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A Gift Basket Business the "Punkin" Way!
by JoAnna Gilford

No doubt about it! There is a dramatic increase in home-based businesses over the last decade! Why? Self-Independence? High cost of daycare? Or, maybe we just want to truly be in charge of the direction of our lives.

Many people are trading in their corporate hats and venturing into the small home based business world. reports "...currently about 50% of the 10 million (primarily) self-employed are home-based; thus, there are already about 5 million home based businesses...Home-based businesses will continue to increase...Much of the increase, however, may be "secondary self-employment businesses rather than home-based businesses relied upon for primary income..."

Jennifer Powell, owner of Punkin's Gift Baskets and Boxes, is no stranger to working at home. She telecommuted for a NJ company as a government mortgage processor. How did she end up starting her present business?

"...My partner moved his business here, from NJ & took a building with extra space & asked me if I wanted to use the space for a business. So, I opened a gift shop business in the fall of '99. I also started an online gift store at the same time. I don't really know how it happened. I just kind of fell into it (mistake #1).

When interest rates were on the rise in mid-99 I was laid off, within two months of moving. My income was immediately reduced by two-thirds. Mortgage processors in my area make only 25 to 35% of what I earned. So I decided to take my chances & threw myself into the gift business full-time. The name of the business is Punkin's Gift Baskets & Boxes. (Punkin is my nickname.)"

Why a gift basket business?

"I have always liked coming up with "the right gift". Christmas is my favorite time of year & I'm the one, of 4 sisters, who can really wrap a gift. I like the creativity of it, combining ribbon & paper; patterns & color. I offered free gift-wrapping in the gift shop, year-round just because I like to wrap gifts. The gift baskets kind of grew out of that. For example: you have a friend who likes teddy bears. So you look for a teddy bear address book & maybe a pen. I just took that a step further & combined an address book, blank journal, pen note cards & coordinating envelopes and a porcelain hinged box all in a teddy bear motif & pre-wrapped it. I thought, "Hey, this is fun! I'll be up & going in no time."

Facing challenges and obstacles in the beginning, Jennifer tells us:

"It was a "learn as you go" situation. I didn't have the time to do proper research on the demographics of the area or the industry in general (mistake #2).

I no longer had the income to fund this adventure so each mistake, they are unavoidable, was costly. I didn't know how to price a basket, didn't know what made them stay together, how to shrink wrap, etc."

Researching a small business idea is essential!

"The most important thing anyone who wants to start a gift basket business can do is RESEARCH! Learn everything you can (while you still have another job). Go into stores & look at their gift baskets not only the price & products but also the mechanics of it. Use the web to see what's out there. Learn to make a hand-tied bow. Go to the Library & check out books or industry periodicals.
The biggest obstacle in any gift business is competition. There are tons of places to buy gifts: card & gift stores, online shopping, chain stores, drugstores, etc. You need to set yourself apart somehow. Whether it is hand delivery to the local hospitals or some specialty item or niche product.
People need a reason not to just go to Wal-Mart & get a gift."

A niche like Jennifer's "house" boxes! Realtors purchase these to give to their clients for housewarming or thank you gifts. How did she find this market for her business?

"The idea for the "house" boxes for Realtors came from a real estate industry magazine article that mentioned "closing gifts." My mother has been in real estate all my life & I asked her about it & she said that it was a fairly new practice. I made up a few different designs & printed a brochure that I left in her office. I received a few orders & some feedback on the designs, made some changes & now I have a few boxes on display in her office and a link on her website."

Can you start a GB business for under $100?

"I don't think so. With a well thought out plan you could probably start out for under $250. A quality heat gun, roll of shrink wrap, 2 rolls of wired ribbon, heavy duty tape & a turntable are going to use up your first $100."

How do you determine the price of your baskets?

"There are different methods of pricing. Some use a mark-up percentage of the combined cost of the basket, products & filler. Others add a flat fee for the labor to construct the basket. I use a hybrid system depending on the client & the gift."

It takes more than a delightful product to increase and maintain sales. You must make it convenient for people to order. Jennifer has online ordering available at She accepts payment by credit cards and PayPal. You can request a free catalog or order one of her baskets by calling her toll free number: 1-877-483-2757 or order by fax: 1-570-226-5642.
Jennifer's customers presently include Insurance agents, Realtors, small corporations & Non-profit groups as well as individuals.

What's the future look like for Punkin's Gift Baskets and Boxes?

"We decided to close the actual gift store, hence all the remodeling going on at my house. It was just not profitable & took all the fun out of making the baskets. I'm strictly referral & online business now. I do some online advertising, mostly banner exchanges. I will be looking into more of it now that the store is closed. I'm also looking into setting up a complete online storefront. That does require an initial investment though, so it may have to wait a month or so."

Advice to anyone who starts a GB biz:


2) Don't be shy (I am, very) Tell everyone who will listen to you about your new venture. Don't bore them to tears with the details; keep it short & to the point. Your answer to "Hi, how are you?" is not "Fine, how are you?" it's "I started my own gift basket business, here's my card. If you need anything, call me!" If they want to know more they'll ask.

3) Think of the gifts in terms of what you would like to receive. What would you rather have a large extravagant basket with only a few products in it or an inexpensive basket overflowing with beautiful products?

Where to start:

· Festivities Publications, Inc ( publishers of Gift Basket Review Magazine & other books & videos about the industry.
· Nowco Inc ( they carry all manner of supplies, baskets, boxes, heat guns & how-to videos.
· Search Gift Baskets ( & these are sites for shopping for gift baskets made up of 300 members from all over the US, Canada & other countries, there are links to information about new business start-up. The sites received over 90,000 hits in August 2001.
· Flowers, Inc Balloons ( florist, balloon & basket supplies.
· Your state Tax Division. Many wholesalers will not even send you a catalog unless you provide them with a resale or tax exempt #.

A little creativity and a lot of hard work greatly increase the success of your home business. Learning by making mistakes can help you make your business grow. Start slow and invest your time into research. The more you know beforehand, the better equipped you will be when facing your own challenges and obstacles.

© 2001 by JoAnna Gilford

JoAnna Gilford manages Real Jobs Online, and is committed to real
telecommuting employment and education. Author of "Work at Home
Workshop: The Truth About Telecommuting" and editor of RJO's daily,
free newsletter: "Telecommuting Job of the Day". See a sample issue
online at


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