If you like to do creative work and you can combine it with good business
sense, a future as a self-employed gift basket maker is an attainable goal.
Insiders say that the key to a successful gift basket business is setting
your company apart from the competition. Some companies specialize in edible
items like sweets, deli foods, or coffee and tea. Others might focus on spa
and beauty products, or baskets geared to men.
"Make sure that you have a target market, evaluate the competition and
find your niche," says Karen Murphy. She has owned a gift basket company for
She adds that once you have someone's business, you can keep them coming
back by providing great service. That helps generate repeat business and word-of-mouth
Pam Newell and her husband Tom ran a successful gift basket company in
Ohio for over 25 years before selling it to a customer in 2005. "Service was
our number one asset," she says. "If you give your customers the best service,
they won't need to go anywhere else. They purchased us, not the product."
Before you start selling, you need a business plan. When Lisa-Marie Begerow
and a friend opened a gift basket business in 2001, they weren't fully prepared.
"No formal letter of partnership was ever drawn up despite my insistence,"
says Begerow. "This caused huge trouble down the line."
Her business partner overspent and lasted less than one year before suggesting
they close the business. Because they had no formal agreement, it took a year
of frustrating and costly litigation before Begerow became the sole owner.
When the Newells started their business in 1979, their only plan was to
earn enough to pay their bills. As the company grew, they realized they needed
a realistic budget. "We allowed our largest amount for advertising and marketing,
rent and utilities," Newell says. After moving to a third location in 1998,
they made a five-year business plan. "We completed our goal in three years
and [revised] our plan," she says. "Without a goal or plan, you won't know
if you have succeeded."
Murphy adds more advice on the business end of operations. "Do your homework,
write a business plan and make sure you have more money at start up than you
think you will need to get past unexpected expenses," she says.
Beyond rent, utilities and supplies, Begerow says other expenses include
insurance, merchant fees, shipping charges, sales tax and promotional materials.
You'll also have to pay an accountant, delivery people and any employees you
Depending on your area, there might be incorporation and licensing fees,
too. Anyone dealing with food items needs to know the local laws. "We handled
cheese and meat, and although it's shelf-stable, it still needs to be dry
and cool," Newell says. "You need to know our local township rules on storage."
"Check your local laws with the Department of Agriculture," Begerow says.
"Licensing boards and city hall won't know about restrictions, and you could
end up shut down before you even get started."
Before starting her gift basket company, Murphy studied market research
and worked with her local Chamber of Commerce and an economic development
commission to learn everything she could about doing business in her area.
She also compared local and online sales so she'd know where to focus her
"Ninety percent of our sales are from contracts through sales calls and
online sales," she notes.
Marketing is important if you want to succeed. Newell says flyers, postcards,
e-mail newsletters and networking help drive people to your website. Tradeshows
and conventions are a great way to make your company known to corporations.
Corporate clients are lucrative, but only if you can meet their demands,
especially during the busy holiday season. "Business clients can help you
grow your business, but you need to know what your goal is and your limits
before contacting them," Newell says.
"Is it difficult? That depends on how committed you are, how organized
you are and how well you know your vendors," Begerow says. "Make sure you
have contingency plans in place -- family and friends who will volunteer --
and have a local van rental place on speed dial in case the next call is 'the
"Our corporate clients kept our lights on," Newell says. Corporations need
baskets for more than holidays and special events. They need them for things
like welcoming new employees and marking milestones.
"They faxed in their daily needs. We billed them monthly and delivered
daily." Employees who receive baskets often become customers themselves.
The money you can make as a gift basket maker can vary widely.
"We've helped some gift basket owners who only needed to supplement their
income, as well as owners that needed to bring in over $100,000 a year," Newell
says. "If you're not paying yourself or making a profit, what's the use of
being in business?"
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