START & RUN a: GIFT BASKETS BUSINESS

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Introduction
The concept of giving gifts in baskets or in useful containers is not a modern-day phenomenon. It can be traced back to ancient times and cultures.

For example, the Egyptians gave beautifully wrapped gifts of essential oils and perfumes; interestingly, today one of the hottest gift basket trends is giving aromatherapy products in decorative containers.

The Haida Indians of the Pacific Northwest presented herbs or dried fish in beautifully crafted bentwood boxes, and the ancient Mayans gave gifts of food in colorful woven baskets.
The trend in gift packages today is very much the same as in ancient times.

The container that holds the products must be useful and very much a part of the gift.
Taking time to source out interesting and unique containers will set you apart from the more mundane and predictable gift basket competitors.

In modern society we give gifts for a variety of reasons, both personal and professional, and the potential for finding clients for a gift basket business is unlimited.
The majority of people who send gifts want a unique and thoughtful present that will leave a lasting impression on the recipient.

This book is for people who want to start a gift basket company as a home-based business or in a rented studio/office space. It focuses on these venues because I do not believe that starting a gift basket business in a retail store is a viable proposition.

Retail stores demand high overhead, long hours of operation, and a huge volume of sales necessary to be profitable. Over the years, I have seen many gift basket retailers fail for these reasons. Those that do survive sell other products and gifts in addition to baskets.

A more likely route to success is to follow the trend toward non-retail, service-oriented businesses that simplify the lives of busy consumers.
People will support and use your gift basket company for its convenience, quality, service, and reasonable prices.
People want to send gifts that are special, yet most people who send and purchase gifts don’t have time to shop and create something unique.

Many successful gift basket company owners start out by making baskets for friends and then realize they can develop their hobby into a viable and profitable business doing what they enjoy. If this describes you, then you’ll find this book provides a helping hand as you take the entrepreneurial leap and plan for a profitable business.

You can start your gift basket business with little more than some working space
and a few start-up items. There are very few equipment requirements for a gift basket company and it is possible to start a small, seasonal, home-based business with
a very small investment.

I know of one owner who operates her business during the December holiday season only, and she generates an annual net income of $20,000.
On the opposite end of the scale is the entrepreneur who rents a studio/office space and runs the operation on a full-time basis.

This book gives you the information you need to run a gift basket company on either a large or small scale. You have to decide what type of business you have the time and the money to invest in. Gift baskets can be designed to fit any budget and suit any occasion, from small, inexpensive gift packages appropriate for the office or as hostess gifts, to large, custom-designed packages that reflect a theme, such as cooking, wine appreciation, golf, fishing, sports, or travel.

The possibilities are endless and that is where your own creativity comes into play.
The art of designing and making gift baskets is a highly creative business and you need to have a good sense of design and an artistic nature to be successful.

If you’re uncertain of your talents in this area, but you feel that you’d be successful on the business side of the venture, you may want to consider bringing in an employee or a partner who is capable of handling the more creative aspect of the business.

You also need to keep up with the creative trends in the gift industry and the arts and crafts business. To give you new ideas and spark your imagination, you can spend time reading some of the many magazines available that deal with cooking, home decorating, and crafts. There are also successful television programs that feature decorating and craft themes.

Visiting retail gift shops on a regular basis will also give you an idea of what trends, items, and themes are popular in the gift-giving market. Let your imagination run wild. For example, gift packages do not necessarily have to be in baskets.

Some of the most innovative gift packages are in useful or unique containers, such as decorative file boxes, cowboy hats, tote bags, wooden toys, hat boxes, ice buckets, flower pots, or ceramic bowls.

The possibilities are endless and your creativity is what will set you apart from other gift basket businesses.
But creativity alone is not enough.

You need to assess yourself and your life to see whether running a business is right for you, and this book will help you do that, too. Once you determine that the gift basket business is right for you, you can begin your adventure in this pleasurable and profitable line of work. The topics explored in this book will see you through those first crucial months and beyond and guide you to a successful venture.

1 Getting Started
a. Self-Assessment What is it that makes one person succeed while another fails ?
While there is no stereotype of a successful businessperson, certain common characteristics can be found in those who succeed. For example, they are invariably hard-working, determined, resourceful, and capable of honest self-appraisal.

Starting your own business is risky,
and you need to be clear on whether it is the best choice for you.



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Knowledge is Power

You may already create gift baskets as a fun hobby, but turning your skill into a business is a very different venture. Examining both your strengths and your weaknesses gives you the chance to remedy the factors that may impede your success.

If you don’t manage time well, don’t like to work alone, and dislike making decisions, starting your own business may not be for you unless you are willing to work on your shortcomings.

You don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to recognize and acknowledge your abilities and weaknesses before investing time and money in your gift basket venture. A passion to succeed, an eagerness to learn, and an acceptance of responsibility can overcome any weaknesses.

No quiz, test, or questionnaire can definitively dictate to you what you should or
should not do. Their value lies in helping you think by engaging you in honest appraisal. You are capable of capitalizing on your strengths and compensating for
your weaknesses as long as you know what they are and if your passion to succeed
is powerful enough.

Once you have determined that starting a gift basket business is the right venture
for you, take some time to test your creative ability to make baskets.

Purchase the materials to make two sample baskets, such as unique containers, basket stuffing, ribbon, cellophane, gourmet products, or other small gift items that reflect the look and theme that you have in mind.

Experiment with making the baskets until you have a feel for what makes a visually and aesthetically pleasing package.

Use these samples when doing your market research by showing them to family, friends, and, most important, to members of your focus group (see section
d. later in this chapter).
b. Determining Your Market
The next step is to determine who your potential customers are — and if you have any.

Do you know there are enough customers out there waiting to buy your gift baskets ?
Before you risk time and money and disrupt your life, you need to determine your market. Many start-up operations are based solely on instinct and optimism.

The enthusiastic new business owner may have only a vague idea about who the customers are or, indeed, if there will be any customers at all. Flying on blind faith, they rely on just plain old luck to see them through, and sometimes, it does just that.

While every business needs a little luck now and again, banking on it is hazardous to the long-term health of your enterprise. The benefit to the business you are considering is that gift baskets are not limited to the individual shopper.

The corporate sector is rapidly becoming a major purchaser, and that means your potential market is very large. Gift baskets can be personal, professional, and designed to fit all occasions, tastes, and budgets.

They are suitable for friends, family, co-workers, and clients.
Often you will find that your corporate clients will also become your personal customers, and vice versa.
If your initial sale is a success, you will have a loyal and long-term customer.
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My own experience shows that repeat customers make up approximately
60% to 90% of my company sales.

Think in terms of how much your average customer will be worth to you over the next several years. It pays to cultivate customers into lifelong friends of your business, not only for the sales they will bring to your company, but by their word-of-mouth referral of new customers. Make sure your gift baskets are easy to purchase. Most people are too busy to find the perfect gift.

Once they have determined that you are a reliable company with high-quality product and service, they will use you as a personal shopping service. Your customers can describe their ideas, price range, and the interests and lifestyle of the recipient, and have the perfect gift sent without ever having to leave their homes or offices.

Study the buying habits of the consumers in your area when targeting your market.
The key to your success is knowing what your potential customer wants and making sure you can provide the product.

This will enable you to develop a loyal clientele who will then promote your services through word-of-mouth recommendations, which is the most cost-effective way
to build your customer base.

c. Market Research Market research will provide you with the relevant data to help solve or avoid marketing problems.

Conducting thorough market research is the foundation of any successful business.
The most prevalent and practical research method for a gift basket company is the focus group or survey. (See section d. later in this chapter.)
First you must research your competition.

Any gift basket company that is doing serious business will be advertised in the Yellow Pages. Phone each company and keep notes on how the phone was answered and how your request for information was handled. Ask to have all printed brochures and price lists mailed to you. Choose the two or three companies that seem to be your biggest competition and order a gift basket from each one.

Observe the quality and service that they are able to provide; this process will give you a good indication of what you are up against. Keep notes on all aspects of the transaction and use this information to formalize your own sales and marketing strategy. Competition is not a deterrent to going into business.

It is wise to know who your competitors are and where they are located so that you are on equal footing. Knowing your competition allows you to learn from them.
What do they do right ?
What do they do wrong ?
How will you be better ?
Market research helps confirm market size, minimize financial risk, save time, and point out where and how to sell your product or service.

Researching your market can also uncover market segments that you may not have originally considered. Not taking the time to do some basic market research can permanently forestall success.
Obtain accurate demographics (population statistics categorized by age, income, sex, education, family size, etc.) as a credible base for your business plan.

Your market is that segment of the population that potentially may buy your product or service. Finding out who they are and where they are is what market research is all about. Market research is simply the process of collecting and analyzing information.

The information gives you the basis for decision making. It will help you pinpoint advertising, develop a marketing plan, and sell your product. Market research seeks out two distinct types of data:
(a) primary data collected for the first time by personal visits, telephone calls, or questionnaires, and
(b) secondary data from previously published material, such as government statistics and industry reports. The steps in basic market research are discussed here.

1. Set a time frame for completion Decide how much time you intend to devote to market research and stick to that time limit. Think in terms of normal working days and eliminate weekends. Do not get so caught up in doing research that it takes precedence over getting the business started.
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Knowledge is Power

2. Define both your primary and secondary needs What do you need to know ?
By properly defining your needs, you can save valuable time and avoid having to cope with too much information.

In order to give your business a realistic chance of success, and to have the information necessary to write a comprehensive business plan, you must define what primary and secondary data is relevant for your proposed business.

Primary data includes the number of potential markets, size of markets, size of total market, market trends, customers and target market, competitive companies, and market share.

Secondary data includes demographics, industry outlook, growth potential,
economic trends, population shifts, consumer trends, and relevant economic indicators.
For example, if your proposed business is located in an area with a cruise ship industry, you could use that as one of your potential markets and gather all
relevant data.

The potential market would be cruise ship bon voyage gifts.
The size of the market is the number of cruise ships and passengers leaving the port
yearly. Market trends would be a shift in average age of cruise passengers, more families cruising, etc.

Customers and a target market would be travel agents who purchase gifts for their clients. Competitive companies are the number of other companies in your area that offer delivery of bon voyage gifts to cruise ships.
The market share is the percentage of the cruise gift business you realistically think you could attain.

3. Allocate resources Your resources are personnel and funds.

If you are starting a business with a partner or if a family member is available,
delegate tasks and responsibilities and try not to step on each other’s toes.
One person could make phone calls while the other goes to the library.
The cash required should be minimal, but undoubtedly some will be needed. Government reports and publications may be necessary and many of them are not free.

4. Gather the data Identify and contact the most appropriate sources for the
information you need. Organize and file your research results as they accumulate. Don’t keep unnecessary data, and do keep an eye on your projected completion date.

5. Analyze the information Study the collected information as objectively as possible. Weigh your findings against your original idea.
Does the data suggest a slight deviation from that plan ?
Does it affirm or negate your business premise ?
Cull from the data what is most pertinent to your planned product or service; date it and file it for future reference.
d. Gathering Primary Data
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The most effective way to gather your primary data is to arrange personal meetings or a focus group with people who are potential sources of information.

A representative from your local Chamber of Commerce, the head of a trade association, an executive from a hotel, the owner of a travel agency, and a corporate executive are a few examples. More than any other information-gathering activity, face-to-face meetings often lead to other important sources for data and will often establish business contacts that could be important to you in the future.

Always telephone well in advance to schedule the meeting.
Know the name and proper title of the person you want to see and use it during
your conversation.
Introduce yourself and briefly indicate what you would like to talk to him or her about.
Prepare yourself for the meeting by reviewing the information you are looking for.
Don’t waste time or talk about your plans in too much detail.

Write down information as the meeting progresses.
Refer to your notes and ask questions to be certain that you get the information you came for. Bring at least two samples of your gift baskets to show the quality, style, and various price points of your work. Make sure your questions are relevant to the person you are interviewing.

Following are some questions for conducting a personal interview with a hotel sales and marketing executive:
(a) Do they now purchase gift baskets for their clients?

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