Company Gift Programs
thoughtful gift helps build customer loyalty,
but what's appropriate and how much should you pay?
these tips to avoid gift gaffes
By Laura Williams-Tracy
Two chartered buses from Charlotte
rolled onto the manicured grounds of The Old North State Club at Uwharrie Point
near Troy on a spring morning with 128 eager golfers onboard.
Though they were preparing for a tournament, none was playing to raise money for
charity, and the men weren’t necessarily each other’s business associates.
Their common link was a financial advisor named Larry Carroll who was picking up
the full tab for the day as his signature way of saying thanks.
“When you figure out that a client is worth more than a prospect, you refocus
your efforts on taking care of existing clients,” says Carroll, president of
Carroll Financial Associates, a financial planning and investment management
firm in Charlotte.
For almost a decade, Carroll has been pulling out all stops when it comes to
thanking his top clients. The outing includes a deli lunch before golf and a
cookout afterwards. Participants usually walk away with a Cutter &
Buck-brand golf shirt.
Afterwards, Carroll asks for nothing in return. There is no marketing hook —
If the rule in business is that 80 percent of your business comes from 20
percent of your clients, then it makes good business sense to pay attention to
top-tier customers with regular showings of appreciation.
“Companies are definitely doing more corporate gift giving,” says Duane
Pitman, executive director of the N.C. School of Etiquette and Protocol in
Greenville. “People have realized that showing appreciation for who they are
working for can make or break their company.”
You probably agree, even though it’s likely your company can’t afford to
treat its best customers to a round of golf at one of the state’s top private
courses. But everyone likes to receive even inexpensive gifts as long as they
are tasteful and, most importantly, useful.
Your challenge is to locate those appropriate gifts, and hopefully this story
Avoid the Christmas Rush
Most gift giving happens in the fourth quarter when everyone is focused on the
holiday season. But experts say companies should give gifts to their customers
throughout the year to mark such occasions as the anniversary of a business
relationship, to celebrate a product launch, to thank someone for a business
referral, or to offer congratulations.
“More companies are trying to strategize in when they give a gift,” says Jim
Grainger, vice president of business development for Bluegrass Promotional
Marketing, which has offices in Charlotte and Raleigh. That means giving gifts
at different times of the year in hopes that their receipt will receive more
notice when not included with many other seasonal gifts.
Grainger’s firm specializes in customizing business items with company logos
that are then given to customers and associates as gifts or rewards. Popular
items include jackets, shirts, duffel bags, leather pieces, pens and coolers.
Such an item can express thanks but also serve as a marketing tool by putting
your company’s name and logo on something a prospective client often might
Evans & Wade Advertising in Raleigh offers a Select-A-Gift program to
companies that want to give their employees the opportunity to choose their own
gift. Companies with commissioned sales people often use such programs to reward
the sales staff for reaching certain sales levels.
The program includes a catalog with gifts such as electronics and kitchen
products grouped according to value, says Clarence Mitchell, sales and office
manager for Evans & Wade, which offers more than one million products.
“When someone receives your product with the logo on it, they think of you and
your company each time they use it,” he says.
Though there is no one gift that is appropriate for all purposes, some highly
regarded gift items include desktop items, gourmet food, wine and golf
accessories. Grainger says customers enjoy receiving full-color coffee table
books on such topics as the national parks or atlases. To personalize the book,
Bluegrass can imprint a company name and a message on the inside front cover.
Gift With a Tar Heel Taste
A gift that a small office can share is a popular choice, and that’s why gift
baskets often do well. North Carolina companies often like to extend gifts made
by other local companies, and there are a host of options to choose from.
A Southern Season in Chapel Hill is known for its gift baskets, many of which
feature North Carolina-themed gifts. Debbie Fuller, executive gift services
manager for A Southern Season, often handles requests for employee appreciation
week or for client appreciation purposes. Fuller assembles custom food baskets
or she helps corporate customers find one within the catalog selection that
meets their criteria.
Many customers come to A Southern Season looking for a gift that is distinctly
North Carolina, she says. A Southern Season offers Moravian cookies from
Winston-Salem, homegrown peanuts, North Carolina wines, a variety of cheeses and
— not wanting to get in the middle of a fight — varieties of barbecue from
both the eastern and western parts of the state.
T.W. Garner Food Co. in Winston-Salem, the maker of Texas Pete hot sauces,
offers gift boxes via its web site that are sure to put a little kick in your
Likewise, Mount Olive Pickle Co. in Mount Olive calls its gift boxes
“picklephernalia” and offers everything from midgets and bread and butter
pickles to kosher dills and hot pepper rings.
Ford’s Fancy Fruits & Gourmet Foods in Raleigh is now a fourth-generation
gift foods company, offering a wide selection of North Carolina food items.
Ford’s is the master distributor of the ever-popular Bone Suckin’ Sauce, and
offers specialty baskets tailored to please corporate customers.
Original Creations Stand Out
Gifts that have meaning to a particular region are well thought of, especially
gifts that are locally handcrafted and of high quality, says Amy Edwards,
director of the Protocol School of North Carolina, a Raleigh-based instructor of
corporate etiquette. Many North Carolina artists will take commissions and throw
a new line of pottery for a particular group of clients or customize gifts in
Melanie Dennison, owner of The Village Pottery Marketplace of Seagrove,
represents 146 artists and their pottery, glasswork and basketry, and has seen a
growing business in corporate gift work.
Dennison and her husband recently produced 70 clay mixing bowls with whisks and
matching egg separators for a food industry company that planned to give them as
gifts. Another company in the egg business commissioned a series of small
If you intend to have artwork created for clients, begin planning early, says
Dennison, so that the artist has time to create the product. And because you are
buying in volume, Dennison says many artists will sell their product wholesale.
Such handmade crafts carry a special meaning as gifts, and that’s the
best-intentioned meaning of corporate gifts, notes Edwards. “A gift is about
the person receiving the gift,” she says. “And you tell that customer what
you think of them when you give a tasteful, well-researched gift.”
Before the first payment even
comes due, customers who buy a new car from Folger Buick in Charlotte get a more
tantalizing surprise in the mail.
A tin full of cookies arrives courtesy of the 65-year-old dealership with a note
of thanks for their business.
“Years ago we used to send a dozen red roses to the ladies,” says owner Pete
Williams. “We think it’s a good way to make buying a car a pleasurable
experience and it’s a good way to keep customers — especially in hard
From accountants to attorneys to sales staff, many companies find that gift
programs that automatically send customers a box of chocolates or some other
token of remembrance are a valid way to say thank you — and as an added
benefit, keep your company name on your customers’ minds.
The key to getting a program for managing corporate gifts off the ground can be
found in the annals of your client database or billing department records. There
you’ll find names, addresses and sometimes birth dates of your best clients.
Every customer who buys a car at Folger Buick, whether they finance or pay cash,
goes through the billing program, and there the pertinent information is
collected. Folger faxes those names and address to a cookie manufacturer each
week and the cookies are mailed within days.
“Once it’s set up it’s seamless and painless for the company buying the
program,” says Jim Grainger, vice president of business development for
Bluegrass Promotional Marketing, a company with offices in Charlotte and
Raleigh. Grainger’s company represents many gift companies who manage such
ongoing gift programs.
Once you’ve picked which of your best clients will receive a gift, the gift
company will maintain a database of names, and at the appropriate time will
package the gift, include a card with your company’s name and logo, and ship
the product, says Grainger.
Such programs can be valuable to recognize a client on his or her birthday, to
send immediately after a sale, to thank a customer for opening an account or
starting a new business relationship, or to commemorate a special date between
Gifts can range from as simple as a $5 box of peanuts or hard candies to a
basket of gourmet foods. Whatever your budget, there is a gift to fit it.
“Once you’ve gotten your ducks in a row, it’s really easy,” says
Grainger. “You make an impact on the recipient and they are going to remember
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