Top gift basket experts share practical tips for buying, packaging, selling and more.
by Morgan Chilson
Many florists already have the most important commodity needed to start or expand a gift basket business: creativity. Just as unique floral designs must grab customers’ attention, beautiful gift baskets will elicit smiles and increase sales.
We asked a few national gift basket experts to share tips and trends for their industry. Shirley George Frazier, gift basket expert, author, speaker and founder of Sweet Survival/Gift BasketBusiness.com, in Paterson, N.J., predicts gift basket sales will top $4.8 billion this year, making this a terrific opportunity to grow your business.
Retailers can expect $45 to $50 per basket, according to our experts, although the average gift basket sale shifts based on the part of the country where you sell. And nabbing a large corporate account, which is likely to result in time-saving multiples of the same gift basket presentation for the company’s top clients, can be a substantial boost to your bottom line.
While design talent goes a long way toward making eye-catching baskets, the process starts with the content. Ready-to-eat snacks are the most requested items, but most gift basket experts recommend including at least one gift item. Whether that’s a mug full of cocoa mix or a Denver Broncos desk caddy, those items help consumers feel they’re getting value for their dollars. Football, using licensed merchandise, is a top seller, as are other sports like golf, auto racing, basketball and those that are regionally popular.
Themes are important in creating a cohesive look within gift baskets, says Ms. Frazier. “It’s important to not only theme a basket but also name it according to the theme,” she says. “The most popular gift-basket themes are for the traditional gift-giving occasions—birthday, bereavement, thank you, get well, good luck and congratulations.”
Many popular baskets don one or two color themes, such as red and gold during the holidays or an all-white basket with flashes of silver.
Debra Paulk, publisher of Gift Basket Review Online, says it is important to develop a gift-basket design style for your business and to stick with it. She offers the following ideas.
- Corporate: sleek, stylish, conservative, reserved gifts and merchandise.
- “Diva Darling”: pop culture can be a style that invites all things fun into the mix.
- Surburban Country: hot colors, bright flowers and country market containers fill thebill for this upbeat look.
- Country Store: More inclined to traditional primary country colors, this look steps along the path of Surburban Country but has a more conservative mood.
The key is to make each basket personalized, says Gina Hagan, owner of Gift Works at The Joy Shop. Florists and other gift basket retailers typically can’t compete on price with the big-box stores, but they can make their baskets more distinctive.
“My customers, if they’re going to a baby shower, want people to ask, ‘Where did you get that?’” she says. “They’re paying me for the ‘wow’ factor more than anything else.”
When purchasing inventory, look at how the packaging blends together. But if items are different, wrap creatively, Ms. Paulk says.
“Put a striking bow at the neck with a multilayered plume of tissue and cello,” she suggests. “Concentrate on the wrap and selecting the most delectable treats.”
Thomas Catanese, president of consulting firm Thomas Catanese and Company, personalizes baskets for corporations by including things like brochures or specialty items. Some real-estate agents can provide designers with photographs of homes, for instance, to include in their baskets.
And our experts all agree on one thing: chocolate is crucial to success. Snack foods, in general, rank at the top of the list of popular foods, but chocolate is always king.
“Chocolate is critical. People love it,” says Gina Hagan, owner of Gift Works at The Joy Shop, near Athens, Ga.
Thomas Catanese, a former third-generation florist and president of gift-basket consulting firm Thomas Catanese and Company in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., is even stronger in his opinion. “The most important choices that people love to get—the first is chocolate, the second is chocolate pretzels, the third is chocolate nuts and the fourth is anything chocolate.”
To manage your gift basket inventory, order carefully. Choose items that taste good, but also consider their size, packaging and shelf life. Select items that can go in any basket and then add three or four seasonal food items and one giftware item to match specific themes. Often, the same food items will work all year and can be slipped in themed cellophane bags or wrapped to fit particular occasions.
Set your basket prices based on the retail price of the contents, including filler and enhancements, says Ms. Frazier. Then, add a design fee. Ms. Frazier varies her design fee from $12 to $25, depending on the size of the basket. Ms. Hagan adds 20 percent to 32 percent onto retail costs to account for labor.
gift basket dos and don'ts
Do come up with creative names for your theme baskets. Consumers should be able to read a name and know exactly what’s in the basket. (Examples from Gina Hagan, owner of Gift Works at The Joy Shop, are state-themed baskets like “Holiday Greetings from Georgia” and a breakfast basket titled “Magnificent Mornings.”
Do make brand-name baskets—not just coffee but Starbucks. Not just motorcycles but Harley-Davidson.
Do create a script for employees so they use the right words to sell your baskets. List the weight and dimensions of the gift basket, and give them colorful words to describe the contents. Not just crackers but “rosemary olive oil snack crackers.”
Do poke holes in the shrink wrap, on the top where you can hide them under the bow and on the bottom, if you’re storing a basket in the cooler. This allows condensation to escape and lets you make baskets ahead of time.
Do use traditional baskets, often in wood colors, but DON’T limit yourself. Gift basket vessels can be purses, tins, storage boxes (consider these for college students going back to their dorms) and baskets in creative shapes.
Don’t combine fragrance products with chocolate. The favorite sweet absorbs odors, and the taste will change.
Don’t use a lot of adhesives and picks. Make it easy for customers to get their goodies out of the basket.
Don’t store your food inventory in a warm environment, especially those ever-popular chocolates. Humidity and heat turn your chocolate into a customer-losing product.
Don’t let perishables expire. Check the shelf dates, and use items at least two months beforehand.
The economy is tight, so be sure to offer an option for corporate baskets priced lower than what you’ve sold in the past. If a company bought $60 baskets last year, it may be looking at $50 options this year.
Join local business groups, and make contacts through individuals. Note people in business dress who come into your store, and start conversations. Shirley George Frazier, owner of SweetSurvival/GiftBasketBusiness.com, says most corporate contacts are made through individual employees.
Use your products that are getting near shelf date (but not too near because it would kill the sale to send stale crackers!) to create baskets bearing your business card as a marketing tool to area businesses.
Be organized. Have a script prepared for selling your baskets, and show the corporate world why your baskets will help them sell their products and services. Remember, they are using your baskets as a marketing tool, also.
Watch those shipping costs. One expert is concerned shipping will cost almost as much as the basket. Keep that in mind for pricing.
check out these web sites for more tips
Gift Basket Review Online www.festivities-pub.com
Rave Reviews! magazine www.basketconnection.com
Sweet Survival www.giftbasketbusiness.com
Morgan Chilson is a business writer based in Topeka, Kan.
Contact her at