The Gift Basket Business — Misconceptions

In some ways, it seems like yesterday.  In others, it seems like an eternity.  For me, the fall of 1992 was the beginning of a new business, a new lifestyle and a whole new perception of operating a homebased business.  I thought I knew everything.  After all, as a SCORE small business counselor, I had been counseling other startups.  I was the expert.  I had started and sold other businesses.  This gift basket business couldn’t possibly be any different.

Was I ever wrong.  Looking back 26 years later, I realize that I knew much while knowing very little.  I had a lot of misconceptions way back then.  Some of them are probably familiar to you:

  • The gift basket business is like any other business.  The gift basket business is very different from any of my previous businesses and requies new and different skills to succeed.  Nothing takes the place of the learning curve that comes from actually operating a specific type of business.
  • Designing and producing gift baskets is easy. They couldn’t be too hard for a creative person to make, could they?  I’m still laughing at that one — and still constantly learning new techniques to create gift baskets that don’t look like they came from Walmart.
  • The 99 Cent Stores have great bargains in gourmet foods that are perfect for gift baskets.  Buying the wrong kinds of foods from the wrong suppliers is a mistake that many, new to the business, make.
  • I needed a lot of different products to make lots of different baskets.  Buying “cute” and “fun” products is another major mistake.  These two words don’t appeal to the corporate market who preferred elegant and gourmet.  And one of the most important techniques to learn is how to use a few products to create a lot of different designs.
  • My major market would be all the people who wanted to buy a personal gift.  It doesn’t take long to learn that corporate is where the money is.
  • People in my area won’t spend more than $40 for a gift basket. I underestimated myself and my customers with this assumption.
  • The extra bedroom is big enough to house this business.  As I look around my 2500 square foot home that is now almost a warehouse, I shake my head in wonder at how naive I could have been.
  • My life wouldn’t be any different.  A neat organized house is now a thing of the past.  Grinding wheat and making bread are memories.  A Christmas tree?  Where would I put it?
  • Since I love shopping, that would be the best part of the business.  That was the reason for a lot of excess inventory that needs to be cleared out now.  “Just looking around” is a thing of the past.  Who has time? Shopping for me now is trade shows and wholesale internet sites.

And I could go on and on and on.  Many of the things that I counseled others to do apply to this business industry as well.  But there were new things to be learned, new techniques to become accomplished in, and a whole new mindset about life and business to be realized.

Would I do it again?  You bet!  The past 26 years have been some of the most exciting in my life.  There will always be challenges.  There will always be new things to learn.  But when it’s all over, I can say, “I dreamed, I risked, I built, and I succeeded!”

Will you say the same?

Beware – You Can Create A Whole New Person on the Internet

As more people lose jobs or income, more and more scams–or less than honest opportunities– are appearing on the internet.  As a professional writer, who personally knows a lot of other writers, let me say that you should NEVER believe everything you read.  As someone once said, “Don’t believe most of what you read, and only half of what you see!”

Talented writers, professional motivational speakers, and website entrepreneurs can be very creative.  They can even create a whole new person and make you believe that they exist.  Unfortunately, anyone can say anything on the internet as long as it doesn’t lible someone else.

What does this have to do with gift business owners who are Creative Gift Entrepreneurs?  A lot!

How many times have you received emails telling you how wonderful a particular product or service is and how great the person behind it is?  We all have at one time or another.  Most of us regularly receive emails offering to put us on page one of the search engines if we only hire them to optimize our website.  Or how about the minister wanting to buy large quantities of a particular gift if you’ll only let him know how to pay you?  There are many scams– and the internet is a gold mine for scammers and those who are less than honest.

Innocence or Deceit — Which is it?

A person, who wants to impress potential customers,  can even create a whole different personality and resume for themselves in order to lure you into their web of deceit.  Sometimes it’s very innocent as in the example of the gift basket entrepreneur who has created a “twin” to handle the marketing aspect of his business or the business owner who has created an “assistant” to handle the customer service and email responses.  There’s nothing wrong with either of these creations.

But other times, it’s not so innocent, particularly if the person is trying to take your money for a product or service that doesn’t exist.  The statement “Buyer Beware” is very true of any internet website or email wanting to sell you something.

How to Protect Yourself?

How can you protect yourself?  It can be difficult as folks, who do this, are truly creative entrepreneurs.  Their background and experience and even testimonials can sound so convincing that any of us can be easily fooled.  But, unless you are personally familiar with a particular person, product, or service, ask someone that may be more familiar with what you are considering.  Does their resume include speaking and writing experience?  If so, ask for references and check them out.  Do they include testimonials?  If so, ask for names and phone numbers and check them to see if they actually exist.  Even then, a reference may be a “friend in on the kill.”

If it is a website, check the domain name and see when it was first registered.  You can do that easily at whois.com or any other website where you can buy domain names.  If it is brand new, I would be a little suspicious.  It could be legitimate or it could be someone out to make a fast buck before disappearing.

If it is an opportunity or product related to your own industry, it’s easy enough to ask others who are familiar with the industry what they know about a particular person, product, or service.

But, as I said, anyone can say anything or even create a whole new persona on the web.  I could tell you that I’ve published ten books about the gift basket industry and they’ve each sold over a million copies.  That would be a lie but you would have to do some research to discover that it is untrue.  I could tell you that I’ve been a speaker at The Basket Connection Convention in Orlando and again in Atlanta and that I was a regular staff writer for our trade magazine, Rave Reviews, since it began.  That would all be true and could be checked out with anyone who is familiar with our industry.

So, if you are considering spending money for a product or service that you are unfamiliar with, check it out.  It could be the best thing since sliced bread or it could be someone anxious to take your money in exchange for little or nothing.

Shipping Resources

shipping-boxWe’ve all been there.  You’ve decided to expand your business to the internet which means you’ve got to ship those packages.

As the price of gas has climbed over the past several years, carriers have more than doubled their surcharges. And the change from actual weight to dimensional weight has made the shipping charges skyrocket to the point of being unreasonable in many cases.  If you don’t make the right decisions, your package can cost more than the gift itself.

Shipping those packages doesn’t have to break the bank or scare off your customers though.  Having a little bit of information and surfing to the right websites can save you time and money and keep your customers happy.

First, where do you buy those boxes you pack the gifts in?

Check your yellow pages for local suppliers to save on shipping.  But then also check www.uline.com for great prices and quick shipment of boxes of all sizes.  Even with the cost of having them shipped from Los Angeles (and they have shipping locations all over the country) to Flagstaff, their boxes are much cheaper than I can buy locally.  For the large rolls of packing paper which are HEAVY, I take advantage of Nashville Wraps occasional free shipping offer and place a large order which includes several rolls of that packing paper.

Now that DHL is no longer in business, shipping options are UPS, Fedex, or USPO.  Deciding on which carrier to use for which size package and which delivery service means navigating an alphabet soup of options.  You just don’t have the time to figure out which service delivers the best value.

Shipstation is a website that you can join for $9 a month that will give you the shipping costs for the companies that you use and will prepare the labels for you to print.  I’ve found that the ups shipping rates via shipstation are discounted.  Shipstation pulled in my already discounted rates from UPS so there was no additional savings for those shipments.  I don’t use fedex so don’t know if their rates are discounted via shipstation.

I save on shipping charges by doing all my shipping labels online and am fortunate enough to have a UPS Store (where you can drop off packages with internet generated labels at no extra charge) and the Post Office located just a few blocks from me.  I do a once-a-day drop-off and save the UPS daily pickup fees.  The Post Office picks up my packages at no charge when they deliver my mail as long as I leave a note in my mailbox.

If you’re shipping smaller packages (such as the teddy bears that I ship from my website www.grandcanyonteddybears.com), you’ll find priority mail shipping to be very reasonable and there are no surcharges for home delivery.  You can also order FREE shipping boxes of various sizes from the Post Office website and even have them delivered free to you.  But it is a federal offense to use these boxes with any other carrier.  Using priority mail, I can ship smaller size gifts (such as those created in the small boxco boxes) from Arizona to the East Coast for less than $10 and have them arrive in 2-3 business days.

If you’ve found other ways to save on shipping, please share them with us in the comments below.

 

 

It All Goes Back Into The Box

Ken Blanchard, author of “The One Minute Manager and other business books,”  told the story about the little boy who really wanted to beat his grandmother at Monopoly.  He studied.  He practiced.  He learned.   Until one day, he beat her at the game and told her, “Finally!  I beat you.”

She smiled as she picked up the pieces and put them back into the monopoly box.

She then told the child, “Yes, you did.  But let me tell you another lesson that I’ve learned about playing the game of life.  You can work hard, study, practice and become whatever kind of person you want to me.  But when the game of life is over, it all goes back into the box.  The only thing that’s left behind is what you’ve created or done for others.”

I’ve heard the phrase “You have to give to get,” and have also heard results of how people have been blessed as a direct result of what they have given to others.

But I have a different philosophy.  I don’t think you have to give to get.  I think you give, not because of what you will receive in return, but because your giving is from the heart.

There’s a country-western song that tells the tale about a young man who stopped to help an elderly lady stopped on the highway with a problem with her car.  The young man was broke but instead of taking payment for his help, he told the lady to “Pass it On!”  The song goes on to tell of a waitress, who was pregnant, tired, and discouraged.  An elderly lady left a $100 tip.  That night the waitress laid in bed beside the young man who had helped the elderly woman with her car and told him about the woman who had left the $100 tip.  And the song ends with the magical words of “Just Pass It On.”

I am a business coach for a County Business Empowerment Class in my community.  Last week, a local entrepreneur, who has become very successful, spoke about how he started his business hoping to make lots of money.  He said that he was in the business for the money–not just because it enables him to live well and do things he’s always wanted to do–but because he can use that money to help others as well.  I remember the author of “Everything I needed to Know About Life I learned in Kindergarden” say basically the same thing.

Successful entrepreneurs have to be interested in money if they hope to be successful.  You can’t just forget the financial parts of a business and operate it any way you feel like.  How you treat your customers, your investors, and even your vendors go a long way towards determining how financially successful you will be.

There are, of course, those like Ken Lay of Enron fame and Mr Matoff of Ponzi scheme fame, who cheat others to make their millions and then use it to live like kings.  Then there are those entrepreneurs who achieve their business goals while practicing the principal of “Pass It On!”

When the game of life is all over, and it all goes back into the box, the Ken Lays and Matoffs of the world will leave behind people who have been hurt or destroyed.

The “Pass It On” entrepreneurs will leave a legacy that may not even be known by most but will be appreciated and remembered by those they helped.

We are in the midst of changes in the world.  Changes bring opportunities.  What will you do with them?  Share your comments!

Country Wisdom For Life and Business

I don’t know who wrote this as there was no credit given when I first read and saved it back in 2004.  But it’s a fun list of “One Second Lessons for Both Life and Business:

  1. Don’t name a pig you plan to eat.
  2. Life is not about how fast you run, or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.
  3. Life is simpler when you plow around the stumps
  4. Trouble with a milk cow is she won’t stay milked.
  5. Words that soak into your ears arewhispered, not yelled.
  6. Meanness don’t happen overnight
  7. Never lay an angry hand on a kid or an animal; it just ain’t helpful.
  8. Forgive your enemies. It messes with their heads.
  9. Don’t sell your mule to buy a plow.
  10. Don’t corner anything meaner than you.
  11. It don’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.
  12. You can’t unsay a cruel thing.
  13. Every path as some puddles.
  14. The best sermons are lived, not preached.
  15. Happiness comes through doors you didn’t even know you left open.
  16. Most of the stuff people worry about never happens.

I’m sure that you could add many, many more “One Second Wisdoms” to the list.  Feel free to add yours in the comments.