Tips for capturing corporate gift basket business
by KELSEY E. LOWE-SMITH
Birthday, sympathy and new baby may be the bulk of your everyday orders,
but these categories also present lucrative opportunities for capturing
corporate gifts, and not just with flowers. More than 68 percent of gift
basket companies reported an increase in corporate gift orders last year
over 2003, according to Gift Basket Review’s “2005 State of the Industry
Report,” and with a little knowledge of what customers want in gift
baskets and how to market to them, you, too, can grow your corporate
gift basket business.
“When do you go after corporate business? Every minute of every day of
every week of every month,” says Thomas Catanese, CEO of Thomas Catanese
and Company, a consulting firm and supplier that provides gift packaging
for such notable companies as IKEA, Godiva, Walt Disney World, Hilton
Hotels and Pepperidge Farm. Mr. Catanese, a former third-generation
florist, has been in the gift basket industry for 40 years.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
With approximately 13,000 gift basket retailers listed on the Internet
alone, competitive retail florists must look for ways to set themselves
apart while projecting professionalism. One way to do this is to avoid
the stereotypical florist’s fruit basket. Although “fruit/healthy
snacks” shows up at No. 11 on Gift Basket Review’s list of the 20
best-selling gift basket foods, the most salable baskets will also
include candy and other ready-to-eat foods. “The real swing is over to
ready-to-eat specialty foods and chocolate treats,” Mr. Catanese
More than two-thirds of respondents for Gift Basket Review’s survey
listed chocolate as their best-selling food category. Cookies followed
at a distant second, posting a significant jump from their 15th-place
ranking in 2003 and knocking cheese to No. 4. Popcorn, snack mixes,
meats, pretzels and fruits/healthy snacks, all absent from the “top 20”
list in 2003, moved up for 2004. Foods ranking significantly lower this
year were cocoa, fudge, biscotti, baked goods, beverages and
At Virginia Donnolo’s Distinctive Florals and Gourmet Shop, a
full-service florist owned by Douglas and Virginia Donnolo in
Downingtown, Pa., the most popular basket theme, particularly among
corporate clients, is the “Munchie.” Starting at $35, this open-and-eat
basket typically includes cheese and crackers, hard candy, chocolates,
chips and salsa and/or cheese sticks.
At least 75 percent of the Donnolos’ gift basket business is corporate,
and gift baskets account for $200,000—approximately 28 percent—of the
shop’s annual sales. Mrs. Donnolo says one of the keys to the success of
this segment of the business is regularly sampling the shop’s offerings
to customers. “When we’re busy and there’s not a lot of time to prep
things for sampling, or when our walk-in business is slow, we’ll sample
things like cookies, chips and salsa and cheese and crackers,” she says.
The shop also has two small convection ovens in which Mrs. Donnolo bakes
scones, brownies, cookies and other goodies from the mixes that are for
sale. She says this practice has increased sales of such items, which
are available individually as well as in gift baskets.
Before sampling foods, however, it is important to note what types of
permits or licenses are required in your area. The Donnolos have a food
handlers’ license in accordance with their county’s laws about handling
unwrapped foods. The business also has a winery within its store, which
is a separate entity with separate owners who pay rent to the Donnolos.
The winery opened last November and has been a valuable asset to the
Donnolos’ gift basket segment.
Mr. Catanese, who has educated more than 10,000 gift basket retailers
through 85 seminars and symposiums in the United States and Europe and
through his consulting services, says his first piece of advice for
those who want to approach the corporate market is to polish themselves
as well as their presentations. “Presentation is a key to making the
sale, whether it’s over the phone or in person,” he relates. “You must
have a professional presentation of self and products, and never send a
gift basket to a company blind. You must know the name and title of the
person you are sending it to, or it will be lost.”
He suggests calling each company and finding out the name of the person
who is responsible for ordering gifts, then sending promotional
materials and photos along with a letter requesting 10 minutes of his or
her valuable time to
present an important service that the company might need.
The trick is to show your customers that your baskets are worth their
money. Mrs. Donnolo says her shop has a full menu of designs, and 75 to
100 baskets are displayed at any given time. Of course, with 4,000
square feet, nearly half of which is sales area, there is plenty of
space in the shop for such displays.
If you do not have the luxury of space, Mr. Catanese says it is
important to have a minimum of eight to 10 sample gift baskets on
display, and they should be rewrapped every few weeks to keep them
looking fresh. He also recommends having an extra-large, fancy gift
basket on display to get customers’ attention on a grand scale. In
addition, a portfolio of images of baskets you have created is essential
as is a well-thought Web site where you can direct your customers.
Mr. Catanese says the second-most important thing to presentation is
quality. “One of the worst things a retailer can do is send out a basket
with marginal products in it,” he says.
To ensure that none of your products reach the edge of staleness, Mr.
Catanese advises writing the date the product was received backwards on
the price label. So, for Oct. 1, 2005, you would write “50021001,” which
means nothing to customers but reminds you and your staff how long the
products have been on the shelf.
Like other segments of your business, there are a number of ways to
price gift baskets. Mr. Catanese suggests the following formula.
• 65% = consumable/gift products (at retail)
• 20% = container (at retail)
• 10% = labor
• 5% = packaging products (at retail)
He says that while it is a common practice for retailers to mark up
specialty foods 100 percent (a double, or keystone, mark-up), marking
them up 125 percent to 150 percent (2.25 times and 2.5 times,
respectively) ensures profitability.
Ellie Ramsey, owner of Blossoms and Treasures in Carmichael, Calif.,
which was recently named by Gift Basket Review as one of the top 50
American gift basket businesses in revenue and one of the “Fast 50”
(fastest growth in a three-year period, achieving more than 500-percent
growth), says the key to keeping gift baskets profitable is to buy
products wholesale. “When I call florists in other areas for gift
baskets, most of them say, ‘I have to go to the grocery store.’ You
wouldn’t run to the grocery store and buy a vase every time you have a
flower arrangement,” she points out.
While it’s true that many suppliers require minimum orders, Ms. Ramsey
says that shouldn’t discourage florists from buying in volume. Her shop
occupies a modest 900 square feet and is located in a town of about
50,000 people, but she has kept her business growing by sharing orders
with other shops. She currently is vice president of the Northern
California Gift Basket Co-op, a group of about 15 gift basket retailers
in her region. In addition to monthly meetings in which the “friendly
competitors” share ideas, they take advantage of volume discounts by
Ms. Ramsey, whose corporate gift baskets average $100 and account for 75
percent of her overall gift basket sales, says it is important not to
get carried away when shopping at gift shows. She has a rule that if she
can’t use an item in at least four types of baskets, she won’t buy it.
No matter how good your presentation and quality are, they don’t mean
much without a plan for getting noticed. And knowing who your top
customers are is one of the keys to making sure they remember you
Identify your top customers in the categories of corporations,
individuals and organizations/civic groups, Mr. Catanese suggests, and
have a strategy for doing something extra for those people at least
three times a year.
“These are your core profit and sales makers,” he explains. “Certainly
you need to be nice to all of your customers, but these people could be
giving you up to $10,000 a year.”
He adds that in addition to these key businesses and individuals, your
VIP list should include the mayor of the town, the head of the town
council, the police chief, the fire chief and any politicians in the
community who may need your services at some time in the future.
One low-cost way to make your top customers feel special and to keep
your business’ name in their minds is an e-mail newsletter that provides
them with valuable information such as the history of Valentine’s Day or
upcoming holiday dates to remember.
Mrs. Donnolo says she and her husband started one of their most
effective promotions two years ago. “Before we leave for the Fancy Food
Show, we print postcards and put mailing labels on them to our corporate
clients and even some individuals who have ordered several baskets, and
we send the postcards from New York, wishing them a happy summer and
letting them know that we’re at the Fancy Food Show shopping for things
to customize their gift baskets,” she says. These postcards, which bear
Manhattan postmarks, create excitement among customers who are eager to
see the new merchandise. “People ask where the new stuff is when they
come in,” she confirms.
Another way to market to corporate clients is to take part in charity
events. Mr. Catanese suggests doing three major charity events each
year, but not just by donating gift baskets. “What you want to do is get
on the committee, because then you can meet the movers and shakers in
the organization,” he explains. “You could be the gift and raffle
chairperson, and you could create gifts that can be raffled off, but
that doesn’t mean you have to donate everything.”
He suggests asking the organization’s members to donate wines, specialty
foods, gift certificates, etc. that will go into each gift basket. This
way, people can see your business’ name and creativity, but your
business won’t bear the cost of all of the gift components. He also
suggests helping different charities every year to get the most
This type of thinking is what Mr. Catanese says will advance florists in
their gift basket businesses. “As much as American florists think
they’re in the flower business, they’re not,” he says. “They’re in the
gift-giving and emotions business. They just happen to be selling more
flowers and plants than anything else.”
For more information about Thomas Catanese and his company, call (610)
277-6230 or visit his 125-page Web site at
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