any of the roughly 1,000 chairs are vacated, a roving employee plops down and picks up the phone.

``It’s one of my best times of the year,″ said Sheila Wardell, who has typed in orders for cardigans, squall jackets and goose-down parkas for a dozen years.

Just how busy can it get? Here’s how:

_ There are 11 holiday catalogs for consumers to choose from.

_ 125 gift-wrappers wrap up to 8,800 packages a day.

_ 110,000 jingle bells will decorate gift boxes.

_ 200,000 corrugated shipping boxes are ready to be sent out. They feature Christmas poems on one side and pictures children can color of Santa and a reindeer bar on the other side.

_ 1.5 million calls are expected to (800) HI-SANTA, the cataloger’s ``Santa Sighting″ telephone hot line.

Specialty clerks deal with the fussiest customers _ those who want to know how many pieces of wood are in Lands’ End’s 8-pound fireplace starter kit and how many gadgets can be stuffed in the 21-inch, monogrammed stocking.

They’ll blow whistles for callers curious about the decibel-level, fit a child’s fleece jacket for a pampered Dalmatian doggie and find matching trousers and tops in a favorite shade of green.

``We’ve spoiled our customers,″ said supervisor Margaret Dunbar, who prefers to look for the silver-lining in the storeroom that holds an example of every item in every catalog. ``It saves a return if we help them out.″

As soon as customers call in, their orders are punched into a computer system, then zipped electronically to a storehouse the size of 16 football fields. Nimble ``pickers″ snatch the goodies from the shelves and send the orders down a five-mile maze of ceiling-high conveyor belts to those actually packing up the goods.

A veteran picker can pull 650 items an hour off the shelves and each packer fills 60 boxes an hour. The orders travel to shipping the same day and get tossed into one of a half-dozen United Parcel Service trucks.

For those short on wrapping paper or time, a quick detour to another department gets an item the gift box, ribbon and tissue paper treatment. As an added bonus, every box gets a silver jingle bell.

Warren Hoyer, 75, is among the retirees tapped for holiday work by the biggest employer in cow country 45 miles west of Madison. He spent a recent day folding hundreds of green-and-red plaid necktie-and-belt boxes.

``In the next two weeks, you won’t be able to see over the top (of the table),″ said Hoyer, a retired postal worker. ``It gets pretty wild.″

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