From the November 1997 issue of Startups

It's good business to let your customers and suppliers know how much you appreciate their continued support all year long. But the holiday season provides an opportunity for saying "thank you" in a more formal way--by giving a special gift from you and your business.

Your relationships with valued customers and suppliers can be strengthened by the selection of the perfect gift. To determine whether a proposed gift is a good idea, imagine yourself as the recipient. If the gift is one that would make you smile and that you'd take pleasure in showing others, it is likely an appropriate choice. If not, you should generate a short list of viable alternatives--or else avoid the gesture altogether; gifts need not be expensive, but giving a bad gift as a token of appreciation is worse than giving no gift at all.

One decision you'll need to reach before settling on a gift is whether it should reflect your interests or those of the recipient. Although there's no hard-and-fast rule, it's safest to offer a tasteful gift that in some way reflects your business. That's the natural link between you and your customers and vendors. This will also allow you to purchase appealing gifts in larger quantities and take advantage of volume discounts.

Another important decision involves whether or not to personalize gifts with your company's name. Some gifts lend themselves to personalization more naturally than others. For example, if you're planning to give a gift that the recipient will use daily--such as a mug, a mousepad or a pen--it's a missed opportunity not to personalize it with your business's name and telephone number. This saves your customers from having to search through their phone books or Rolodexes to contact you in the future, plus it reminds them of your generosity every time they use the gift. Similarly, the engraving of your business's name on more expensive gifts--such as gold pens and crystal clocks--extends feelings of goodwill throughout the year.

A great alternative to personalizing gifts is to include a free sample of your product with your gift. If you manufacture and sell decorative magnets, for example, you could include one inside a gift basket of holiday treats. If yours is a service-based rather than a product-based business, a customer-appreciation voucher for a free appointment can serve the same function. This is an effective way to link your holiday generosity with perceptions of your business in the minds of your customers.

Naturally, you may not be able to afford giving gifts to all your customers and vendors, even though you value them highly. You also may not want to give the same gift to each of them. So when you're compiling your gift list, keep the "80-20 rule" in mind--that in most cases, 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your customers, and the majority of your vital supplies are generally provided by only a handful of suppliers. Consider buying gifts only for your best customers and your most accommodating suppliers. If you can afford to purchase a small gift for almost all your customers and suppliers, the rule suggests that you should give about one-fifth of these people a more special or more generous gift than all the rest.

Holiday gifts for customers and suppliers go a long way toward expressing your appreciation--and ensuring your continued success--in the New Year and beyond. Browse through our round-up of great gift ideas:

The AdGap Group

Gift: Imprinted T-shirts

Description: Cotton T-shirts decorated with your business logo and tag line. One or more colors can be used in the decorating process; however, prices depend largely on the number of shirts you order and the number of colors you use.

Price range: Approximately $5 to $7 per shirt for an order of 100 white, 100-percent cotton T-shirts, decorated with one or two colors; approximately $6 per shirt for an order of 250 white T-shirts with a six-color, decorative imprint. Shipping additional.

Minimum order: 24 shirts

Additional offerings: Thousands of promotional products, ranging from clothing

(embroidered shirts, baseball caps) to office supplies.

Phone: (800) 662-3427

Consultants available to assist with gift selection? Yes; callers will be referred to sales

representatives in their geographical areas.

Catalog available? Yes

Order deadline to ensure holiday delivery: November 15

Gift: Captiva ballpoint pens

Description: The Captiva is a plastic ballpoint pen, imprintable with your company name and logo. It comes in 10 colors, and your company logo and any other information you desire will be imprinted in one color.

Price range: $1.50 per pen, plus shipping; volume discounts available.

Minimum order: 250 pens

Additional offerings: Additional personalized pen models are available.

Phone: (800) 662-3427

Consultants available to assist with gift selection? Yes

Catalog available? Yes

Order deadline to ensure holiday delivery: As late as December 15, but varies depending on the product you order and the complexity of your artwork.

Apple Cookie & Chocolate Co.

Gift: Extra Special CDs

Description: A milk chocolate treat molded in the shape of a CD and packed in a reusable CD case. The CD case's cover card can be imprinted with your company's name and address or a special message from you.

Price range: $6.49 per CD, plus shipping; volume discounts available.

Minimum order: None; free personalizing of CD cases' cover cards on orders of 25 or more.

Additional offerings: A wide variety of cookies, chocolates and other treats.

Phone: (800) 223-YUMM

Consultants available to assist with gift selection? Yes

Catalog available? Yes

Order deadline to ensure holiday delivery: December 5

Dynamic Designs

Gift: Personalized mousepads

Description: Mousepads featuring your business logo and any other information or graphics you desire, prepared from your camera-ready artwork. Finished mousepads contain as many colors as your camera-ready artwork does, at no additional charge.

Price: $15.95 per mousepad, plus shipping; volume discounts available.

Minimum order: Two mousepads

Additional offerings: Personalized photo mugs, keychains and buttons.

Phone: (501) 267-3316

Consultants available to assist with gift selection? Yes

Catalog available? No; but you can view samples on the Internet at www.mugs-n-more.com/

Order deadline to ensure holiday delivery: December 1

Epicurean Baskets

Gift: Gift baskets

Description: Distinctive gift baskets featuring premium wines, microbrewed beers, fine

chocolates, candies and gourmet foods. All baskets include a complimentary gift card, inscribed with your message, and a decorative bow.

Price range: $16.95 to $325. The $16.95 basket is called "Everything's Rosey" and features a rose container filled with a long-stemmed silk rose, Gloria Rocherer truffles, two kinds of cookies, pretzels and Hillside coffee (regular or decaf). "The Bon Vivant," the company's deluxe, $325 basket, features a bottle of Dom Perignon, other fine wines and an assortment of gourmet foods, including brie cheese and smoked Alaskan salmon. Shipping additional.

Minimum order: None

Additional offerings: A variety of other gift baskets; non-alcoholic baskets are also available.

Phone: (888) 77-BASKETS

Consultants available to assist with gift selection? Yes

Catalog available? No; but a four-page color brochure is available

Order deadline to ensure holiday delivery: December 15

Gourmet Cookie Bouquet

Gift: Cookie bouquets

Description: Edible "bouquets" composed of colorfully wrapped cookies attached to lollipop "stems," presented in attractive vases, tins and baskets. Cookie flavors include chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter and macadamia nut.

Price range: $13.95 to $99.95, depending on the number of cookies ordered. The $13.95 bouquet is a three-cookie vase; the $99.95 bouquet is a 36-cookie basket with Godiva chocolates included. Shipping additional.

Minimum order: None

Phone: (800) 822-6654

Consultants available to assist with gift selection? Yes

Catalog available? Yes

Order deadline to ensure holiday delivery: December 15

The Indian River Gift Fruit Company

Gift: Quarter-bushel fruit gift packs

Description: An 11-pound gift box filled with fresh Florida navel oranges, ruby red

grapefruits or a combination of both, wrapped with attractive ribbons and bows.

Price: $19.95 (includes shipping within the continental United States)

Minimum order: None

Additional offerings: A variety of gourmet gift and fruit baskets featuring citrus fruits, exotic tropical fruits, apples, pears, ciders, wines, cheeses and florals; samples of your own product can be included in gift baskets by special arrangement.

Phone: (888) FRUIT-2-U

Consultants available to assist with gift selection? Yes

Catalog available? Yes

Order deadline to ensure holiday delivery: December 10

Whirley Industries Inc.

Gift: Personalized plastic mugs

Description: A variety of promotional plastic mugs, including car mugs, "thermo" mugs and kids' mugs. Each comes in various colors and sizes and can be personalized with your business name, logo, address and telephone number.

Price range: Varies according to quantity ordered and number of imprint colors used.

Minimum order: 500 mugs or bottles

Additional offerings: A variety of plastic mugs and sports bottles that can also be personalized.

Phone: (800) 825-5575

Consultants available to assist with gift selection? Yes

Catalog available? Yes

Order deadline to ensure holiday delivery: Allow four to six weeks after final art approval.

Were Nutz! Inc.

Gift: German roasted almonds or pecans

Description: Decorative tins filled with cinnamon-roasted almonds or pecans.

Price range: $15 per pound (includes shipping within the continental United States)

Minimum order: None

Additional offerings: Double-dipped, chocolate-covered peanuts; salted, roasted jumbo cashews; and other quality nuts.

Phone: (513) 748-9428

Consultants available to assist with gift selection? Yes

Catalog available? No; but a color brochure is available

Order deadline to ensure holiday delivery: December 15

Mind Your Manners

Giving the perfect business gift can be the cement that binds customers to your business. Whether it's a personalized gift or a promotional item, it must be something of value to your customers. Here is some business gift-giving advice from etiquette expert Letitia Baldrige, author of Letitia Baldrige's New Complete Guide to Executive Manners (Rawson Associates, $35, 800-716-0044):

  • When giving a personalized gift, keep in mind that the best kind of gift is chosen with the recipient specifically in mind and shows great thoughtfulness.
  • When the gift will be a promotional item from your company, it should never be shoddily designed or manufactured. Even if the item cost only $1, a giveaway should never be allowed to detract from your company's first-class image.
  • When offering gifts bearing your company logo, the logo should be small and unobtrusive. This is especially true for those items that will be part of someone's personal life, such as those that sit on a desk or are kept in a briefcase. People usually don't mind using an umbrella with a large, handsome logo, but they are not going to keep an engagement book with the large logo of another company on it.